Profound Compassion

I guess I’ve had kids on my mind lately. With good reason. My wife, my younger daughter and I are in New York waiting for my first daughter to go into labor. Any day now we’ll be meeting my first grandchild—a boy named _____________ (believe it or not, Scott and Bekah still haven’t come up with a name!).

It’s not just my grandbaby. Friends, staff and a number of people in our congregation have greeted new arrivals. Those little people are all around me and it’s difficult to express the joy and perspective they bring to our lives. And it’s not just the babies. Toddlers, teenagers and every age in between have increasingly been on my radar screen. My younger daughter is an amazing twelve-year-old. Her approach to life is an inspiration to me. She somehow takes it seriously—with great compassion—and enjoys it as she laughs her way through it.

I understand kids can be cruel. They’re human beings. I understand that like all of us they have a capacity for meanness and exclusion. Like us, they need guidance and grace. But many times you’ll see within them a compassion that is so profound that we find ourselves wishing we could be like them. Their simplicity gives them an advantage in communicating their compassion that many of us have lost. Their naiveté inspires us.

While on vacation my wife is always telling me to read fun stuff. Sometimes she forbids me to bring books from home because she believes I should do some recreational reading. So the other day I went to Borders looking for some fun reading. I had read Anne Lamott’s Traveling Mercies several years ago and remember laughing and enjoying it. So I picked up her Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith which was published in 2005. She began a chapter entitled, “good friday world” with the following story. It’s not one of her humorous stories, but I don’t think it will leave me. She was writing from California at the beginning of the Iraq war.

“There is the most ancient of sorrows in the world again, dead civilians and young soldiers. None of us knows quite what to make of things, or what to do. Since the war started last week, the days feel like midnight on the Serengeti, dangers everywhere, some you can see, but most hidden. The praying people I know pray for the lives of innocent people and young Americans to be spared, for peace and sanity to be restored on the global field. Everything feels crazy. But on small patches of earth all over, I can see just as much messy mercy and grace as ever: yesterday at Sam’s school, for instance, the kindergarteners and first-graders were outside when a dozen military planes flew overhead. The children knew we were at war, and were afraid, but when their teacher, Miss Peggy, told them that they were safe, that the planes were going to the Middle East, far away, the children relaxed. They watched more planes fly over. Then one smart child began to worry that there might be children in the Middle East, too, but that maybe these pilots didn’t know that. The children started to fret. Miss Peggy could not lie and say there were no children in the places where the planes were going. So she and the children got a giant sheet of paper, and the kids drew a huge peace dove on it, flying over children. They got some older kids to help, including Sam, and they all signed their names. The kids kept telling Miss Peggy that the pilots must not have known—otherwise they would never go to a country where they might accidentally bomb children.”

Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3).