by Racquel Ray, Assoc. Minister (Acting)
The psalmist writes in 103:13, “As a parent has compassion for their children, so God has compassion for those who revere God.” The prophet writes in Isaiah 54:8, “…but with everlasting love I will have compassion on you, says God, your Redeemer.” The apostle writes in Matthew 14:14, “When Jesus saw a great crowd he had compassion on them and cured their sick.”
Throughout the pandemic this has been one of my saving directives: Err on the side of compassion. There are so many moments in these trying times where the ways we were used to no longer serve us. And when our frustration with others runs high, I must remember to err on the side of compassion.
When we realize our favorite restaurant is now closed or their hours have shifted due to supply or staffing, how do we respond to our disappointment? When the lines at the bank or grocery store are longer than they used to be, what is our reaction? When we can no longer just walk into the veterinarian’s office, doctor’s office, school, hospital, bank, or nursing home without an appointment, how do we handle the change in our accessibility? When the sign on the door says, “Masks required” or “STOP, please call first”, what do we say? How we respond to these changes matters. And the way we model behavior for others matters. Have you seen people pulling on the locked door of a closed business, yelling at the door or ‘closed’ sign in frustration, and saying something unkind to others trying to enter the same place? Have you witnessed people airing their frustration toward grocery store clerks, bank associates, medical staff, or educators?
There are so many losses in our lives right now. The most sacred and devastating of these is the loss of human life. We are collectively grieving; I am grieving, several families in our congregation are grieving, and our congregation is grieving. Our ability to cope with loss and grief is different for every individual and every group. Each person and each family will process their pain in different ways and in different timelines.
A Chaplain’s and Pastor’s work is to accompany people through their traumatic times. From the ‘Good Friday’ moment of loss through the despair of the ‘Holy Saturday’ grief to the sunlight dawning on the ‘Resurrection’ morning. THROUGH the grief process. Chaplains and Pastors join their communities in the grief process and help find ways to hope. Chaplain and author Kate Braestrup writes in Here If You Need Me, “I’m not really here to keep you from freaking out. I’m here to be with you while you freak out, or grieve or laugh or suffer or sing. It is a ministry of presence. It is showing up with a loving heart. And it is really cool.” Chaplains and Pastors are here for you – not to fix grief but to join you while you grieve.
The grief we are experiencing is a traumatic event. It is a cultural, generational, compounding traumatic event. And many of us are experiencing post-traumatic and on-going traumatic symptoms: stress, fatigue, anxiety, trouble sleeping, trouble keeping routines, trouble relaxing and many others. We are tired and tired ‘of it’. We are beyond tired, beyond exhausted. We are depleted. As we relate to others, we can easily become irritated. And when we encounter that closed restaurant or long line it is easy to react rather than respond. In these moments, I have reminded myself to err on the side of compassion.
What is the other person going through? Why is the restaurant closed? I wonder about their well-being. If the restaurant is closed, is the owner well or is the staff ok? When I don’t get a return email or phone call, is the recipient doing alright? When the teacher or school nurse calls, I wonder how much stress they are experiencing and what they might be dealing with? I remind myself to err on the side of compassion.
I remind myself that grief and trauma are hard! As we accompany others through their grieving process, we don’t know what their internal struggles are. We are in it together, come what may. In the grieving process we don’t always know what help we need; we don’t always know what to ask for. And when we are experiencing trauma, we can forget to ask others for help. Help and compassion are here for you at the church, in the congregation, and in the community.
If we are all experiencing grief, loss, and trauma then we can easily forget to ask others for help. It is all too easy to feel frustrations. And if we remember the words of the psalmist, prophet, and disciple we are reminded that God has compassion for us. God is moved to act on our behalf with compassion. We can also be moved by that same compassion towards our neighbors and ourselves. To love because we are first loved is to have compassion because we have received compassion. This community is here for you. Err on the side of compassion with others and yourself also.