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Learning Compassion and building Community when you feel alone

David White, Publisher

You know you’re different.  I know this because I’m different, too.  Different from people in the church.  Different from people in the world.  Some you recognize as more like you than others.  Some surprise you as more different than you would expect. 

Sometimes you feel alone.

Sometimes you feel like you’re the only one who…

But you know that can’t be true.  You know there have to be others.  Others like you.  You also know that it’s not enough just to find them.  Others want to be like you – need to be like you.  You have a deep passion to serve them – if only you could see how to. 

You want to show grace, but both the world and the church are full of condemnation. 

Maybe you wonder if you are too. 

It isn’t enough to want to talk about grace or forgiveness or redemption.  You want to show it.  To be a part of it.  You want to actually bring real healing and catharsis into a broken world.

But you can’t do it alone. 

And where do you start?

You think about the poor, the sick, the imprisoned.  Somehow they’re almost too distant and maybe too different.   You don’t understand them.  You don’t know their struggles, and even if you did, you can’t imagine how to express to them all the things you want to show them. 

This is a picture I’ve drawn of myself, and I suspect I’ve drawn it of you too. 

Where do we go?  What do we do? 

Maybe you’ve tried teaching a Bible study or volunteered at a food pantry or even gone on a mission trip.  And these things have satisfied, to a greater or lesser extent, some of those desires.  Maybe for you, you’ve even found a calling, a vocation, if you will, that you can do consistently and with purpose.  Maybe, though, you continue to look for that next thing like an itch that never seems to be scratched. 

But, again, in either case, there’s a good chance you feel alone.  Finding a community in which you not only feel at home but where you can act, being both supporter and supported in accomplishing things larger than yourself, seems increasingly difficult. 

You realize that there’s a good chance you have to build this community.  But you can’t do it through shame and you can’t do it through judgement.  So how do you do it?

The compassion you feel might not be felt by others.  Compassion isn’t something you can force, and it isn’t something you can develop through force of will and desire.  You can’t even learn it from reading the scriptures.  You learn that it’s necessary, sure, and maybe you’re convicted that you don’t have enough of it.

But compassion can only be learned by living it.  By humbling yourself before our fellow people. Interestingly, sometimes you learn it by proxy. 

Sometimes you find yourself moved with compassion when you hear a story about people on the other side of the world.   That’s why when a missionary who speaks to your church doesn’t give a PowerPoint with facts and figures about the good work they do.  They tell stories about the people they help.  They put a human face – one that you can understand – on the people they’re helping.  Suddenly you see this person, literally, through the eyes of that missionary.  You’re able to build empathy just by hearing the story.

You can gain experience of the people you want to serve just by hearing or reading about those people.  Stories motivate and creates communities more than any self-improvement program ever could. 

So consider telling stories.  Seek them out and find the ones that best touch your heart.  They’ll touch others too. 

You can build a common sense of purpose around these stories. 

Choose stories that fit with the “mission” you want to accomplish.  Tell missionary stories if you want to build a missionary community.  Tell stories about the homeless of you want to minister there.  Tell tragic stories about those who are in prison if you want to build a ministry to those people. 

Remember that those people you want to help are, well, people.  And people are their stories – the stories they tell about themselves and the stories that are told about them.  And don’t get too caught up in the details – there’s always nuance.  Not all stories have to be “true stories” with all the details wrapped up in a bow.  What matters is the heart.  What captures your heart?

If you do this, you’ll build a world where you’re still different.  But you’re no longer alone.  There are others around you who share a story – you share an identity with each other. 

Together you – we – can be co-laborers together.  Together we can change the world.

So does this feel like you? Are you willing to take a risk to change the world? Consider sharing this article with one other person who you think might feel this way too. Perhaps it could open a dialog between you and start building a small community of which you can be a part.

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Equally as important, though, is if this doesn’t feel like you or you feel like it almost rings true let me know where I went wrong. Chances are I did miss on something and I’d love your feedback and the chance to correct or at least discuss it. Please email me through our contact form.

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