Kick-Starting Compassion

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by Dan Weyerhaeuser, Senior Pastor

When I was growing up, my brother bought a motocross bike. It was only 185cc, but when you were riding on trails through the woods and flying off jumps we made, it was plenty of bike to get your heart pumping. Starting that motorcycle was a singularly satisfying experience. You didn’t use a key – you jumped on the kick-start, throttled up a little, and vroooom, the bike would come to life!

Years ago, I learned that we can actually kick-start things in our own hearts. There is something we can do to bring to life a reaction. Particularly today I have something in mind that we can kick-start: compassion.

As we press further into learning to R.E.A.D. people we encounter, there is something to observe about how God has designed us that you may be helped to see.

I first saw this chart in Kevin Huggins’ book, Parenting Adolescents. Kevin was illustrating what happens when we immerse ourselves more deeply in other people’s lives and stories, and how compassion is the result.

To set up his point, Kevin first describes 5 levels of relationships. Each one is characterized by the kind of conversation.

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  • Intellectual involvement is the level of relationship we have with people with whom we share “Cliché” conversation. These are folks we see occasionally for brief periods (e.g. Store clerk, Delivery person, etc.). We talk about the weather or the Cubs. It’s not insincere, just not personal.
  • Material involvement is exchanging facts and ideas in a conversation. A co-worker or neighbor might fall into this category initially. With this, you are sharing anything personal. You are talking together about your work, your yards, your kids, or your plans.
  • Empathetic involvement is the level of friendship in which you begin to report about your experiences, particularly emotions. Typically we are removed from the situation we are describing at this level. This can be sharing about a challenge growing up, or a hope for the future. We have begun to be connected personally with someone, but are still not vulnerable.
  • Dynamic involvement is becoming vulnerable enough to share how you are feeling right in your interaction with someone else. This is the beginning of transparency. It is saying, “Right now, I am feeling mad, sad, glad, or scared and I’m bringing you into it.” You can get how this is pretty vulnerable, especially if what you are sharing is not positive.
  • Familial Involvement is Huggin’s description of Dynamic involvement enjoyed for years and years. Like all psychologists, Huggins says this “cosmos” level is almost unattainable. (Thanks a lot for that).

Ok, Huggins describes these levels of relationship to make four observations. If you want to be a great listener, these will help you:

Getting to deeper levels of relationship:

  • Takes more time: That may seem obvious, but it is important to notice. That’s why we have a lot more people at level one than level four. If you are going to connect more with people, you have to give them your time.
  • Exposes you to a great potential for pain: As you get more deeply connected to someone, you expose yourself to a greater potential to be hurt. Huggins’ book was written to parents of adolescents. He challenged parents in a difficult relationship with their kids not to pull back involvement, which is easy to do if that relationship is particularly painful.
  • Increases compassion: Varoooom! Huggins noticed that as we get to know people’s stories better, including people who are hurtful to us, the more compassion rises in us all by itself. Compassion happens when I really see someone else’s pain. This doesn’t take effort, it happens by itself.
  • Opens up greater impact: The deeper my relationship with someone, the greater the impact we have on each other’s lives. So if I am going to influence someone significantly, I have to care deeply… actually care.

This visual has served me well over the years. Its point is simple but profound. The more I learn about people’s lives and what it is like to be them, especially when they are hurting, the more compassion rises in me. Compassion helps me see them more clearly, it motivates me to action, and draws me towards them as an agent of healing.

As you work to not only Repeat what people tell you, but summarize their Experiences by feeding back the emotions they were feeling in the story they are telling you, you are putting yourself in a place to kick-start compassion! You are putting yourself in a place for the Spirit of God to engrave them into your heart (I’ll talk about that in my next blog). And that is a place that is more like Christ.

Keep READING… and varooooom!

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