Wednesday, August 31, 2011


: sympathetic consciousness of others' distress together with a desire to alleviate it

I've been thinking a lot about compassion today.  It started early this morning, when I received an e-mail from a friend.  She and I are in a bible study together and we've recently started studying the enneagram.  It is kicking my butt.  The more I learn about who I am and how deeply my sin penetrates who I am, the harder it is.  Her e-mail to me said, "the enneagram is about is a training in compassion--on yourself and others."  It brought tears to my eyes to read her words.  I need to work on having compassion - for others, yes - for myself, especially.

A few hours after this e-mail from my friend, I retreated upstairs to read a passage in Isaiah.  It said, in part, "'with everlasting kindness I will have compassion on you,' says the Lord your Redeemer."  It was a day when I needed compassion for myself - and my daughters. 

Monday was a rough school day.  B quite simply did not want to do school, so it was a day filled with low grade and outright conflict all day long.  This is completely exhausting for me.  So what a blessing it was for yesterday to be a good day.  A and B were attending their tutorial for the first time this year - B for the first time ever.  On Monday, B said to me, "Mom, it takes me a long time to make friends.  It could even take a whole year going only one day a week."  My heart shattered and I started praying.  All day on Tuesday, I prayed for one friend for B.  Just one child to be kind and welcoming to her.  One.  God answered with abundance.  When I arrived to pick the girls up, I asked B how her day had gone.  "Awesome!" she replied.  She spent the entire ride home telling me how well the day had gone, who she had met, what she had learned and made.  My heart overflowed with thanksgiving.

This morning, school got off to a nice start.  A and B started their work while I took K to school, but B's progress came to a screeching halt when she hit history.  The first speed bump was when I walked through the door from drop off and B said, "Have you read this book you told us to read?"  I hadn't read the book in question - I'd merely skimmed it.  She pointed out how difficult it was - with many words she didn't understand (and her vocabulary is not lacking).  I read a few paragraphs and revised the assigned reading from five pages to one page.  Then came another speed bump. 

I had asked for two paragraphs explaining what we could learn about the Egyptians based on their religion and how that compared and contrasted to our own beliefs.  She wrote two paragraphs.  I marked them up and we talked about them.  I tried to help her get closer to what I wanted.  She fought me.  She moved on to some other work, came back to history, fought me again.  Meanwhile, A was plowing through her plan for the day - or so I thought.  When I read her response to the same history assignment, I realized something: what I was asking was simply too difficult for them.  I wanted them to look at the pantheon of Egyptian gods and their myths and infer things about the Egyptian people.  I then wanted them to take those inferences and compare them to contemporary beliefs.  They didn't get it.  So instead of making them re-write their paragraphs (yet again), we talked it through.  We discussed what we might be able to tell about a culture that has a God of the Desert and so on.  Seeing that they weren't unwilling, but unable, to complete the assignment as I'd envisioned, I was able to be compassionate.

But it's far easier to be compassionate with my daughters than with myself.  Do I understand them better than I understand myself?  Or do I just think their suffering is worth alleviating and my own deserves to be borne?

Part of what the enneagram does is help you see how your greatest gift is also your deepest sin.  As the book says, "We are destroyed by our gifts because we identify too closely with what we can do well."  My inclination - in this, as in all things - is to shame myself for my sin.  To remind myself over and over of how I choose inaction over action, avoid conflict when speaking up would be the better course, get trampled on rather than stand up for myself.  I am not inclined to be compassionate or loving towards myself.

Yet if I am to learn and grown and become someone else - all of which I desperately want - I'll have to learn to be more gentle with myself.  I was able to see today that my daughters needed something - they couldn't do what was asked of them.

This evening as K was playing a game on the computer, she was talking to an imaginary friend in the chair beside her.  K kept saying over and over, in a kind and gentle voice, "Everybody makes mistakes.  It's OK.  Everybody makes mistakes."  She even started singing it at one point.  The look on her face as she played her game and said this repeatedly wasn't ashamed - it was joyful.  Boy, can I learn from this kid.  Compassion 101 - for herself and others.

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