The primary way to break through to people is to relate, not evaluate. Jesus said, “Hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:5). Compassion, not judgement opens hearts.
Paul Miller, author of Love Walked Among Us wrote, “Judging is knee-jerk, quick, bereft of thought, while compassion is slow and thought-filled.” By slowing down we can feel compassion and enter conflict more thoughtfully.
As I looked out from the podium during the church service I saw my son sitting with his arms crossed. His shoulders were slumped as he gazed angrily at the floor. An open chair was on his right. His siblings were packed like sardines on his left — three chairs for four people. He refused to move over to make room for the rest of the family.
After church, an argument brewed on the back porch while I made an assortment of chocolate chip and apple pancakes in the kitchen. My daughter was cross examining her older brother, “Why couldn’t you just move over! How hard can it be? There was an empty chair next to you.”
“I already moved over! Besides, you had plenty of room!” My son’s defense relied heavily on the measurements of each person’s girth when compared to each chair’s width. He was not budging. (He is destined for law school.)
Fights like this happen pretty regularly in our home. With five kids, my wife and I have learned to triage family conflict. We simply don’t have the energy and resources to address every little issue. Following normal operating procedures, my wife and I assessed the wounds and dressed them. “Jack, just move over next time. It’s not a big deal and it serves others. And Kelly, next time you can get up and move instead of trying to boss your brother around.” The solution was equitable, and quick. Now we could move forward and enjoy our family feast before the food turned cold.
The pancakes may have been hot, but the conversation around the table was cold and I was growing increasingly frustrated. “Can we just move forward with new attitudes. The rest of today I am off work, and I’d like to have a great day together.”
While they ate their pancakes in grumpy silence, I slowly realized they weren’t the only stubborn ones asking another person to move. I had asked them to move, yet I hadn’t been willing to budge myself. I needed to abandon my judgement seat and move into a new seat — one labeled compassion.
“Jack, what made it hard for you to move over to make room for Kelly and Michael?” Because my attitude had changed from condemnation to curiosity, it pierced through his defenses and he softened. He recounted ways he’d felt pushed to the side over the past couple of months. He spoke around his ultimate fear, afraid to mention it it directly, but I had a hunch.
“Are you afraid Kelly loves your siblings more than you?” I guessed.
“Kind of.” he confessed.
His wounds went deeper than any of us realized. Our daughter was horrified at the thought. “That’s not true! You’re my big brother! I just wanted to sit there to help mom with the younger kids.” She instinctively walked over to Jack’s chair and hugged him from behind. He smiled and then playfully pushed her away. “But, Jack! I love you!” She opened her arms and made smooching noises.
We talked more. They each owned up to their failures to love well and they forgave each other. It turned out to be the best family pancake breakfast this year.
I love my kids. But, if I did not take time to slow down my judgements, and show compassion by entering their world they would not have felt my love — nor would they have seen it in each other. Showing compassion restores hope in relationships.
How have you been quick to judge and slow to show compassion? How could you slow down, like Jesus, and enter another person’s world with compassion? Who knows what hope it may restore to relationships!
(Published with permission from Jack and Kelly Kieffer)