Something our household is struggling with lately is how we relate to outward circumstances and the people in our lives. My wife and I are different in so many ways, but whether we would like to admit it or not we share one very overwhelming personality trait: We bite HARD onto our circumstances, good or bad. We emotionally invest all of ourselves. Even when we try hard not to be consumed by what is happening around us, we end up being consumed with “not being consumed”. It is kind of funny as I write it out, but in the moment it is exhausting. We both know first hand how this personality trait has led us into unsafe situations, and we have learned more than I plan on including in this post. But one thing I never want to see my wife change about herself and one thing she does not want me to change about myself is the fact that we do care. The simple fact that she goes all in for relationships is why I married her.
So back to what I was saying about us struggling to navigate outside influences on our lives. So we both have this shared intensity for people and things. She smolders for a long time and burns steady with thoughts and feelings, I tend to be more like a lightning strike. Probably the same amount of intensity just spread out and communicated differently. I am sure you find yourself somewhere in this gap. So at what point does this compassion, as I will call it, become corruption?
When someone says you have a “bleeding heart” they are usually implying a negative connotation. I do not think there is anything negative about caring. But I will say that if you bleed out for everything you eventually will run out of blood. The human body has 4.5-6 liters of blood (give or take). Our stamina, our resources and our strength is not limitless. Eventually you will run out.
And maybe you just read that last paragraph and you thought, “Its fine if I run out! You do not understand my circumstance, you do not understand my background, I rather be poured out than not do anything at all.”
Cool, I agree. Let us not forget that I am an advocate for people with disabilities. I would rather have myself drained than go on one single day more watching people with disabilities be marginalized, discriminated and hurt.
And therein lies the thorn in every advocate’s side. Especially advocates who are advocating for themselves and their dearest loved ones. Eventually compassion can become corruption.
I can point my finger at so many people I see posting on social media about this or that. Instead, let me point my finger at myself.
When I walk into a church that has zero physical accessibility, zero staff training and zero inclusion of people with disabilities, lightning strikes within me. I am not just furious because of the millions of humans that are being disregarded. I am furious because it is personal. I am one of those millions disregarded. That lightning strikes hard within me.
Then, I have a choice. I either sink or I rise. And it is exhausting. Because it is an everyday battle. I cannot change how I feel about a situation or how it hits me in the gut, but I sure can control how I react to that gut punch.
This post is clearly tailored to people who are advocates, but don’t tune out yet because I think there is something here for any person that has ever been unable to pay their bills and still have had more expenses come in… there is something here for any person that has seen someone they love be taken advantage of or abused time and time again… there is something here for anyone who finally felt a sensation of hope just to have it robbed. This post is for the people who have been kicked while they were already down and who have been pushed past their breaking point. This is for you. This is for me.
Compassion becomes corruption when it isolates you from who you are meant to be. Compassion becomes corruption when it causes you to lash out, to hurt those who have hurt you or to hurt those who have done nothing to cause you pain. Compassion becomes corruption when the love you feel is sidelined for the anger you cannot control.
Anger, inherently, is not bad. In fact, I believe that righteous anger is required to be a half-decent advocate. But that anger has zero right to your joy. Even if you feel undeserving of joy, even if you wouldn’t know what joy felt like if it bopped you on the nose. No thing, no feeling, no person is entitled to taking away your joy.
Compassion without praise is corruption. One of the ways I have experienced this, is a the real temptation to make people my enemy just because they are not experiencing what I am experiencing. There is a constant temptation in advocacy to make people our enemy as opposed to the system or problem we desire to dismantle.
Yes people cause trauma and they perpetuate systems that marginalize and harm lives deeply. Hell, without other people screwing things up maybe we wouldn’t need advocates and activists. But, alas, that isn’t the world we live in. Maybe you have heard this concept before: “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 6:12)
When we are truly advocating we are fighting FOR something. We are fighting FOR the people we love and we are fighting FOR those manipulated and deceived into buying into the systems that are making our world ache.
Bitterness has no place in compassion. Isolation has no place in compassion. Violence (emotional, verbal or physical) has no place in compassion.
Go ahead, feel angry, and when that lightning strikes, be ready for it. Catch it. Bottle it. Repurpose it. Lightning is free energy. Do not let it destroy.
The hits probably won’t stop coming. Maybe you will have respite in different seasons. But we cannot sacrifice joy. Whether you are an advocate or someone just feeling beat up, are you still able to laugh? Are you able to love yourself and others? Are you able to extend grace? How about forgiveness?
God wants to take these circumstances and flip them on their head and God wants to use you. God wants to stand with us and look the disturbances in the world and in our lives dead in the eye. God wants to refresh us and make the lies and darkness look stupid for even trying to “step” at joy.
No matter how desperate your situation, no matter how overwhelming your ministry. If you want to bleed out that is fine. Or you can rely on Christ to replace what is poured out.
I hate providing vague advice. So here is my “real talk” advice for making sure that your compassion does not become corruption.
Ask yourself. What in my life brings a smile to my face? What activities, what people calm my mind and heart? Lean into those things. Make time. Make them a priority. Make self-care part of your daily activities.
Do whatever it takes to make your compassion submit to love. We tend to feel compassion because we love something or someone. So your decisions and your energy should reflect your love and not your reaction to circumstance. Use the those circumstances, those gut punches to your advantage. Let them fuel your passion but do not let them control your behavior. When you react to the gut punch, pause, remember what you love and why you love it and react through the lens of love and joy.
Do you pay your bills because you love your children? When a new bill hits the table, react in a way that your children would feel loved. Do not use it as a way to justify lashing out against yourself or people around you.
When someone inadvertently spits on your mission and advocacy, think of why you are advocating, think of the faces that you love. Let that love be the driving force of your response. Let love lead you. Let love knock the wind out of the systems that are hurting the people around us.
I have wanted to write off so many people because they just do not “get it”. But the moments where love has led, I have seen it redefine conversations, I have seen it raise up new advocates and allies. And I would rather a new ally any day over someone I “put in their place”. People are not road bumps to reaching our goals.
Do whatever it takes to let love lead your compassion. Don’t bleed out. Because the world needs your passion and voice.