Just over a week ago, I felt a depth of grief that completely overwhelmed me and left me intensely sick to my stomach. A depth of grief I’ve only felt a total of three times in my life, and each one leveled me and stuck with me. The first was when I was praying for someone I loved who did not personally know Christ. I was standing at the island in my kitchen, in the middle of praying, and was hit with what I knew, without question, was God’s intense love and emotion for the person I was praying for. God’s heart was deeply breaking in a way I, even now, cannot verbalize.
Then, as if in confirmation, friends from across the nation began flooding my inbox, telling me they were praying for this person and giving me further insight into God’s heart and the situation. And I just stood there, in my kitchen, and sobbed––for the entire day. I couldn’t stop sobbing.
About three, maybe four years later, I felt the same depth of grief while out on a “prayer walk.” I was researching Healing Love, a book on El Salvadoran orphans. At home, I had stacks of printed documents from human rights watch groups sharing stories of generational poverty, child labor, and all the horrors involved with the coffee, sugar, and tea industry.
Mid-afternoon, unable to process what I was reading, and frankly, not wanting to, I pulled away and went for a walk. As I was returning home, about ten minutes from my house, I was hit hard by a grief that nearly buckled my knees. And in that moment, God spoke clearly to my spirit and told me that I was feeling but a fraction of what He felt, seeing all the suffering across the globe in an instant. All the deep, deep pain. Hearing billions of His children cry out to Him in desperation, wondering if their prayers have been heard.
Just over a week ago, I once again felt a depth of grief that I am completely unable to explain and that I will never forget. It leveled me, made me ill, and triggered a colitis flare that has yet to abate. I cannot possibly describe the heaviness of sorrow. I wanted to run from it, to push it away, to distract myself from it. But instead, God invited me to sit in it, and to sit in it with Him. To feel but a small taste of the deep, visceral grief He feels right now for His precious, hurting children who are crying out to Him for help, for comfort, for strength.
In James 5, writing to Christians experiencing persecution, Jesus’s half brother wrote, “Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful” (ESV).
The word our Bible’s translate as compassionate, or “full of compassion” as the NIV puts it, isn’t found anywhere else in Scripture. Translated literally, it means, “many-boweled.” The ancients considered our bowels to be the seat of our emotions, and from my experience with colitis, I fully understand why. This is how our God and Savior responds to human suffering and pain––with a gut-level, visceral compassion.
Because He is both “many-boweled” and merciful.
Merciful. The original Greek word translated here also has a depth we must not miss. Oiktirmōn is a visceral compassion and means to experience deep, deep pity,. Here’s what struck me: This word is only used twice in Scripture, in James 5:11 and also by Jesus in Luke 6:36. “You must be compassionate (oiktirmōn,” He said, “just as your Father is compassionate” (NLT)*.
Just as. To the same depth and in the same instances. Our heart, our compassion, is to mirror Christ’s, the Savior’s who loved us to the point of death. That’s how visceral, how deep His compassion for us is.
Lord, break our hearts for what breaks yours.
* Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.