Gut-Level Compassion

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.

How God Responds to Our Pain

quote on leaning on God in hard times and image of a girl.

If you want to catch a glimpse of God’s heart for you, simply watch a mother with her newborn. The hours spent walking the floor as she tries to soothe her little one to sleep. The energy sacrificed to care for her. The joy she feels when the child grows or laughs or simply breathes. Her anguish when her child is sick or in pain.

Nothing tears me up and drives me to pray quite like seeing my daughter struggle. About two and a half years ago she accepted and eight-month coop in North Carolina. Anxious for an opportunity to venture into the adult world, she left Nebraska with hope-filled anticipation.

Her enthusiasm soon turned into a scary depression, triggered by numerous circumstances. First, she was considerably younger than all her coworkers, which made it difficult for her to form relationships. Second, she was paired with an extremely critical and domineering roommate who caused my daughter to doubt everything good about herself. Navigating a management role at the age of 19, this was her first time living so far from home, and she was lonely. She struggled to find a faith community and missed her friends and family. As time went on, her feelings of isolation grew, which only served to deepen what we later learned was undiagnosed depression.

Watching her struggle from afar, I felt powerless to help her. I often longed to catch a plane, if for no other reason than to stay close. To hold her, and in so doing, to shoulder some of her load.

When we’re hurting, like my daughter was, it helps to know we’re not alone. The truth is, if we belong to Jesus, we never Quote from pulse and woman looking out the window are, regardless of how we feel. Scripture promises that. It tells us, throughout its pages, that God is with us, loves us fiercely, and will never leave us. What’s more, when we feel as if our heart is shredded, when the pain is so intense, it steals our words and we find ourselves unable to pray, the Holy Spirit steps in and intercedes for us.

Romans 8:26 tells us “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us through wordless groans” (NIV). Words in the original Greek often convey such richer meaning than our English translations, and that is true here.

When we suffer, and we will, the Spirit closely identifies with our suffering and comes alongside us in a deeply personal, empowering way. The late biblical commentator Matthew Poole phrased it this way: “The word” helps, or more accurately, joins to help, sunantilambanomai in the Greek, “imports such help, as when another of great strength steps in and sustains the burden that lies too heavy on our shoulders.”

But God does so much more than that. He feels our pain and prays for and with us with “groanings too deep for words” (ESV).

I’ve never understood the depth of this verse, the depth of God’s emotion conveyed by the words Paul chose, until I too prayed and “groaned” for my daughter during her struggle. If God feels even half of what I did, and I know He does, as His love is so much greater than mine, than I know, when I’m hurting, His heart breaks as well, and His heartbreak spurs Him to action.

God stays with me, offers His strength in place of my weakness, and prays with and for me. He doesn’t let up nor will He leave until He’s carried me safely to the other side. He will do the same for you.

Let’s talk about this! Did you know that God prays for you? That He’s deeply concerned for you and loves you as deeply as Romans 8:26 indicates? How does this knowledge bring comfort when you feel pain? Share your thoughts and examples with us in the comments below, because we can all learn from and encourage one another!

Connect with Jennifer Slattery on Facebook and Instragram. Check out her blog on Crosswalk HERE.

THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Additional Resources:

The Problem of Pain by CS Lewis

Thinking Right When Things Go Wrong by JC Hutchison

God Meant it For Good by RT Kendall

Finding Jesus in the Center of My Pain by Jessica Brodie