“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 NIV.
I made the decision to become a secondary school teacher so I could use my skills to help others whilst feeling like I was doing something worthwhile. Something that might make a difference in the world. Like anyone entering the profession, we all have the ambition to excel in teaching our subject, but soon enough realise that our part in secondary education is so much broader than simply the subject we teach.
Yes good subject knowledge is vital, but to become a great teacher you must also be good at forming relationships with a diverse spectrum of individuals, all of whom, if you wish to see learning progress, you must encourage with a positive mental attitude. This frequently involves strategies to enable students to leave the baggage of life behind them as they enter your class; switching them from focusing on the troubles of their teenage years to learning the topic you have planned, which they may or may not be interested in.
It is often that the trials of life are magnified in young minds to the point of distraction, but ignore or play down their suffering, real or imagined, and you will soon create a hostile environment where learning is impeded by your capacity to bond with them.
Creating a safe environment where each individual feels important by being appreciated, and respected, enabling them to feel free to make mistakes as they learn, can only come from compassionate care. This care comes from a spirit of gentleness, empathy and encouragement working alongside the boundaries, which develop their sense of personal responsibility.
I’m sure many teachers could tell a story or two to demonstrate the triumph of compassion over adversity. I once had a young girl come in to my classroom in floods of tears. She was being bullied by other girls in her year group because her school bag was different.
“I hate my bag,” she bawled through tears.
Her bag was a pale blue and pink rucksack with little pictures of white ponies dotted about. The other girls she told me all had grown-up looking handbags, which her parents had not wanted to buy for her.
With empathy and gentleness we can console another’s distress. We can explore the advantages and disadvantages of different bag styles, recount our own tales of being made to wear shoes or clothing that were different and may also have hated at the time. But without action words are left hanging in the space we occupy empty of purpose. Compassionate care, as with faith, requires action, which in this case was resolved successfully by a community working together to tackle the issue head on.
Using the same example above, let us consider another scenario. The young girl feeling distressed by her troubles, tells a friend also in her year group. The friend responds with kind words and a hug, calming her tears by showing empathy and compassion. As the school day ends the friend heads home through town with her Father, and having discussed it with him, he agrees to buy her the same bag to use for school. The next day she turns up to school with the new bag and shows the young girl that they will stand together.
In an act of love, the friend has made a decision to suffer with the young girl. Both are now subject to the same condition that led to her suffering. The friend has demonstrated love by compassion (co-suffering) in thought, word and deed. It is by action we know and experience the love of another. Without it we feel alone and unloved.
Similarly it is by what Jesus ‘did’ for us, by giving up His life on the cross, that we know and appreciate His love for us. He came to us fully God, fully human (Hebrews 2:5-18) to share in our pain and suffering. When we look to the cross, Jesus’ act of love for every one of us says; I suffer with you, I am close to you, you are not alone. Jesus is our friend, who as the opening scripture says “comforts us in all our troubles”.
Jesus teaches by example how to love others with compassionate care for them. He asks us to be doers of the word (James 1:22). Our experiences, our trials, they shape us so we can become compassionate carers of others facing similar challenges. We are to examine ourselves in order to know what skills we have that can be used to support our families, friends and the communities in which we live. Supporting someone else from a place of understanding, love and empathy builds them up, encourages them to go on to live healthy, joyful and prosperous lives. Bringing God’s tender heart to earth, as it is in heaven.
Father God, thank You for Your compassion and eternal love that stretches beyond our understanding and comforts us in times of difficulty. Thank You Jesus for Your cross. Open our minds Lord to what we can do for others to comfort and console them, just as You do for us. Let us be gentle and kind towards those in need. In Jesus name we pray. Amen.