A Lesson in Compassion

The thunderstorm caused a traffic jam, making us late to daily mass. My husband and I scurried into the foyer to find the main part of the church dark. A glance to the right, where the only source of light came, gave us a view of the altar in the chapel as Fr. Joseph began the Mass.  The thunderstorm had doused the power in most of the building. We rushed in and stood against the wall by the first pews, then knelt on the hard tile floor.

The second time we knelt, a woman who comes to daily mass handed me her thick wool shawl to kneel on. I was startled, hesitated a moment, then accepted it. The large shawl was always draped around her shoulders or over  her knees. I felt she was offering me a part of herself, her security blanket.

Her kind gesture startled me because of my perception of this familiar woman who never hesitated to ask people to get out of her way or open doors for her. She was crippled. Her crutches lay on the floor near where I knelt. She rested her feet on the individual kneeler.

The thoughtful offer of her beautiful warm shawl seemed out of character because of an incident in the restroom a year ago. I was in physical therapy for back and shoulder injuries from a car accident. I stopped in the restroom before mass and went into the handicap stall.  I needed extra room to manage an apparatus I wore around my waist. The outer door opened and I heard not footsteps but the thud of crutches. A tense voice said, “Ma’am, I need to get in there. Mass is about to start!” I explained my predicament and her voice softened only slightly as she remembered using the same apparatus years ago. I apologized as I came out of the stall, praying my irritation did not show through.  I forgave her and carefully kept out of her way from then on.

Her gesture of compassion in the crowded chapel was humbling. Then it happened again. The third time we knelt, she picked up the little kneeler provided for her chair and handed it to me. I shook my head, knowing her habit of propping up her feet. She insisted. I gave it to my husband since her thick shawl protected my knees and prevented my back from hurting.

Was it the closeness of the worshippers in the chapel, jammed together in prayer that made me feel a little self-conscious? Rather, the Lord was humbling me by showing his compassion through a woman I saw as the recipient of compassion. I had never imagined her as a giver of compassion.

Her act of kindness changed my perception of her. Her vivid model of God’s compassion inspires me to act more compassionately toward others when he makes me aware of their needs. It took a pair of crutches, a thunderstorm and a power outage forcing me into a standing-room-only chapel for the Lord to give me this little lesson in compassion.

What has the Lord used in your life to teach you an unexpected lessons in compassion?

(© 2013 Nancy H C Ward)


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About Nancy Ward

Nancy HC Ward is a journalist, author, and speaker who blogs about Catholicism, her conversion, and Christian community at JoyAlive.net,
 7 websites and 7 magazines. She loves to share her faith story and help others share theirs through her Sharing Your Faith Stories seminars, also available on DVD. She contributed four chapters to The Catholic Mom’s Prayer Companion. She facilitates the Dallas/Fort Worth Catholic Writers and a critique group for the Catholic Writers Guild, where she serves as a board member.
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