I read recently on another blog that having children makes the world a smaller place. Her example was that suffering in other children is suddenly much more real when you have your own. (I would link to it but I have no idea where I even found it, or who it was.)
Not long after that I was reading a fiction book that highlighted the realities of meth addiction and what it can cause people to do. Things like baby trafficking.
I stayed up late one night finishing the book because I could not put it down. And somewhere in the late night, reading my book, Asher woke up crying. I immediately put my book down and went in to feed him. And while I sat there in the dark, nursing him, staring at the sweet, trusting innocence on his face, the tears began to fall. I cried and cried. My sweet baby, who asks for nothing except for milk in his belly, and care and love from the only people he knows. Suddenly that was my baby whose cries went unanswered. Who was handled cruelly and dispassionately by selfish, evil, depraved people whose addictions drive them to acts that should be punishable by death.
I couldn't take it. I simply couldn't take it. But I let myself feel it. For years I've shut my ears to the suffering that children experience because their stories crush my heart and keep me up at night. For years I've literally said the moment people begin to recount another story of child abuse or victimization, "STOP. Don't tell me, I don't want to hear it. It's too much for me." And for some reason, that never struck me as wrong. It was just who I was and how I did things. Other people can hear those stories, just not me.
And then I was lying awake in bed one night this summer, praying for my friends who were in Cambodia at the time ministering to children who are (or were) most likely sold into child prostitution, and the Lord completely opened my eyes to the wrongness of my go-to avoidance tactics. He doesn't close his eyes to their suffering because it's "too much." True compassion is felt and borne. We suffer with those who suffer and weep with those who weep, just like Jesus.
So since then I've made myself feel. Instead of simply saying, "I just can't imagine. Hey, what's for dinner," I intentionally allow myself to feel it. And it's produced in me a truly praying heart. Instead of praying some generic, "Oh Lord, comfort them. Okay let's move on to something less gut-wrenching," the Lord has been producing in me genuine feeling and care that pushes me to pray.
I read in the news some time back about a woman who lost all three of her children and her parents to a fire, and I made myself be her and imagine (as much as I could without it really being true for me) that it was me, and it crushed me with the impossible suffering she was enduring. I couldn't (and still can't) stop thinking about her, and so I've truly prayed for her. Not just thought sad thoughts about her, but lifted her up to the Holy One who enters our pain and binds up our wounds.
And then I had a friend over who shared with me her story. Two kids under two. Being a single mom because her husband left her for other men. How hard it is for her to do it by herself all day and not have a husband to look forward to coming home and giving her a break and being a family. So that night as we started the bedtime wind-down, I made myself be her. I was alone. Matt was not there to help me meet the needs of two little boys. After bedtime I was alone. When I made dinner I was not waiting for Matt to get home from work because he wasn't coming home. I was by myself day in and day out, night in and night out. And it hurt. I ached for her. And I prayed for her.
You see, true compassion compels us to act. Thinking sad thoughts about someone isn't compassion. And so it's painful and I'd like to close my eyes to the suffering, but then I wouldn't pray with such passion, "Lord, come back! Rescue every single child abused by evil people. Raise up men and women who will act on their behalf. Show us what we can do."
Because that's my baby Asher whose desperate cries for food and help go unanswered. That's my happy, trusting Micah in the hands of evil people. It's not a nameless, faceless child somewhere else. They're my children.
I've got a long way to go to love others like Jesus does, but the Lord is at work in me. It hurts. But it should.