My parents modelled for me what a big heart looks like.
They gave up a comfortable life as a city-church minister in post-War Netherlands to leave all their relatives, friends and familiar surroundings and sail 5 weeks away to remote Australia. Was that selfishness or a commitment to their wholesome Christian ethos?
As a migrant-chaplain’s wife, Mum often had new arrivals and “wounded birds” of many kinds as guests for a meal, a night, and if necessary longer. She had the same care for injured animals, our pet chooks, rabbit, canary and cat, and her pride-and-joy garden.
My siblings and I (there were five of us) grew up with few words but many pictures of what commitment, practical Christian faith, compassion and service look like, and these memories have moulded all five of us. “There but for the grace of God go I” and “Do for others what you would like others to do for you” are Christian statements that have become part of our daily language.
My brother had trouble with the validity of Christian faith from an early age but has stuck by his wife of many years despite a sometimes trying marriage, and I’m grateful that his compassionate commitment has paid off richly. It’s not that I don’t believe that separation and divorce are unacceptable and unforgiveable, but I know from much observation that they are rarely an easy alternative to staying together.
Two of my sisters were each “dumped” by their original husbands but have not lost their heart. One still weeps over her first love – but she’s also moved on, well and truly. The other has worked with refugees and other “wounded birds” for many years.
Sister #3 is also in caring work – as a physiotherapist with disabled people, and as an advocate for MND (Motor Neurone Disease) patients. This condition took my father and is also known as Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) or as Lou Gehrig’s disease in different countries.
Sure, having a heart can be painful, frustrating, unrewarding, and it invites abuse. It can tempt us to become unrealistic or stridently angry. And not everyone can maintain being compassionate without becoming eccentric.
Beyond my parents, compassion for me and many others is modelled on Jesus, whom almost everyone in developed countries agrees is our world’s #1 model and hero. What a shame that we who claim to represent him sometimes fall so badly short, but that difference made Jesus unique.
I have always found that what we know about Jesus Christ gives us (amongst other things) a model of someone who kept opposite strengths in both balance and tension. He could be both passionately angry and life-changingly kind, he knew when to speak and when silence was golden. Although sometimes accused of it, he never became eccentric or nutty. Because of this he could bring unique and sometimes unimaginable healing.
We can do worse than learn from and follow him.