com•passion, from Latin com– ‘with’ + patior, pati, passus– ‘to suffer, bear, endure’
Sometimes the simplest thing can drive home an old idea in a fresh way. It was in a lecture on Greek mythology that the idea of compassion really clicked for me. I had always thought of compassion as a noun describing that feeling of sympathy one feels towards someone in unfortunate circumstances, the benevolent pitying feeling we’re supposed to have towards the poor, the grieving, the less fortunate, the impoverished children in far away lands. But as the professor was discussing compassion, it finally struck me:
Compassion is a verb.
Patior is a verb, not a noun. It is the action of suffering. And with the prefix com, it is the action or process of suffering with another person.
Compassion is not a feeling, it is an action.
It is sitting beside someone in the dust and ashes, much as Job’s friends did with him, and suffering with them. Silently sharing in their suffering, not offering advice or unwanted solutions. It is not talking, not doing, not fixing. There is a time and a place for those things, but those things are not compassion. Compassion is simply sitting with someone in their pain and suffering with them. I can choose to set aside my pain, my disappointments, my frustrations, and sit with my friends in their pain of broken relationships, their grief of lost friends and lost potential. We are all broken; We cannot fix each others’ brokenness, but we can sit together and share in our suffering.
Compassion is not something one feels; it is something one does. It is a state of being that one can choose.