One thought from church last week sat with me like a fine steak I wanted to keep on tasting: Compassion is the hinge God uses to open doors to His heart. The more I savored that, the more profound those words became. I have witnessed its truth with fascinating accuracy in the lives of others, and in my own.
The Message version of Ephesians 2:5-6 says this: “Instead, immense in mercy and with incredible love, he embraced us. He took our sin-dead lives and made us alive in Christ. He did all this on his own, with no help from us! Then he picked us up and set us down in highest heaven in company with Jesus, our Messiah“. This is what the original hinge of compassion looked like. A hinge places itself next to, connects with, and opens.
The New International Version says “he made us alive even when we were dead in transgressions“. We must understand the depth from which He embraced us and made us alive in order to place ourselves next to and connect with others who may be “dead in transgressions”. Because of this, I’ve noticed that previous traumatic experiences and recovery programs are factories for hinges of compassion. They remind us that we followed the ways of the world, the spirit of darkness, polluting ourselves and doing whatever we felt like doing whenever we felt like doing it (Eph 2:1-4). Arms of compassion are strengthened by first learning to reach up.
The objective of a hinge is not merely to connect two things, but to then open what is closed. Paul puts the lid on the purpose of God’s rescue in Ephesians 2:10: “He creates each of us in Christ Jesus TO JOIN HIM IN THE WORK HE DOES, the good work he has gotten ready for us to do, the work we had better be doing“, i.e.–opening doors to His love.
This week I received a letter returned to me that had been sent to a prisoner, apparently with “contraband” inside. I had taken his kids to visit him, and due to a blizzard, we had to abandon the operation and turn around. Instead, they colored him some pictures, and I wrote a note telling him we would try again soon. Little did I know that crayons and markers on paper were contraband. Honestly, that riled me up. This father missed an opportunity for a hug (which has been proven to reduce recidivism) because pictures drawn from his children were not even able to make it past the guards.
Thanks to Chip Dodd’s book, The Voice of the Heart, I know that anger is a voice that speaks about what matters to us, showing us what we desire and long for. Listening to this feeling opens our eyes to the work God has planned for us to do. Getting angry about something can either make us depressed and defeated or it can show us where our passions lie, giving us a vision and direction to work towards. While on the grand scheme of things, it may look like prison reform, for now, I get to join God in His work of compassion, practice coming alongside, and open one door to His heart.
Another friend of mine who is incarcerated was knocked further down the chain of humanity as his label as a child sex offender grew this week. I was overwhelmed with sadness for his heart, which after years of walking with him and seeing the trauma he, too, had been through, I know is good. He was now ostracized because of a label, as if he were a monster. Dodd’s book explains that sadness shows us what we care deeply about. Sadness can either move us towards isolation or connect us with others. When we allow our sadness to connect us with another, we “suffer with” them, which is the root of compassion.
When Jesus tells us in John 13:34 to “love as I have loved you“, he is asking us to go to the depths, as he did for us, to embrace, sit with, and open eyes and hearts to Him. He has prepared good works for us to do and He places passions and feelings in our hearts to guide us to the rich treasury that is in connection.