Monday, March 4, 2019

Compassion Means "Giving Your Time" to Be With Others

Do not underestimate the value of the time you spend with someone who is suffering.

You are afraid because you can’t solve the person’s problems. Of course you can’t. So don’t pressure yourself. Give your time. Stay with the person, and be consistent about it.

In human things time and presence are the media of love.

In today's world, we need to remember (or perhaps learn anew, in a deeper way) that there are layers of human suffering that cannot be "fixed." The only way to touch a person at this level of their pain is with love, simple love. And this kind of love requires time.

If you spend a few hours with a suffering person, they will probably still be suffering when you leave. But don’t think you have wasted your time; you have to keep coming back—every day or week or whatever you can give.

If the person acts grouchy or doesn’t seem to appreciate you or give you the feeling that your visits are "successful" or "meaningful," don’t give up and go away. Don’t stop coming.

Obviously you can't force yourself upon a person who really wants to be left alone, so it might be right to space things out if you think they really need it. But it's not necessary to jump to this conclusion just because the person is not very sociable, or because you can't think of a way to be useful to them and you just feel "odd being around" when there doesn't seem to be any need for you.

Don’t try too hard to be helpful or make the person feel good. Just be familiar, be natural, and be there.

Certainly, if possible help, comfort, console, encourage them, listen to them. You might start to enjoy spending time with this afflicted person, who will surprise you by drawing on the deep resources of their experiences and memories (when they are able to). You will find things to do, to talk about, and to learn. This is great.

But don’t depend on this. Pain makes for a fickle friend, unfortunately. You must give the time as a sacrifice and "expect nothing" in return.

This means that you are often going to feel awkward. You are going to feel that you are not in control and, for the most part, you are going to feel unappreciated. But this is good. It means you have begun to enter into and to share the burden of the awful loneliness and intolerable dullness that are at the heart of another person's pain.

This is the way of compassion.

Some years ago, I first wrote about the foundational importance of just being-with-a-person in solidarity and love, with the sacrifice of our own time. I'm learning more and more how true this really is. Even when we have our own illnesses, needs, and hindrances (which make us all the more aware of the limits of what we can do, physically, to improve the situations of others), we cannot forget those who have been entrusted to us interpersonally—those who need our love, and also whatever time, presence, and care we can give them.

"Staying with one another" is at the heart of living as human beings. This is true for all of us.

I would say especially to young people, and to all those who are blessed with lots of energy, good health, and emotional stability: "Your vitality and constructive aspirations are a joy to me! Live fully, with love for God and one another. You have natural gifts that predispose you to the corporal works of mercy (among other things), and you can also grow in the life of grace and as human persons through the sacrifices of this kind of service.

"There are many ways to help those in need. By all means use your energy to assist with the many practical difficulties that sick and suffering people (and their families) must endure. But please do not forget that deeper and harder sacrifice of sharing time with the person in pain. Simple love passes through time, patience, and perseverance and entails the willingness not merely to 'help' but also to suffer with the person."