Tuesday, September 30, 2008

No Room For Compassion In Legalism

Legalism – n. strict conformity to the letter of the law, the judging of conduct in terms of adherence to precise laws.

Compassion – n. a deep awareness of and sympathy for another’s suffering; the humane quality of understanding the suffering of others and wanting to do something about it

I learned last week that compassion and legalism are mutually exclusive, they cannot exist in the same heart.

It started with an early morning phone call from someone at Abby’s school, on Friday, when I was "somewhere else in the south". She said, “Mrs. 'X', Abby must have 2 more vaccinations or she can’t come back to school. Do you have an appointment to get this done?”

Good morning to you to… No I explained to her, the pediatrician suggested that we wait about 8 weeks so as not to traumatize her with doing everything at once.

“Traumatize her, what do you mean TRAUMATIZE her?”

Well, she’s newly adopted, she doesn’t speak the language and since she’s had to have vaccinations, and a tough dental appointment, we felt it was best to wait a little.

“It has been 28 days and the laws says she cannot come back to school.”

I explained that I understood that the law required this second round of vaccinations, I wasn’t asking for an exception to the law, only a little more time…

“The law says she can’t come back without the shots.”

Over and over, she told me what the law said, not one word, of “I understand your concern…I wish I could help you…I’m sorry,” just…this is the law. Throughout the conversation she continued to demean my concerns…

You know, I understand that she is simply the messenger, she’s just doing her job and I can empathize with that…but what is beyond my understanding was how she did her job…there was not one ounce of compassion or reasonableness in her…her heart was so hard because her focus was all about the law.

But that got me thinking…I see that demonstrated far too often in the church. We get so focused on our ‘laws,’ or rules and regulations that we can’t see the people behind the actions that we so strongly disapprove of….

A few years ago, I found myself in a situation that I had a really hard time with…my heart was very hard to some people and I couldn’t find any room for compassion or grace in my heart, much less love. It was all about the ‘rules.’

At one point though, I stopped and looked into this one person’s eyes and they were so empty, my heart started to ache… there was no joy… no life...only despair mirrored in her eyes… hopelessness…

A couple of days after that, I was reading Donald Miller’s “Searching For God Knows What,” and in it, he talked about how when man sinned in the Garden of Eden, we all became prisoners of an unseen war. Something clicked in my heart, and all of a sudden, I could see these people as prisoners of war and then my heart broke for them…not pity, in the self-righteous sense…but just sheer heartache over their captivity.

Legalism…self-righteousness…arrogance…pride… gave way to grace…mercy…love…compassion. But the legalism had to die in me…I had to get my focus off of the law and onto the people before I could feel an ounce of compassion for them.

I think the church, in many ways has become too much like the Pharisees of Jesus’ time…far too focused on the law and far too blind to the people they are so quick to judge… there is no real compassion for the spiritual p.o.w.’s… there’s no heartache for them, only judgment and condemnation because they are not adhering to the law.

Perhaps if we took a little more time to try and understand the broken heart behind the behaviors that we disdain so much, we might find that compassion will lead them to the cross instead of scaring them away.

I did get Abby’s vaccinations…she screamed through the whole thing…it was awful. And when I took her vaccination record to school, I asked to speak to the principal. She was very upset at the way I had been treated…and then she told me that a memo had come out last week stating that as long as parents had an appointment card to show that the shots were in progress, the children were fine to return to school with another 30 day grace period…

If the person I was talking to had only had enough compassion to try and help me, she would have learned that piece of information. Then I would have had another 30 days to build trust with Abby and my friend, who speaks Chinese, would have had a chance to explain all of this to her.

While there are many rules and laws, even truths, that leave no room for exception or compromise, there is ALWAYS room for compassion and understanding when we stop and take time to remember that there is a person with a life and a unique set of circumstances behind each situation…it doesn’t mean that we break laws or compromise truth…it simply means that we apply those laws with tremendous grace and compassion. What a different place this world might be…


April Isaacs said...

I think you should go to Abby's school, find that woman's car and put on the bumper sticker that says,


Really, I hate that word. BUt, I am not going to lie to you, that bumper sticker cracks up up.

And, my favorite bumper sticker, even though I don't really like bumper stickers is...


Haha!! Haha!!

momto4girls said...

Let me just say- Amen! Sometimes I think we forget that God's church as described through the Bible, was set up to build one another up, provide fellowship and to spread His word. Sometimes it tends to look more like a social club with rules and dues. Love following your blog!

Michelle said...

This post reminds me of Jesus and the Pharisees and the Sabbath... they just couldn't let that Sabbath thing go, could they?

I'm sorry you were bullied into doing something you weren't yet ready to do.