Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Saying 'No' With Compassion

Anonymous asked: Father, could you speak a bit more about HOW to be compassionate without enabling like you said? Are we not also called to correct our brethren in love as well? Where is this balance and where is the line between a loving and prideful correction?

The first question reminds me of a word from Elder Sophrony: "Usually people prefer to focus on the outward events, while the history of each and all depends on their inner predisposition." Compassion is an inner disposition.  Compassion means to feel the suffering of and with the other. Compassion is not a matter of technique. It is about actual inner longing and pain.  

I sure many of us have had the experience of hearing someone say something along the lines of "I'm doing this for your own good" or "because I love you," but you were nonetheless pretty sure that the words were merely to assuage the conscience of the one who spoke them. Then, I suppose, many of us have had the very different experience, an experience in which someone had to do or say something that was painful for us, yet we knew somehow (or came to know after a little reflection) that it was also very painful for the other. Words may or may not have been spoken, but they were not necessary, for compassion is seldom communicated in words, especially words that draw attention to itself.  

When we say 'no' to someone, when we set boundaries and allow painful consequences to take their course in the lives of others--even if we have the ability to mitigate some of those consequences--we may indeed be doing the most loving thing. After all, God the Father and Lover of all allows us to reap much of the trouble we sow. The "outward events," to go back to the quote above, have much less to do with the ultimate redemptive potential of any situation than does the inner disposition. And here it is essential to realize that I am not speaking merely of the inner disposition of the one who is suffering most. We are not marbles, bouncing randomly into one another according to newtonian laws (or any spiritual or moral laws for that matter). We are made in the image of God, human persons whose inner dispositions penetrate one another. The internal life of each one of us penetrates and influences all those around us.

Consequently, genuine love and compassion is felt by the other--it has its profound effect--even though it does not enable, even though it respects healthy limits and personal choice. For example in the Parable of the Lost Sons, the Father despite his intense love and compassion, does not run after the Prodigal Son. The Father waits, the Father respects the choice, the apparently necessary journey of the younger son. The Father suffers internally for his lost son, yet he does not run after him. He does not try to fix it. He waits. He waits until the Son begins to turn. But this waiting with compassion is NOT "doing nothing." This waiting with compassion penetrates the Son, even as the Son is miles away living a life of complete rejection of the Father. Nonetheless, we are not marbles. We penetrate each other; we especially penetrate those we love.  

When the Son comes to his senses, what does he remember? He remembers his Father's house. And he not only remembers this, but he knows that his Father will receive him back. How does he know this? He knows this because of his Father's compassion, his Father's inner disposition of loving co-suffering that has penetrated his own mind and heart. The son knows that if he returns, his Father will receive him (the part about being a hired servant both makes it easier on himself and manifests the humility, the change, that has been worked in the son through suffering). The son knows this because it is true, because distance and circumstance are no barrier to the actual love and co-suffering of the Father. As soon as the Father sees the returning son, the Father runs to him and rejoicing gives him the signs of their reconciled relationship.

Similarly, in our relationships with our prodigal loved ones, we too must respect choice, respect the journey of the other. And yes, part of that respecting is not to enable, not to run after the prodigal as he is running away from us, not to focus on fixing the outer appearance in order to avoid the pain of the inner reality. However, like the Father, letting go does not mean any diminution of love, rather it means an increase of pain, of co-suffering. And it is this god-like suffering that makes all of the difference. It is our genuine compassion that penetrates the hearts of our loved ones, despite distance or offense, or the burnt bridges of past mistakes. Like the Father, our genuine co-suffering love penetrates the heart of our beloved even as outwardly we must say 'no' or enforce necessary boundaries.

I think I will look at the next two questions later. 

1 comment:

elizabeth said...

Father Bless!

I found this helpful - thank you.