Many years ago, a poor orphan advertised her piano recitals in order to raise funds. Posters boldly declared that she was a pupil of the celebrated Hungarian pianist Franz Liszt—a blatant lie. To her horror, she discovered that Liszt was coming to the village where she was giving the concert. With trepidation she requested an interview with him, sobbed out her confession, and awaited his stern rebuke. Liszt acknowledged that she had been wrong, but recognized her repentance and asked her to play for him. At first she stumbled over her notes, but as she grew in confidence, she played well. He corrected her a few times and said, “My dear, now I have given you a lesson. You are a pupil of Liszt. Go on with your concert and put on the program that the last piece will be played, not by the pupil, but by the master.”
An organization in South Africa began a compassionate project many years ago. The group buys houses in impoverished areas and paints them red. They then hire house parents who live in the red houses, providing beacons of light to the troubled communities. Over the years, these houses have become havens for children at risk and other hurting people in need of a safe place, a hot meal, a listening ear, and a warm hug.
I was once invited to an authors’ party in London. It was a posh affair with caviar and oysters and a private view of a fashion exhibition. Celebrities milled through the crowd and everyone else looked like a celebrity due to their chic fashion sense.
I have a friend who has spent most of his life with people who live on society’s margins: People experiencing poverty or homelessness, those who wrestle with addictions or simply exist outside the mainstream, anyone who might be considered an outcast. “That’s where I seem to fit,” my friend says. “On the edges.” He helps believers in Jesus learn how to be in true friendship with those who are different. “This kind of friendship isn’t as complicated as we like to make it,” my friend insists. “Often it’s as simple as knowing someone’s name and how they like their coffee.”
Picnics are usually a lot of fun, unless you realize— minutes before you leave—that you’re supposed to bring a dish to share! When this happened to me, I quickly put some meat in a pot, cranked up the heat, and left the kitchen to finish other preparations. Several minutes later, I smelled something burning. I ran to the kitchen, but of course it was too late to salvage the burnt offering.
An audition for a singing competition on TV captured my attention. Strumming on a guitar he’d learned to play just a year earlier, a young man named Anderson wowed the judges when he performed his original song, “My Best Friend.”
Jean Vanier, founder of the L’Arch communities, has spent his life loving those often ostracized by society. L’Arch creates living communities for those with disabilities or those who, because of their need for intense care, would be institutionalized if they didn’t have such a home. Vanier talks about how the communities are centered around the most basic acts of caring for the physical body—bathing, dressing, and feeding residents who can’t do those things on their own.
I have a confession to make (inhale deeply and hold breath):I’m not a dog person! But here’s another confession. Mywife is training a black Labrador Retriever as a service dog for people with disabilities, and . . . well, Snickers is absolutely the sweetest, most gentle and loving creature in the world—even though she’s so very doggish. You might even venture to say I’ve grown to love her.
Following a tumultuous season in her life, Bethany Haley Williams battled with shame and brokenness. The journey was difficult, but through Jesus she experienced healing that transformed her life.
Stephen Crane’s story “The Open Boat” tells the tale of four men attempting to survive in a lifeboat at sea. One of the men ironically reflected on a poem he had read as a schoolboy about a soldier fighting in Algiers. The man realized that “he had never considered it his affair that a soldier of the Legion lay dying in Algiers, nor had it appeared to him as a matter for sorrow. It was less to him than breaking of a pencil’s point.” He hadn’t felt compassion for the soldier—until now.
Author and psychologist Madeline Levine once met with a 15-year-old girl who was “bright, personable, highly pressured by her adoring, but frequently preoccupied . . . parents.” Levine recognized the girl’s “cutter disguise”—a long-sleeve T-shirt pulled halfway over her hand with an opening torn in the cuff for her thumb. When the young girl pulled back her sleeve, Levine was startled to find what the girl had carved into her forearm: “EMPTY” . . . sadness and confusion personified.
On a recent trip into the city, I noticed people stationed on several street corners. Their clean, coordinated T-shirts announced a common goal—to help end homelessness. One of them approached me offering information. As I paused there on the street, I noticed a homeless man standing just a few feet away. I saw his scruffy outfit and downcast look. Although the advocates for the homeless were doing a good thing, they seemed oblivious to the man. No one spoke to him or offered him food.
Greg Boyle helped launch Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles, California. Geared specifically to help former gang members, it’s one of the biggest and most successful ministries in the United States. Boyle knows a lot about loving and caring for others. In his book Tattoos on the Heart, he writes: “Compassion isn’t just about feeling the pain of others; it’s about bringing them in toward yourself.”
There’s something within the human condition that seems to enjoy seeing others fail, especially if those who fail were previously successful. For instance, we might celebrate seeing a top sports team fall from their lofty perch after a long period of success. About time too, and other phrases come to mind.
In 2014, something called the Multidimensional Poverty helped researchers determine that there are 1.6 billion poor people on earth! When you read through Scripture, it soon becomes clear that God has always had a particular concern for the poor, the forgotten, and the vulnerable (Deuteronomy 10:18, 15:11). And when Jesus spoke His Sermon on the Mount, it’s not surprising that He first blesses the poor (Matthew 5:3). So if we’re to be about God’s business, shouldn’t we bless those who God blesses?