Unrelenting Compassion: Choosing a Selflessness in a Self-Preserving World

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

When you work in the ER, compassion becomes a joke to some employees. Caring for patients that can be overly needy, manipulative, rude or demanding has caused individuals in this field to conclude that to genuinely care is not only unnecessary but naive. Surely if we allow ourselves to be affected at a heart level by the individuals who walk through our door for care, we'll just burn out and come down with a permanent case of "compassion fatigue."

"Don't let them get to you."

"I know your games. We're not playing."

"Oh 'so and so.' Just another frequent flyer."

The single most disgusting thing that I have thus far discovered in healthcare is not the blood, body fluids, smells, behaviors, or messes of my patients. It is the conclusion that--for some reason or another--it is ok (or even most professional) not to care.

It is utterly counterintuitive to observe and hear when you are new to the healthcare industry that a twisted version of discernment is permitted; go ahead, say those harsh words to your patient. They deserve it.

You may even be praised, applauded and encouraged to "stand your ground" and tell your patient to cooperate, if that is a struggle they are experiencing, even if this is done in a less than life giving way.

It's certainly true that emergency department employees experience a lot of rough things; some patients yell at us, are inappropriate, or refuse to listen to anything we say. But do the wrongs of our patients justify an ongoing attitude that assumes the worst about everyone?

Though I have only been a CNA for two years, I dare to say that the worst patients I've had have only more fully convinced me of the necessity to genuinely care. Yes they're needy, covered in germs, and sometimes make me question my own sanity, but what did you expect? This is not a fashion show, it's a hospital. People are broken here. People will get sick on you here. People may be experiencing their "lowest of lows."

Yet I find a disturbing trend in response to the needs of patients; at times they are looked down on for their medical complaints, quickly termed manipulative, and gossiped about to other staff.

Within my own heart, I've been tempted either to quit completely or become the most committed nonconformist the ED has yet seen, in this regard. I did not go into healthcare to be an uncompassionate person. I did not sign up for this line of work so I could be heartless and make sheepish justifications on why that's acceptable.

What challenges me to take a different perspective than the pervading thoughts in healthcare is the fact that Jesus was moved with compassion at a heart level for many who were broken. There are multiple passages in the Gospels that show us His response of those who were interrupting, sick, begging, needy, or outcasted by society.

"And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the Gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. When He saw the crowds, He had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd" (Matthew 9:35-36).

"Now when Jesus heard this, He withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by Himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed Him on foot from the towns. When He went ashore he saw a great crowd, and He had compassion on them and healed their sick. Now when it was evening, the disciples came to Him and said, '...the day is now over; send the crowds away to go to the villages and buy food for themselves." But Jesus said, 'They need not go away; you give them something to eat.'...They all ate and were satisfied" (Matthew 14:13-16, 20).

"And they came, bringing to Him a paralytic carried by four men. And when they could not get near Him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him, and when they had made an opening, they let down the bed on which the paralytic lay. And when Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, 'Son, your sins are forgiven.'...'I say to you, rise, pick up your bed and go home.' And he rose immediately..." (Mark 2:3-5,11-12).

"I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat" (Mark 8:2).

We who are in Christ are given the amazing privilege of displaying the nature of our God in our fallen world. Jesus is all wise, and in His perfect discernment, He is lacking neither in compassion nor love for the broken.

The greek word used in several of these passages for compassion is "splagchnizomai." Strong's translates it: "To be moved in the inward parts, i.e. to feel compassion." It can be defined: to feel sympathy, to pity, to have compassion, and to be moved with compassion. [1] "From splanxna, 'the inward parts,' especially the nobler entrails--the heart, lungs, liver, and kidneys. These gradually come to denote the seat of affections" (Help's Word Studies).

Jesus truly felt compassion. He did not self-preserve, but poured out.

Do we cave to the temptation to be unfriendly and disconnected from those in need or do we willingly and joyfully invest in those who are draining and difficult?

Oswald Chambers once spoke these convicting words:

"A true servant of Jesus Christ is one who is willing to experience martyrdom for the reality of the Gospel of God. When a moral person is confronted with contempt, immorality, disloyalty, or dishonesty, he is so repulsed by the offense that he turns away and in despair closes his heart to the offender. But the miracle of the redemptive reality of God is that the worst and vilest offender can never exhaust the depths of His love" (My Utmost for His Highest). 

The grandest display of love was made to the utterly undeserving: you and I. Every person who has ever existed has sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). In today's world, you're told it's enabling if you rescue someone in the midst of trouble. But it is not the Gospel to avoid those in need in the name of self-preservation. God reached into the depths of our mess, sin, rebellion and hellish potential and laid down His very life that we might come to know Him and be saved. That is radical. This self-focused culture wouldn't be caught dead reaching into the needs of others unless it had benefits to self.

The book of Romans says: "For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person--though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die--but God showed His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (5:6-8).

Does our treatment of the difficult, problematic, smelly and just plain rude people in our lives reflect Christ? Or can we be found with overly critical tones, whispered gossip on our lips, and inward disdain for challenging people?

Amy Carmichael has said:

"If I belittle those whom I am called to serve, talk of their weak points in contrast perhaps with what I think of as my strong points; if I adopt a superior attitude, forgetting 'who made thee to differ? And what has thou that thou has not received?' then I know nothing of Calvary love."

You and I have the opportunity to expose the Gospel to broken people. Will we lay aside self-preservation that Christ might be made known more fully?

"Some want to live within the sound of a chapel bell. I want to run a rescue shop within a yard of hell" (C.T. Studd).

(1) Strong's Exhaustive Concordance

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