I had the unmistakable privilege of seeing this first hand last weekend. Newborn babies and children only months old being cared for with such love and hope. The origins of the word “comfort” are found in roots that mean “giving strength”, which, in fact, is what we do when we care for a person in a weakened state.
Edith’s chapter on this was compelling. I fear that in our current culture we have so little time to be sick or injured or weak. We rush children off to the doctor in hopes of an antibiotic so we can hurry back to work and they can quickly return to school. While we would never wish sickness or injury on anyone, both happen, and when they do, let’s extend shelter and comfort and care.
I don’t think we learn compassion by watching images on television, we learn it when we clean up yet another set of sheets and blankets, when we slow down and read books to a child with a fever, when we visit with the elderly, when we prepare a nutritious soup for someone who is hurting.
Physical pain, emotional pain, spiritual pain – they are all met within the arms of compassion. Compassion grows and strengthens in the context of an intimate, loving family.
What is a family? A family is a well-regulated hospital, a nursing home, a shelter in time of physical need, a place where a sick person is greeted as a sick human being and not as a machine that has a loose bolt, or a mechanical doll that no longer works – to be shoved aside because it is no more fun, nor is it useful! A family should be a training place for growing human beings to know how to care for a great variety of sicknesses and for people who have just had accidents or operations, because each one has received both knowledgeable and loving care and has watched it being given to others. The knowledge of what is necessary for basic care ( and what is added thoughtfulness to make the time more bearable ) should be absorbed through years of living in a family. If, however, a person has not been brought up with the kind of care that has given pleasant moments in the middle of misery, assurance of love in the midst of fear, or the mingling of gratefulness with pain, then one needs to be told.
On a human level, children are meant to learn how to comfort others with the same kind of comfort they have received in their own pain, sicknesses, and sleep troubles. Children are meant to understand compassion and comfort because they have received compassion and comfort – and this should be in the family setting. A family should be a place where comfort is experienced and understood, so that they people are prepared to give comfort to others. Comfort should be related to the word family. Edith Schaeffer, What is a Family?
If we want to nurture compassion in our children, then we need to cultivate places of comfort – homes where it matters how you feel, homes where you can communicate what you need, where kind and gentle responses are the norm. As we receive comfort and compassion, we learn it in such a tangible and authentic way, we can’t help but extend it to others when we are walking strong and the weak are all around us.