We are defined by the things we do —not in a “the things you do get you in to heaven” kind of way (Christ dying on the cross does that) or in a “the things you do are your identity” kind of way (our identity as Christians is rooted in God’s love for us). But we are defined by what we do in a Twitter bio kind of way.
A Twitter bio is the description on a person’s Twitter profile. Some people have quotes; others highlight their jobs. Mine used to say “coffee-drinking, poem-writing, Christ-follower.”
My parents had a dog named Luke, and when I think about Luke, three things come to mind. First of all, he wasn’t really my parents’ dog. He was my sister Caroline’s dog. She got him as a Christmas present about 14 years ago and until she went off to college and even when she visited home after that, he slept in her room and stayed close to her.
Luke had this habit of urinating on plants or pots on the porch. We couldn’t stop him from doing it when he was young and, of course, you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. It isn’t fun to linger on the annoying things, however, so let me tell you what made Luke the best dog I’ve ever come across. He would fetch until your arm felt like it would fall off. When he finally got tired and dropped the ball, he would lie down to rest. Then I would throw the ball again, he would watch it sail away, and he’d get up and run after it. If I created a Twitter bio for Luke it would say “Caroline’s dog, pees on plants, great fetcher.” The things Luke did came to define him.
I said my Twitter bio was “coffee-drinking, poem-writing, Christ-follower,” because that’s what I want to present to the world, but the truth is it probably should say something like “Layne’s husband, yells at cars when he’s driving, easily distracted by sports.” What would yours say?
Ephesians 4:31–32 says, “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”
We like that second sentence. We don’t like the first one. We like to think we’ve arrived at the second sentence. We’re probably stuck on the first one, and we may not understand the second sentence.
The other word that compassionate is translated as is tenderhearted. Be kind and tenderhearted. My dad used to tell me, “You can fall in love with anyone, so be careful where you put your heart.” I want to amend that here as, “You can fall in love with anything, so be careful where you put your heart.”
Paul wrote to the Ephesians about bitterness, anger and brawling because he knew these were things with which we, as humans, struggle. We convince ourselves that bitterness, anger and brawling are about other people, but those things start within us. They harden our hearts against each other.
Compassion, however, inherently calls us outside of ourselves. To have compassion for someone is to see them and to have empathy. Compassion requires vulnerability and a tender heart. Compassion sounds nice, but if we are honest, it’s actually scary. Compassion means putting ourselves in a position to be hurt by someone.
It’s like when Peter asked Jesus, “How many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus responded, “not seven times, but seventy-seven times” (Matthew 18:21–22). The implication is not that we should keep track in a notebook like, “Well, that was number 67, so only 10 more times” but rather that we should continually forgive. The scary part is putting ourselves in a position to need to forgive someone that many times.
To have compassion on someone is to see them and to have empathy. But we are so blind and self-focused, that when we look at each other, we see our own wounding. We put on each other the faces of the people who have hurt us in the past whether it was our parents, siblings, teachers or childhood bullies. The beginning of compassion is to see with Jesus’ eyes.
We are called to be kind and compassionate. We are not called to random acts of kindness and compassion. Our Twitter bio should read “kind and compassionate” not “kind when I choose to be.” The compassion that comes when we place our hearts on Jesus has impact, first on ourselves, and then on those around us, because compassion in relationship leads to forgiveness. It may seem unexpected, but the very thing that makes us vulnerable and tenderhearted and that puts us in a position to be wounded in relationship is what drives us toward relationship and ultimately leads to forgiveness. Compassion is what allows us to see beyond each other’s hard shells to the person God sees.
Compassion drives us to relationship, and compassion is a key component in forgiveness. There are exceptions to restoring relationships, such as abusive situations or when people have left us or died, but forgiveness still requires relationship with God and community. What we are addressing here are not the exceptions, but the people in our lives who stir up bitterness and drop us into cycles of convincing ourselves that we are right and they are wrong.
Consider what your Twitter bio would say if you were honest. Would it say “kind and compassionate, pursues relationships relentlessly”? Or would it say, “runs away from conflict, forgiveness limited to two chances?”
Mark Crawford is the staff writer of Light + Life. He resides in Tucson, Arizona.