Compassion Competition

I don’t usually comment on things like this but the recent situation regarding the flurry of online activity about Amy Winehouse’s death and other tragedies in our world has got me thinking and reacting.  There’s a trend that I see especially among Christians.  As I go online and read people’s reactions to her death, possibly from a drug overdose, the reaction among many is to use her death as a springboard to draw attention to other things going on in our world, the famine in Africa and the mass killing in Norway.  The comments all seem to have a similar theme.  “Why are people so caught up in the death of this one woman when so many are dying around the world.”

I believe a couple of things about these comments.  I think the first is a reaction to the idolization of celebrity in our culture.  There are numerous people who die every day from drug overdoses.  Amy Winehouse’s death has been brought to our attention in a different way because she was a famous musician.  Her celebrity and the attention paid to her in the media feeds this idea of celebrity in our culture.  Now, I have to admit that I don’t spend a lot of time lamenting the rise of celebrity in our culture.  I read about them but I don’t worship at the altar.  I think we lament about the power celebrities have but yet, it’s fed by the people.  But that’s another discussion for another day.

What I really find disturbing about this backlash against Amy Winehouse’s death (and I do think it is a backlash) is that it represents a trend among people who are called by God to show compassion.  When many Christians think about Amy Winehouse I wonder how many think “Well, when you do drugs…” and I wonder how many shake their heads and secretly think that with her lifestyle she deserved it.  So there are postings that say, well, why is there so much attention to this one drug addicted woman when there are so many dying elsewhere.  Good point, but I think we’re missing the mark and in danger of losing perspective on how Christ might have us deal with this situation in our world of multiple tragedies.

Here it is.  We seem to think that there is more virtue for those who are suffering through circumstances beyond their control (famine, natural disaster) then for those who meet destruction through their own actions.  Those who can’t help it deserve our compassion more than those who could have made better choices and prevented it?

Christ did not differentiate to whom he showed compassion.  He was sad for the woman who led a life of prostitution and sad for the man born blind.  He showed love and mercy to both.  I would be in irreparable trouble if Christ only showed me compassion for the things that weren’t my fault or a result of my doing.  Christ died for my sins, for the sins of Amy Winehouse, for the sins of the world and to reconcile nature and creation to himself.  Christ saw Amy Winehouse.  He grieved for her, cried for her, and saw that she was lost and needed him so badly.

As Christians we are called to show compassion to all who need it.  The starving in Africa need it, the families of those killed in Norway need it, Amy Winehouse needed it, and I need it.  My choices may have been different from hers but my sins come between me and God just like hers did.  There is no virtue for me to shake my head and use her as an object lesson.  She was a broken young woman in need of God who died in sad and terrible circumstances.  As Christians we should not have a limited supply of compassion that we dole out to the most worthy.  One of the hard things about being a Christ follower and trying to do as he did is that sometimes we are overwhelmed by the need in our world.  Our hearts are supposed to break for people who are starving, people who were murdered and their families who are left to deal with that realization, and for that lone young woman, famous or not, who tried to fill the Christ-shaped void in her life with the drugs that killed her.  Our compassion should show no prejudice, should be all-encompassing, and at times, yes, be slightly overwhelming.  With the realization of the endless mercy and compassion Christ showed me, I need to go and do likewise.

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Too Many Carbs.

There are some sayings that you believe are true in your head but until you experience them you really don’t know the truth of them in the innermost core of your being.  The saying that I have experienced lately in my own life is “Three kids are harder than two”.  Makes sense, right?  Well, I was unprepared for the onslaught of what it means to have three kids as opposed to two.  First, you and your spouse are outnumbered.  My brother refered to this phenomenon as making the switch from man to man defence to zone (for all you sports people out there).  This is so true and never so true as I am experiencing on our vacation.  Now don’t get me wrong, we’re having a wonderful time as a family.  We’re all together without work and day-to-day life getting in the way but my husband and I are hopping.  Hopping, jumping, leaping, lunging, grabbing.  We are outnumbered and realizing that we need to be on our toes to keep up with three extremely pleasant, extremely active and curious kids.  Especially in the swimming pool.  We strap life saving devices on our kids but still need to be within arm’s reach of the younger ones.  Getting out of the pool with an infant in a large blow-up floatie ring and holding on to a squirming toddler with a Lightning McQueen buoy strapped to his chest is a Herculean feat that makes you look like Godzilla surging out of the ocean outside of Japan.  Flattering and sputtering.

Juggling three kids is tough.  Juggling three kids, a house, a dog, groceries, the day-to-day of life sometimes seems like a losing battle that I know so many of us feel at times.  Since my daughter was born and even before that through the nauseous haze of pregnancy I could feel myself letting things slip.  The housework may not have been done when it should have, we ate out a lot more, Kraft Dinner became a vegetable in our house some days.

Times like this come in life.  Times when we feel that all the balls we’re juggling just drop one by one onto our un-vacuumed floor and as we stoop to pick them up our back goes out and we’re staring at the gathering dust bunnies (or as I like to call them, dog bunnies).  In my own personal time of transition I found myself feeling more and more guilt as I struggled with the idea that I should be able to do more, be better, be smarter, keep it together better.  Other people can keep it all going so why am I having such a hard time right now?

When I’m feeling like this sometimes the last thing I want to do is read Proverbs 31.  I don’t want to think about what being a godly woman should look like because I don’t really want to examine myself that closely right now.  And what do I do with verses like this?

Proverbs 31:27 – She watches over the affairs of her household
and does not eat the bread of idleness. (NIV)

What do I do when I look around at the affairs of my household and am so overwhelmed that I want to do nothing more than be idle and possibly eat bread and butter in large quantities?  Well, sometimes it turned out to be just that.  We can get so overwhelmed with keeping it all together that it seems easier to keep none of it together.  Why would we try if we can’t do everything that needs doing?

I hate those times and being in those places.  During those times the affairs of my household do suffer.  I don’t just mean housework and cooking and laundry.  I mean my part in the things that revolve around the family unit.  When I’m overwhelmed my relationships suffer.  I’m detached from my husband because of stress and feeling sorry for myself.  I can look at my spouse, my closest ally and feel impatient or grumpy.  I am sharp with my kids and so busy trying to do other things that I don’t stop and see what their emotional needs are, just what I can do to keep them fed and clothed.  I don’t take care of myself.  I don’t exercise like I should because I have the skewed view that to take care of myself means flopping on the couch and watching tv.  When I’m in a place of stress, transition, feeling overwhelmed, I act in ways that do not reflect a woman who fears the Lord.

These times come during our life.  I am just coming out of a major transition from mother of two to mother of three.  From a household of 4 to a household of 5.  To extra laundry, another bout of potty training, cleaning up, keeping up.  Things were on the wayside but I can see a light at the end of the tunnel.

When I read the verse about tending to the affairs of her household and not being idle I try to think of that woman.  She had children, she had cleaning, chores, a job, all these things that take our time and can send us into this spiral of stress if our focus isn’t right.  It is hard to have a right focus.  I hate to admit it but during these times my relationship with God suffers.  I fall into bed without spending time in my Bible.  My prayer life is intact but becomes decidedly unbalanced because I spend so much time praying for myself that I forget about others.  Isn’t it sad that the things that would help us most are the first to go?  When I read my Bible, when I focus on praying for those around me who are in great need I gain perspective that helps me see a window out of my own struggle.  I see that there are others who are in need of much more prayer than I and I gain perspective and a more thankful heart.  It’s like my favourite Dr. Seuss book “Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are?”  By focussing on the needs of others we gain perspective on our own situation.

When I’m in my Bible and talking with God I begin to feel like I can manage.  That I am capable again, that my brains haven’t totally left me.  Then it’s roll up the sleeves time.  When I exercise instead of watching tv a few things happen.  I have more energy, less stress, more time to accomplish things that need doing and the ability to do them.  Oh, this also goes for eating better, ie. less bread and more veggies to pump up the energy.  With more time and more energy I can do like my mom always advocated “instead of feeling overwhelmed and stressed by what you have to do, realize that work is the best de-stresser and get to it!”  She’s right.  Instead of looking at my floor strewn with toys and dog bunnies and feeling that stress, pick them up and vacuum.  I am learning that a little self-discipline goes a long way to relieving stress.

There are times, though, where you just can’t get it all done.  After you have a baby you need to give yourself time to heal, time to recoup and adjust to this new life that you’re responsible for.  After the birth of my 3rd child, I realized that a. I’m not 25 anymore and b. the emotional and spiritual health of my children is more important that a house that is perfect for company.  You see, I think that taking care of the affairs of the household means taking care of the people within it first.  Letting my 6-year-old feel that he is more important to me than laundry takes only 5 minutes of dropping what I’m doing to focus in on him instead of listening half heartedly.  Reading a book with my 2-year-old means that Cheerios can stay soggy in the bowl for a little while.  Getting the house perfect is less important than taking time to sit on the deck with my husband and hold hands while talking about each other’s day.

Balance is hard and I don’t know anyone who has it perfect all the time.  But when I read the verse about taking care of my household I realize that taking care doesn’t mean that everything is perfect in the off-chance that company will stop by.  It means having perspective on what pleases God rather than trying to please the world.  People who come to our house have likely seen it clean once so they know you can do it.  I want to know that my kids and my husband feel loved, feel like I have time for them, that they aren’t a burden to me but rather a joy.  I get the greatest satisfaction in knowing that I’m doing my best to be kind and loving to the people I love most in this world.  When I’m right with God and right with my family, then my household is tended to, dog bunnies and all.