Compassionate Presence

My husband Pete and I attended the University of Virginia back when dinosaurs roamed the earth.  We have followed their sports teams with great patience and allegiance for decades. Virginia’s first round loss in the 2018 NCAA Tournament was, without question, the most heartbreaking defeat for us as fans in our UVA sports loving lives.



The sports commentators were brutal; some of our friends who cheer for OTHER teams were quick to poke fun and rub the defeat into the gaping wound.  I am sure no harm was intended; I am positive no one intended for us to take it personally.


However, the experience paired with my current passion project as a pastor (What does it mean to be transformed?) really was a punch in the gut.  Certainly the wins and losses of a sports team are not necessarily the expected venue for sacred space. Sports have their place in the world and to give them too much importance is just silly.  


But I am struggling with a larger point that goes something like this…  In both small and large ways we continue to show people who we are - for better and for worse. In the smallest of moments, our compassionate presence might make a big difference.  I might feel bad about this tendency to see everything through the lens of spiritual transformation, except Jesus had a bad habit of doing the exact same thing!


In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus said this:  

34 When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had left the Sadducees speechless, they met together. 35 One of them, a legal expert, tested him. 36 “Teacher, what is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
37 He replied, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, and with all your mind. 38  This is the first and greatest commandment. 39  And the second is like it: You must love your neighbor as you love yourself. 40  All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.”  

~ Matthew 22:34-40 CEB

Heard it a million times, right?  Age old wisdom, right? My question is this:  if we know these verses so well, why do we continue to be so absolutely lousy at living them?  Or is it just me?


By mid-morning of the UVA debacle, Pete had received one phone call and one email from two people who, shall we say, do not usually pull for UVA.  Both expressed their sympathy for the loss of the team. Their tone seemed genuine. I would suggest to you that this was a sacred act of compassionate presence.   How did these two friends know to do this lovely thing? I think they are living a Matthew 22 kind of life. What makes their acts of kindness - which I suspect both think was no big deal - so amazing?  Because so few of us have what it takes to show up with compassionate presence. I’d further suggest that it is not rocket science, this act of showing up, so I wonder, why is it so difficult?


More on loving well and our struggles to do so tomorrow.