Compassion is an essential Christian virtue and one of the keys to a happy life. Here’s how you can cultivate it at home.
by Ryan Langr
Christ’s Compassion for Us All
Compassion is a surprisingly overlooked virtue, one that we tend to take for granted in our Faith. But compassion is essential, not just in our faith, but in every aspect of our life. It affects how we treat people we encounter every day, deal with anger, and interact with the poor and marginalized.
A core event of our faith, the crucifixion of Christ, is the most compassionate act in history. Many practices in Catholicism, including the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, require compassion. If we are to have a fruitful and authentic Catholic faith, we must be compassionate and teach our children to be as well.
Cultivating Compassion at Home
But this does not have to be a daunting task. Compassion is part of who we are as social and spiritual beings. All we need to do is cultivate the seed of compassion that is already inside us. Here are five suggestions to help instill compassion in your children.
Talk about the Crucifixion: Children love and look up to Jesus, and they respond to love given to them. God’s greatest gift, and the greatest example of compassion, is Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. The crucifixion may be uncomfortable or sad for a child to think about, but one of the advantages is that it will motivate them to want to follow Christ, give back to him, and treat others with kindness. In explaining the compassion of Jesus’ death, you merely need to tell younger children that Jesus loved us so much, he was willing to give up his life so we could be with him. Older kids can begin to understand that sometimes compassion simply means giving up time or being vulnerable with another person to help take on their suffering. Christ suffered for us, so we could suffer less, and we should try to live by that example.
Help them Receive Compassion: Hopefully this comes naturally for most parents, but it can be hard if we have a large number of kids at home, are busy in our schedule, or are not feeling well ourselves. Generously take care of them when they are sick or sad. When they lose a pet or a loved one, comfort them. When they are suffering, share your past experiences with them, or just sit and hold them. Isn’t it encouraging that this comes so easy for most of us? You are already passively teaching your child compassion at home through your example!
Practice Works of Mercy: As a family practice the spiritual and corporal works of mercy, which are rooted in compassion for the other. Take your child to visit the sick or elderly. Make sandwiches and give them to the homeless. Participate in clothing and food drives. Acts of service help make compassion a habit, but the most important thing is to interact with those whom you are serving. Since compassion is based on personhood, it is essential that we just not serve the other person, but come to know them. An excellent resource for you and your family is “67 Ways to Do the Works of Mercy With Your Kids” by fellow Peanut Butter & Grace contributor Heidi Indahl. Her book offers easy ways you can talk about and live with compassion through the works of mercy.
Deal with Anger: While anger itself isn’t bad, and in fact can help us be compassionate to oppressed and persecuted peoples, inappropriate use of anger is the antithesis to compassion. You cannot suffer for someone whom you greatly dislike. Teaching your child to forgive, using their anger in good ways, and praying for their enemies will not only help them deal with anger as they grow, but will water any seed of compassion you’ve planted.
Practice at Home: Pets and siblings give us great opportunities to practice compassion at home. Caring for a pet is a constant lesson in sacrificing time and comfort and it takes compassion to do it well. Having a healthy relationship with siblings means moderating anger, sometimes putting others first, and forgiving frequent wrongs. If you don’t have a pet or multiple children, no worries, through your modeling, prayer, and service in the world, your child can still make a habit of compassion part of their life.