My Greatest Asset: Compassion
Trigger Warning: This post references suicidal ideation. If you or a loved one are struggling please see our additional resource page for seeking professional help. In the case of psychiatric emergency call 911 or present to the nearest ER.
I consider compassion to be my greatest asset because it equips me to do the work God has set before me. In short, compassion demands action. When we are confronted with the need of another, we are given a choice of how to respond to that need. Throughout my own life, compassion has provided my life with purpose and meaning. I have experienced it as a gift from God. In fact I would go so far to say that it has saved my life.
How Compassion Saved Me
My college transition
It was freshman year of college, and the transition from living at home to campus life was not an exciting time for me. Truth be told I went to college grudgingly. I would have been happy to continue living my life back home in New Hampshire, but I had completed my high school education and needed to move on to the next stage of my life. I was not prepared for college life.
Academically I excelled the first year of college. So much so that I ended up adding a major and minor within the first year. I was enjoying the opportunity to finally take courses in psychology and begin the journey toward my now doctorate.
Outside of academics, my life could best be described as empty. As a result of my decision to attend a small Nazarene affiliated college, I was temporarily forced to give up one of the constants in my life: Dance. The consequence was that I was unknowingly depriving myself of an important emotional and physical outlet.
In the domain of social interactions, my life was awkward at best. I was able to form some initial attachments, however most of my interactions consisted of me sitting quietly in various groups of people. Emotionally speaking I was isolated and alone.
My struggle with depression
Looking back I can confidently state that I experienced a major depressive episode that first year of college. I started developing the habit of wandering aimlessly around campus. During these periods of aimless wandering I would find myself arguing with God. I was angry with God because I knew He wouldn’t let me die.
It was during these wanderings that I began to fantasize about dying. While I never formed the intention to harm myself, it was nonetheless tempting. The reason I never bothered following through on the fantasies is because God had made me a promise.
A few years prior, God had promised that He would use me to make a difference in the lives of others. When God makes a promise He keeps it, which in my mind meant that any attempt to kill myself would have been futile. This made me angry.
The critical moment
During one of these wonderings I considered leaving campus. No car, money, id, phone, or anything else. I would have just walked away with no intention of going back. I didn’t care about what the consequences would have been. All I knew is that I didn’t want to be there. I would have been content to simply wander the streets aimlessly.
The truth is I would have done it, but that evening I happened to have a tutoring session scheduled. Remember I mentioned excelling academically. There was a student in my statistics course who was struggling to pass and the tutoring center that year did not have a statistic tutor available. My professor had recommended me to the tutoring center and therefore during freshman year of college I was hired as a statistics tutor.
That evening I considered leaving campus, I wasn’t able to do it because I knew there was someone on that campus who was depending on me. A need, although minor, had been identified and I was compelled to act. So I went to the campus library and completed the tutoring session.
That night while lying on my bed I called my parents excessively until someone picked up. I had made the decision to live my life and see this college journey through. My act of returning to campus was the result of the compassion and drive I felt to love and serve others. And that was night it saved my life.
Learning compassion for myself
A lot has happened in my life since that moment. As I reflect back, I’m struck with how my life at that time was devoid of self-compassion. I didn’t care about myself enough to refrain from fantasizing about death or being tempted to leave campus. There was no drive in my life to attend to my own needs. When I wrote that I consider compassion to be a gift from God it’s because with this gift has come the compassion to love both myself and others. All love, from the love between siblings, spouses, strangers, and ourselves, comes from God. As God’s love compelled Him to sacrifice His only Son on the cross for our good, so too should our love compel us to do good for both ourselves and others. For God declares that we are ALL worthy of love.