So, I've been reading The Way of the Heart by Henri Nouwen for the last couple of weeks. Really good, really dense stuff. I find myself turning it over in my mind and allowing it to (hopefully) begin to change me.
A couple of weeks ago, I volunteered at a camp for abused and neglected kids in the foster care system who can't go to normal summer camps called Royal Family Kids Camp. It's a great experience, if you've never done it, but totally draining. It was my 6th year out of 7, so I really expected just business as usual (that is to say, expect the unusual and you won't be disappointed).
In my devotions on Monday of camp, before the campers got there, I read this: "Let us not underestimate how hard it is to be compassionate. Compassion is hard because it requires the inner disposition to go with others to the place where they are weak, vulnerable, lonely, and broken. But this is not our spontaneous response to suffering. What we desire most is to do away with suffering by fleeing from it or finding a quick cure for it. As busy, active, relevant ministers, we want to earn our bread by making a real contribution. This means first and foremost dong something to show that our presence makes a difference. And so we ignore our greatest gift, which is our ability to enter in to solidarity with those who suffer."
Talk about divine timing! This is exactly what I had needed to hear and the perfect timing for it to have the greatest effect on me for these kids. In our cabin, all of our kiddos were pretty hyperavtive and aggressive... well, they were boys, so no surprise there and one of my campers in particular was having a really tough time. He would throw tantrums and chuck whatever wasn't too heavy for him at whoever was near him. Having read this at the beginning of the week added to my years of previous experience, I was able to really reach out to this kid. He ended up asking me "what would it be like if I was your kid?" and later confiding in me that he hated being a foster kid and that he was going to be possibly entering respite care for as long as a year once camp was over.
Talk about heart breaking. Here's a kid who acts out just to get somebody to pay attention to him who's seen more in his short life that a lot of people seen ever bearing his soul to me. So what did I do? Practiced compassion. I let him talk out his feelings and just tried to be there for him. I didn't see an immediate life changing moment or anything (not terribly fulfilling to the achiever part of my personality) but I felt like I was able to at least show him some compassion and grow in my ability to enter into solidarity with those who are suffering, as Nouwen would say.