I slipped into the back of the auditorium. The lights were off and the kids in front leading worship were a little too loud and a little too bright. They were singing the same songs I used to sing in the big deal worship extravaganza on Thursday nights in the auditorium of my college days with 498 of my closest friends. Those songs were also sung just a little too loud, a little too bright. Both worship leaders, ten years apart, called for a very awkward “shout out for the Lord” where everyone in the dark room screamed on cue. Ten years later it was still weird and awkward. But this time I could see the heart of the worship leader, a High school senior who wants her classmates to know God. She is doing the best she knows how. I suspect the college worship leader who used to attempt to take “I could sing of your love forever” literary, had much the same heart. But from where I was sitting I couldn’t see it. I chose self-righteous I-could-do-it-better glasses to look through, and they were blinding me.
I started joking about “infiltrating” the Fellowship of Christian Athletes at my school last spring. Mostly because the kids in my class repping the Jesus t-shirts were mean, and my closest friend at school is the leader of the gay-straight alliance. Through her I found out the gay students are “afraid of those Jesus kids.” But also, I was sure that I could do it better. With my missional background and my cool city church, I could change these kids. I could make them more like Jesus. I could make it better.
I need to stop joking about stuff, because sometimes God takes me seriously. (Case in Point: Christian and I used to joke that we needed to move south for the weather and the barbeque. God called us to Atlanta.) One of my kids from last year walked into my room the first week of school and invited me to join the FCA leadership meetings every Monday at the local Chik-Fil-A. I guess I was really doing this thing.
If I’m honest, I was pretty pretentious about it. Even the way I was asking for prayer can best be described as stuck up. My good and gentle friend Brooke did not yank that plank out of my eye and beat me over the head with it. Instead, she simply suggested that I wait till the third meeting to say anything. Two listening meetings, one talking. So I shoved my chicken biscuit in my mouth and vowed not to talk through it. The kids mostly talked about the next worship service, how to make it better and I ducked out early to make it to school on time.
My kid came to see me that day between classes. She wanted to know what I thought, so I told her. I told her that while I think that they mean well, if it is all about the worship service then it is all about the believers, the focus of the group is all about meeting the Christian needs, not loving the school. I told her I wanted desperately for the FCA to be known as the reason there are no bullies, or lonely kids in the cafeteria. I want other kids to meet Jesus at lunch.
I don’t love the phrase, but what is happening at school can only be described as “A God Thing.” Speakers that the kids select asking them how are they loving their classmates, the senior girl leader feeling all summer that something need to change, and then the Lord allowing me to see these kids for who they are, and not what I feel like they represent, and prompting my high and mighty self to speak gentle truth into the lives of these sweet souls.
This past Friday I wandered down to the auditorium to the weekly worship service. What I saw was this: The leadership team stepping off the stage to join the audience in praising our God. It was still too loud and bright for my taste. But I believe that it was holy and good to the Lord.
As I reflected on compassion for Mercy Mondays this week, this was the image I thought of: My high school kids, giving up their right to be on the stage, one that they had earned by dutiful obedience, a position that some of them had surely longed for, to join their peers in the seats.
Pity is what I had been feeling for my christian students, “If they only knew God the way I know God then they could do things the way I want them done.” Pity isn’t merciful. It is distant, and prideful. Pity comes from above, and directed at those beneath. Pity does not come from the Lord.
Compassion is merciful. It is a coming alongside, a joining in with. Compassion means I willfully give up my position of privilege. Compassion listens first, pity has the first say. The Lord has taken me off the stage of my heart to go and serve Him with my students, not above them.
And I am almost moved to tears by the truth in it all: Jesus didn’t pity me. I can be compassionate because He was merciful to me. Jesus didn’t come from above to roll his eyes and feel bad for my behavior. He did not die on a cross to prove to me that He could do it better. He walked first where I walk, He felt first what I feel, He came to invite me to join in with him, to die with him. Jesus had compassion for me.
Thank you Jenn Lebow for the prompt!