The Compassion Game
By Maria Fontaine
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It’s natural to make assumptions about people. Sadly, what we tend to assume is often something negative. Personally, I have seen how very easy it is to do this, and I continually pray that the Lord will stop me at the first thought of any kind of critical or self-righteous feelings toward others. We all know that it’s wrong according to Scripture for us to think this way about others. It doesn’t reflect how Jesus is. When we allow these kinds of thoughts to influence us, our perceptions are often very inaccurate. Or even if they are technically accurate, they may be uncharitable or shallow, or don’t take into account all the factors behind why a person acts or responds in certain ways.
I think this common human weakness of assuming the negative or drawing negative conclusions indicates how important it is that we actively and continually work to take on the mind of Christ. For many of us, it takes a conscious effort to avoid defaulting to these negative tendencies. We often think we know what the situation is and that we can assess it correctly. Even if we find out time after time that we were wrong and it wasn’t that way at all, we can still fall into that trap of thinking we know, when the truth is that we see only part of the full reality of things.
Can we know what is going on in someone else’s thoughts or heart? Can we look into them and ascertain the private details of their life? Of course we can’t. We only have narrow spectrums of information that we’re privy to.
When a person’s motives are unknown and we don’t agree with their actions or perspectives, or they rub us the wrong way, it’s easy to conclude that their motives are more likely to be wrong than right. This perspective leads to wrong conclusions. However, when we look to Jesus and allow Him to guide our thoughts, His love provides that “extra spiritual eye.” He can show us things as He sees them.
We know how wrong criticizing others is. We know it displeases God and is contrary to His Word. However, as the apostle Paul said, “Those things that I want to do, I often don’t, and the things I don’t want to do, those I often do.”1
Overcoming our sinful nature that is so often in opposition to the truth of God’s Word is an ongoing process. It often takes a very long time to clear out the ingrained perspectives that we have. Besides our natural, inborn tendencies, being immersed in this world also influences us with attitudes that we need to bring into alignment with Jesus’ mind and heart. This is part of “bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.”2
I think we can all recall times when our words were judged wrongly or unfairly by others, or our actions were misinterpreted and our sincere efforts were rejected out of suspicion or preconceived attitudes. It hurts. It can be very discouraging. Or we can remember when something we did or said was just an awkward or clumsy attempt to be understood or loved or acknowledged, yet others judged us as intentionally trying to hurt them or someone else. So, if we know how that feels, perhaps we need to look at others and realize that they could be feeling the same way, and if so, we have an opportunity to help alleviate their pain.
Whether the person we are criticizing is right or wrong, we are wrong to allow a critical spirit to influence us. I’ve been guilty of making snap judgments about people, and often those judgments turned out to be wrong.
So, I started going on the attack to change this negative habit into a positive one of asking for the Lord’s mind on the situation. He’s been faithful to check me when I fall back into my natural thinking. He reminds me to play a sort of game, if you will, of thinking about possible scenarios or reasons why what looks negative to me might actually be someone’s cry for help. Perhaps with the Lord’s guidance I might be able to meet that need in some way. The help I can offer may sometimes be primarily through prayer, but that doesn’t make it any less powerful.
Picture a poor mother yelling impatiently at her children. It’s easy to see that and label her as “a bad mother.” But what if she is actually a very dedicated, loving mother, but she has a terrible headache? Her three kids are fighting amongst themselves, and she just loses her temper, not because she is mean or cruel, but because she’s in pain and has been up half the night with the baby, and she doesn’t know what to do other than to raise her voice to be heard over the kids’ bickering.
The Bible admonishes us to think on the good things, the things of good report, the beautiful, the kind, the loving, and to use compassion and mercy rather than assuming the worst.3
I’ve found that the more I have practiced letting the Lord guide my thoughts to the good, the more I move toward making this a habit. Another way to develop this habit of seeing the positive is to implement what someone wisely said, “You learn something most thoroughly when you teach it.”
As parents and grandparents, we can use the experiences that we have while with our children and grandchildren as teaching opportunities. You might hear the children voicing criticisms of someone. They might say, “That boy never joins in when we play sports. He looks mean. I bet he’s a bully or part of a gang.”
You could respond by suggesting that perhaps he’s struggling with some heavy burden that they know nothing about; maybe his home life is very troubled, or maybe his parents are divorced and he’s having a hard time coping. It’s possible that he’s not mean at all, but he’s sad and feels alone.
Or he might be worried about one of his family members who is very sick. He might want to make friends, but his worries are constantly on his mind, so much so that it makes it nearly impossible for him to even smile, much less have fun. There could be any number of issues, fears, or troubles that preoccupy him and weigh him down, while inside he may be a very nice person. Instead of giving them the possible “answers” right away, you could draw them into the “game” by asking them if they can think of any things that might be causing him to act the way he does.
Maybe when you’re with younger children you might hear something like, “Look, that girl has all those spots and bumps on her face. I think she looks ugly.”
You could respond, “Perhaps we should try to think about how we would feel if we had that problem. I know I don’t like to have people drawing attention to things about me that are embarrassing, and I’m sure you don’t either.” You could mention your personal experiences as well, saying something like, “I had a similar problem when I was young, and it was very sad for me because I didn’t think anyone would want to be my friend.”
Then, if needed, you could offer some possible reasons for her condition. You could explain that maybe it’s something that she has had a problem with for some time, and it’s been difficult for her. Or you could help them to relate to this girl, explaining that she probably feels self-conscious and shy around new people, and she doesn’t even want to have them see her face. And there might not be much she can do to change the situation. “Can you imagine how sad that would make you feel?”
You could ask them, “What do you think we could do for her? Would it help her if we didn’t point or stare or make fun of her? Also, could we ask Jesus to encourage her that He loves her, because He does. Perhaps, whenever the Lord reminds us of her, we should pray that Jesus will encourage her and clear up her complexion.”
Teaching children to play what I like to call the Compassion Game not only helps them develop a tender heart for others, but it also teaches them humility and understanding, as well as about prayer and how to use it to make a difference in others’ lives. If they learn to make the Compassion Game a habit, they will be happier and more loving, prayerful, and understanding of people.
This game can help them mature by teaching them to be more aware of others and to see solutions rather than problems. It can help them prepare to handle life, and learn how to treat others the way they would want to be treated, and even how to look at their own struggles and shortcomings in a more positive way. It can help them to learn to seek Jesus for His help for others, as well as His answers for themselves personally.
He can show you how you can play the Compassion Game today. You can start off solo, but the blessings and benefits grow even more as we share what we’ve learned with others. God bless you!
Originally published October 2017. Adapted and republished June 2020.
Read by Carol Andrews.