Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion . . . (Colossians 3:12).
Paul urges the believers in Colossae to clothe themselves with five characteristics of Christ. Compassion heads the list, followed by kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Each one is important for Christians to possess, because that is how the world sees Christ’s love in action.
I pray Christ manifests these five characteristics in me, especially active compassion. However, now in my late 70s, it is more difficult to carry out works of compassion. If it’s not the aching body, time constraints or other demands, it’s the continuous battle with self-doubts about what, when, where, and how much to give in coming alongside others.
Women in crisis
I found myself in such a position during the COVID pandemic.
Two women, long-term acquaintances of mine, were diagnosed with late-stage cancer. When told this news, I felt not only shock and grief but also distress. I rarely saw or communicated with either woman. How could I show love and concern without overstepping boundaries or causing offense? My husband’s precarious health, my physical limitations, plus COVID restrictions shrunk the possibilities of what I could do.
I did the best thing first. I prayed and asked the Lord for wisdom. Soon a simple idea pushed its way to the front of the fears lined up in my mind: Send a greeting card to each one. I did just that.
I wrote a long message in each card and shared how much those women meant to me. I promised to pray for them and their families regularly. As an afterthought, I included my cell phone number. I expected no response because these women were fighting for their lives.
To my surprise, both responded. They made the effort to thank me despite the physical trauma of their rigorous cancer treatments. Encouraged, I sent more cards and brief text messages, always mindful of their physical, emotional, and mental fragility. During the weeks and months that followed, I slowly rebuilt a relationship with each one.
The younger woman’s cancer moved into a temporary period of stabilization. When she felt able, my daughter and I participated in a FaceTime session with her. We talked about this and that, but we also talked about Christ.
Too soon, my bright, caring, and talented friend elected to go on hospice. She passed away a brief time later.
The second friend has a different story. When they diagnosed her with cancer, the doctors gave her only a few months to live. Early in her struggle, both physical and spiritual, my friend shared with me a turning point in her life.
“One night,” she recalled, “I finally told God, ‘You are God, and I am not.’”
She outlived all medical predictions and is still alive more than three years later. After COVID restrictions were lifted, we visited her and her elderly husband in their home. As we drove away, I prayed our presence gave them godly joy, strength, and courage. I continue to keep in contact with this friend.
Two women, two different lives. But through my prayers and trust in His guidance, the Lord gave me a way to show His compassion to each one.
Expanding your cloak
At first, I could not fully grasp the meaning of Paul’s exhortation in Colossians 3:12. It helped me to mentally visualize “clothe” as being wrapped in a big cloak, spacious and warm. Each of us is to clothe, to cloak, ourselves in these five characteristics at all times — especially, for people like me, compassion. I confess at times I have not abided in His cloak. The result? I take on too much, offend someone, or overlook a work He wants me to do.
Our Lord is gracious. He knows our limits and that it takes a lifetime to grow in wisdom and willingness for Him to use us in reaching out to others. Because of this, I have gleaned four pieces of wisdom from God’s Word, His people, and my life experiences. May they help you.
- Ask the Lord to expand your cloak, to have greater compassion (as well as kindness, humility, gentleness, patience) for those hurting or in need.
- When a need is set before you, bathe it in prayer. Test it against God’s Word so you know what to do and what not to do. Then obey Him.
- Be mindful of personal commitments, your spiritual health, family needs, and personal health limitations.
- Carry thankfulness in your heart, whether He opens big doors, little ones, or none.
When we actively honor our Savior’s command by putting Colossians 3:12 into practice, the Lord does something wonderful. He gives us opportunities to open wide our cloaks and draw hurting people close to our hearts.