When in Rome…

I love my parents an awful lot.

They are absolutely amazing, they take such good care of me and my sisters, and they just plain great. I am so grateful for them, and since Thanksgiving is around the corner, I felt that it would be appropriate to express that gratitude in a blog. So, Mama and Papa, here is a shout-out just for you. Thanks for being so incredible.

Although my parents did many sacrificial and loving things for me and my sisters as we were growing up, one major decision of theirs stands out to me, and for it I am truly thankful. Somehow or another, by pinching their pennies (and much larger denominations of cash), they managed to send my sisters and me to a private Christian school to ensure that we would receive the best possible education. Because of their generosity, I am a shamelessly full-fledged nerd. Thanks, Mama and Papa. I mean that.

Now here I need to make a note about the type of education I was so blessed to experience. It wasn’t just any old private Christian school. No, it was a classical Christian school. This had a variety of implications (all of which destined me to my current state of nerddom): grammar training, logic classes, and—most importantly for this story—Latin.

We have already established this multiple times over, but I still feel as if it is worth repeating: I am a nerd. I am 100%, through and through, without a doubt, unashamedly nerdy. And it can be traced back to my elementary school days in my Latin class. For some reason, I fell in love with Latin. Call me a forensic linguist, but I had a blast poking around the carcass of this dead language. In fact, I enjoyed it so much that I even asked for and obtained special permission from the principal to take my Latin textbook home with me over the summer, so I could study more. I spent days on end—no lie—copying down conjugations of verbs. Sick, but true. And so, I developed a bizarre infatuation with Latin. As they say, when in Kansas, do as the Romans do. 😉

But then I went to high school and decided to suspend my pursuit of Latin in order to learn another language. In case you don’t know this, Latin, though unquestionably deceased, left behind several grandchildren. These are the Romance languages (don’t you just love them? Haha), and they are as follows: Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese, and Romanian. So, having learned Latin for five consecutive years, one of these related languages would have been a logical choice to study, right? One would think.

But no. I decided to take German instead, and I’m pretty sure that the Latin language rolled over in its grave. Haha. Pun very much intended. Anyway, so I took three years worth of high school German and returned to Latin during my senior year (Darn budget cuts took away my school’s German program. Grrr.) Then I came to the university, where I currently study history and German, and I love it.

Having studied abroad for six months, I think I really appreciate the importance and value of learning a second (or third) language. There are countless benefits that come with it, including a heightened sense of cultural awareness, the ability to befriend people from different countries, having people think you are cooler than you are…. Haha. But one of the unexpected perks for me has come in my faith walk. Let me explain.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a fascination for words. As I have gotten older, I have become increasingly aware of their power. Each word is so intricate and carries with it such weight. How one phrases something and which words one chooses can completely alter a sentence’s meaning. Take for example the sentences “The room is cramped” versus “The room is cozy.” Both convey the image of a small, closed-in space, but the former produces a negative image and the latter a pleasant one.

Having learned two additional languages, I have an even greater appreciation for the power and meaning of words and, moreover, what they can teach us about God. My most recent favorite example can be found with the word “compassion.”

The root of the English word “compassion” comes from the Latin. “Com” is Latin for “together” and “pati” is Latin for suffer. So the English word compassion literally means “to suffer together.” Cool, eh? But wait! It gets cooler! The German word for compassion is “Mitleid”, which translates literally as “with suffering” or “suffering with.”

Whoa.

Let’s stop and dissect that for a moment (Don’t worry, not like the frogs in 7th-grade biology. Bleck). This means that compassion is not a passive emotion, a feeling that you can just shake off and forget about. On the contrary, compassion hurts. It means taking on someone else’s pain as your own and feeling it with them. Yikes. But maybe this is just something that got lost (or gained, rather) in translation. Maybe we aren’t supposed to literally feel the pain of those around us. Let’s see what the Bible says about it.

In the Bible, eight different Hebrew words are used to express compassion. Rather than diving into all of these, though, in the interest of time and space (and your wavering attention span), I will only look at one. And to change things up, I won’t even talk about a Hebrew one; I’ll discuss a Greek word (Betcha didn’t see that one coming, huh?) 😉

This word is Splagchnizomaito. (Try saying that five times fast! Or better yet, say it randomly in public and count how many people say “Gesundheit!” because they thought you sneezed!) All humor aside, this word has a very serious meaning: “to be moved as to one’s bowels, hence to be moved with compassion, have compassion (for the bowels were thought to be the seat of love and pity.” This word is used multiple times in the Gospels to describe Jesus’ feeling toward people. For example, “Seeing the people, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd.” (Matthew 9:36). Or “Moved with compassion, Jesus touched their eyes; and immediately they regained their sight and followed Him.” (Matthew 20:34). Thus, one could also say, “Seeing the people, Jesus had bowels for them” (emphasis added), which means that Jesus felt their pain in the core of his emotional being. Incidentally, the Greeks believed this so-called emotional core was in one’s bowels. Go ahead,; take a moment to laugh about that because I am about to become very serious. Hahahahahaaha. Are you done now? …. Good.

So what can we take away from this brief Greek language lesson? Jesus felt other people’s pain when He walked on the earth, and I believe it’s safe to say that He feels the pain of His people today, right down in the core of his heavenly, immortal gut. But He doesn’t just stop there; He doesn’t merely feel pity in the form of an irritable bowel. Rather, He takes action. In Matthew 9:37-38, He told His disciples to pray for God to send out “workers into His harvest field” in order to reach the lost. In Matthew 20:34, he touches them and heals their blindness. Jesus knew that simply feeling for someone was not enough; He was “moved with compassion” and chose to help.

Even though the Latin-based word compassion and the German word Mitleid don’t sound nearly as cool as the Greek word, the idea remains the same. God calls us to identify with and share in the suffering of others. But He doesn’t want a passive pity; rather, he desires for us to do something about it. This doesn’t have to be earth-shatteringly large. It can be something as small as listening to someone vent after they have had a bad day, or offering a hug to a stranger simply because they looked like they needed one. Or it can be educating yourself on the sufferings of oppressed people around the world and then educating others about human trafficking. Whatever it is, I don’t think it’s something we can do on our own. Luckily, the God of all compassion who actively experiences our pain is here to help us. If we ask Him, He will fill our hearts—and bowels—with more compassion than we will know what to do with. And then He will help us do something with it anyway.

So that’s my prayer for you this week: that God would teach you more about true compassion, and then help you to live it out, whether you’re Oklahoma, Kansas, Paris… or Rome. 😉

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