In the past several months, people in Iowa have had many opportunities to give and receive compassion. When the tornados hit across the state, people were ready to give of their time and money to do what they could to ease the pain and suffering of their neighbors. When the rains came, those on high ground went out to fill sandbags. As waters receded, helping hands and supplies were ready to aid families get back to a sense of normalcy.

In times of natural disasters, it is rather easy for people to get out of their comfort zones and reach out to a stranger with care, kindness and compassion. But there are other times when compassion is much harder to show. Times when peoples’ differences set up walls and we question whether an individual deserves the helping hand or the kind word.

Sometimes we see a situation and know we could do something to make a difference but choose not to get involved. We choose not to show kindness but to look the other direction.

The words of the song “Not Too Far from Here,” by Ty Lacy and Steve Siler, remind me of people I meet every day as I look for ways to reach out to people in need. The song speaks about people in need, being troubled and confused, lacking hope, and although we may not know their names or faces, we may be the ones who may be sent to help them in the midst of their pain. We may be the one who has the smile, warm handshake or encouraging word that gives them the strength to go on.

Compassion is not pity. It is more than sympathy. Compassion is the ability to look into the person’s eyes and listen, truly listen to what is behind the words. Is it fear? Is it loneliness? Is it emptiness? Is it hopelessness? Sometimes we hear the story and want to run because it will take too much time to listen and we still have so much to do. We may be scared.

Over the years I have learned that in the middle of a crisis I cannot say, “Sorry, my shift is over. I’ll be back at 8 in the morning!” I learned that there are times I need to stay, to dwell with the person and be fully present with them until the crisis is past and some form of hope is restored.

Compassion is the ability to walk through the struggle with someone and help them know they can make it through to the other side. Compassion does not place judgment on the person, but looks at the individual as a person of sacred worth. Compassion is the beginning of helping someone find healing and wholeness in life.

As we live and move about our community, may we be guided by a bit of compas-sion, the kindness and caring that restores dignity and worth to all whom we meet.

The Rev. Henrietta Klarenbeek