on growing compassion

Written by Amy L. Sullivan

SERVE Editor Word lover. Book devourer. Music addict. Amy is a Northern girl who found herself living in the South. She drinks sweet tea, turns her nose up at okra, and attempts to tell her daughters "yella" isn't a color.

December 6, 2012


“Compassion inflicts its knife-like pain only on those who, strong or not, brave or not, intelligent or not (such qualities are beside the point), have been granted the horrible gift of looking the world full in the face and seeing it as it is.”  
– Marguerite Yourcenar, French novelist and essayist

And this quote makes me wonder. Wonder about the times I looked suffering in the face.

In my early teaching years, I taught on the Navajo Reservation at a Bureau of Indian Affairs Boarding School.

I was there for three seconds before I fell in love. Head over heels, think about your nonstop, completely in love.

Madly in love with twenty-five of the naughtiest boys you have ever encountered. Twenty-five boys ages five to eleven who lived in a dorm and only saw their parents on weekends. Boys who gave me old Valentines, multiple cases of lice, and a new understanding of the game Hide and Seek (You know about the seeking for an hour and a half version, right?).

Those boys taught me about suffering, poverty, and finding joy in places joy doesn’t normally bloom.

And the truth is, if given the opportunity, I probably would have looked away, but since I lived at the boarding school, turning away from one problem only left me staring directly at another.

At the time, I knew I was looking into the eyes of something new, but what I didn’t know was that I was also growing compassion.

Don’t forget to look up from all the important stuff today. Who knows. You may find yourself growing a bit of compassion too.

Image credit.


  1. HopeUnbroken

    yes. that about sums it up—–LOOKING UP. to put it bluntly, it’s getting our heads stuck in dark places that keeps our attitudes, well . . . lacking in the sweeter fragrances of grace and compassion that our faith should yield, yes?
    as always, you have a succinct way of dishing out reminders. right when i am in danger of wallowing.
    bless you, friend!

    • Amy L. Sullivan

      My head has been known to reside in those dark places a bit too much. It’s funny how fast we can snap out of those places when we start looking outward. Thanks for reading, Steph.

  2. Lisa Van Engen

    Joy so often does come in the places you would not first think to look. I had a classroom of boys like that right out of college. They pull your heartstrings. Thank for reminding us that God brings hope and light from broken.

    • Amy L. Sullivan

      Oh, those twenty-five did give me a run for it. You should have seen the pictures they drew all over their books, ha! However, it’s funny, despite their wild ways, they were so, so easy to love.

  3. Leslie Rowe

    I’m just smiling big at the imagery of ” twenty-five of the naughtiest boys you have ever encountered.” I’m thinking how unique God is, that he equips different ones for different things. You embraced ” twenty-five of the naughtiest boys you have ever encountered” and I think I would have lost my temper and lost my job had I encountered them. And yet I’m not feeling condemned about my lack compared to your grace, rather I am smiling at the goodness of God to create us all differently. All of that is slightly off topic of compassion, but it just got me thinking.

    • Amy L. Sullivan

      Ohhh, no, that’s such a good point! God does make us all so different, and let me tell you, if 37 year-old-me encountered those naughty boys (instead of 23 year-old-me) I’m not sure my reaction would have been the same!

  4. Lori McClure

    One of the things I admire most about your posts on giving and compassion is that you help us not to get overwhelmed by the enormity of it all. We can look at the world as it is and still start where we are. Thank you, friend!

    • Amy L. Sullivan

      How can you not get overwhelmed, right? I do think it’s about starting right where we stand. However, I’m guilty of letting distractions keep me from noticing everything that surrounds me!

  5. Mark

    Compassion is identification, which requires risk taking, as in lowering defenses or pre-conceived notions. Hard to do, yet do rewarding.

    • Amy L. Sullivan

      Good point about lowering our defenses. I think we are conditioned by society to stay safe and be watchful. It’s hard to notice need if we are always keeping ourselves an arms length away. Thanks for reading, Mark.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

on growing compassion

by Amy L. Sullivan time to read: 1 min