Why Is Being Good And Nice Not Enough. #7

(Again, I turn to Greg Boyle and his book, “Tattoos of the Heart” for stories that best demonstrate my point.)

Greg is in a prison asking the young inmates to define three terms which in some minds are interchangeable: sympathy, empathy, and compassion.

            “Well, sympathy,” one begins, “‘is when your homie’s mom dies and you go up to him and say, “Sorry to hear ‘bout your mom.’”

Just as quickly, there is a volunteer to define empathy.

“Yeah, well, empathy is when your homie’s mom dies, and you say, “‘Sorry, ‘bout your mom. My mom died six months ago. I feel ya dog.’”

“Excellent,” Greg says. “Now, what’s compassion?”

No takers.


This is a Legacy question. This may be the most important question that you answer in sharing your faith with your children.

One older inmate says, “Compassion—that’s somethin’ altogether different.” “Cause,” he adds humbly, “That’s what Jesus did. I mean, Compassion…IS…God.”

You might want to call compassion the “wallpaper of Jesus’ soul” and the “contour of His heart”. Living the life in the Spirit that we share with our children is the most important Legacy we can leave, but explaining it is not easy. You might want to make it a mental construct. Just assume that the answer to every question is compassion.

This is tough for me to envision and to act on, so I share stories to help not only you, but me to understand. We are so busy and self-serving (not selfish) in this country that we miss all the opportunities placed in our path each day. We can pick up specks of dust in our path in the house but miss the people that are even more obvious.

Greg was in Atlanta for a speaking gig and brought with him, Memo an older hardened gang member who has seen death and drugs and misery. When they visit the community in Mobile, they drive and walk in the poorest places that Greg has ever seen in America. Hovels and burned-out shacks and lots of people living in what people ought not to live in.

Memo is bug-eyed as they walk around and meet people and he sees a kind of poverty quite different than the one Memo knows.

They move to their hotel rooms and prepare to leave Mobile. “Memo is standing in my (Greg’s) doorway crying. He is a very big man, and had been a shot caller for his barrio, and has done things in and out of prison for which he feels great shame—harm as harm. The depth of his core wound is quite something to behold. There is little terror of which Memo would be unfamiliar.”

    “He’s weeping as he stands in my doorway, and I ask him what’s happening.”

            ‘That visit to the city – I don’t know, it got to me. It got inside of me. I mean [and he’s crying a great deal here] how do we let people live like this?’

            “He pauses, then, ‘G, I don’t know what’s happening to me but it’s big. It’s like, for the first time in my life, I feel, I don’t know, what’s the word…I feel compassion for what other people                suffer.’”


What happened to Memo? He found his core wound (which we all have) and joins it to the core wound of those poor people in Mobile. Memo finds solidarity in the starkest wound of others.


Compassion is God.

Memo returned again and again to that community. It became a beloved community of equals. You can see many of the same communities, like the small fragments of dust on the floor, are waiting to be picked up and loved with compassion. Have you found your compassion? Have you shared what it means with your children? Do you have a good answer to the question “Why is being good and nice not enough?” so that you can?

I have found in counseling many families that taking an entire family on a mission trip, even if just to the inner city, changes hearts. Compassion can be revealed in those moments. We are all God’s children and we have all inherited His heart. It sometimes takes seeing the hearts of others in dire need to bring out the heart of God in us. Plan a trip!




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joe-sturnioloBy Joe Sturniolo
Christian Family Legacy and Wealth Planning
Joe believes that stronger families are the vehicle God uses to bring about significant impact for His Kingdom.

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