The Gift of Sadness (Part 2)

Now the reality is you will find injustice everywhere you look for it. At a mainstream chain family restaurant with my family (we had a gift card) we started talking to the hostess. She was a very laid back, pleasant upper-middle ages hispanic woman.

It was just after Christmas. She admitted to working too much over the holidays (“I can never say no to a shift”) to get her kids stuff and to try to fix her van. As a hostess there - not a waitress, she probably makes only $7 or so an hour.

She probably does not have a college education, was over-weight, and generally schlump-y. As I began to feel sad for her I realized that my being sad for her doesn’t change her situation or make it any better. My sadness does not help.

I will never forget playing music at a homeless shelter for a holiday party. I was playing a rather morose song on the guitar when a bold teenager (what teen is not) said, “man, this is a homeless shelter, we definitely don’t want to hear the blues.”

I had let my head get filled with sympathy and was convinced that somehow me sharing their sorrow (or feeling sorry for them) was helping them. It was also probably my way of apologizing to them for my having and them not having.

It ultimately comes from a scarcity mindset (what some call zero-sum). If I have, others do not have. There is only so much to go around. The “have-nots” will never get ahold of the wealth of the “haves” because there is not enough to go around.


Clearly the homeless teenager knew better than I did. What he was really saying is, “Man, I need a chance. I need resources. I need support. Help me on my way so that I can aspire to my best. I got a lot of life in me.” He didn’t need my sympathy.

And then I may not have had or known about the resources. But I could have (and should have) started a relationship. But I didn’t have time for that. I was too busy serving him. See the stupidity. So much of our charity is the same.

The beautiful news is that any of us can start a relationship. The bottom line of compassion is that. It moves us beyond mere emotion to action, to caring. We will be tempted to see the under-resourced as a problem to be solved.

Don’t! We are starting a relationship, not fixing a car. And human beings are complex creatures full of layers of intricacy. And yes, we are also creatures of habit with strong drives toward the addictive. It all beautifully blends into us.

And loving another human being does not come with instructions. We will feel in-equipped. We are IF the goal is fixing the person. If instead we are there for the person as encouragement, support, and reminders they are in charge, we are not.

We can all love. We can all hope. We can all dream. We can all help others do the same. We will be tempted to look for experts. And certainly at times we will need advice. But there are no experts at love. We are all novices in the field of grace.