We Are Made for So Much More
The Habits That Bring Life
Your Action Plan with God
“I came that they might have life, and have it more abundantly.”
— John 10:10
We all want more peace and joy in life, but the chaos of our busy world seems to impede our progress. All around us, self-discipline and the daily work ethic have been replaced by self-centeredness and around-the-clock personal entertainment. As a result, the willing- ness and the ability to make sacrifices for faith and family have become scarce, and so too have joy and peace. This book is a means of help and a call to action for fighting the behaviors that silently drain our happiness and steal our joy by enslaving us to things that can never fulfill us.
The WillPower Advantage is neither pop psychology nor watered- down Christianity; rather, it is a lifestyle reboot that can enable us to respond better to Christ’s call to follow him. As disciples of Jesus, we can claim ourselves, our families, our cities, and our culture for Christ. To help us with this task, we have an invaluable resource in the age-old wisdom of the Church.
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Much of the first part of this chapter focused on the need for effort in the Christian life. Following Christ is not passive or boring; it is active and dynamic. We must respond to the challenges we face with both prayer and work, while accepting God’s grace as His beloved sons and daughters. At the end of our lives we want to hear: “Well done, good and faithful servant . . . enter into the joy of your master” (Mt 25:21). Who is the faithful servant? “Not every one who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven,” said Jesus, “but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Mt 7:21). And what is the will of God? “For this is the will of God,” wrote Saint Paul, “your sanctification” (1 Thess 4:3). In other words, God wants you to be holy, and He knows that your being holy is what will lead to your happiness and fulfillment.
The basic Christian message can be summarized as follows: First, we are sinners and can’t save ourselves. Second, God comes to save us through the atoning sacrifice of Christ on the cross, which frees us from sin and reconciles us to God. Third, God offers us the gift of eternal life, which we must accept and make operative in our lives. As Saint Augustine said, “God created us without us: but he did not will to save us without us.”13 Our consent to being saved by God, to having our wills conformed to His will with the help of His grace, is our work. It is our life’s project. Just as everyone is called to participate in God’s work of creation, everyone is called to participate in His work of salvation. This not a secret or some new knowledge; this is the foundation of the Christian life.
The Benedictine motto of ora et labora (pray and work) sums up the Christian life. Saint Benedict and his followers knew who they were and what they needed to do to become who they were called to be. And their way of life preserved and eventually renewed Western
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Our lives are much the same as the mustard seed—seemingly small, insignificant, and temporary yet destined by God for greater things than we can imagine. And unlike mustard seeds, we have an intellect and a will; we can choose to cooperate with God’s plan. And when we do, we not only grow and flourish but help others to grow and flourish too. With the mustard seed, Jesus used an image that the people of the time knew and recognized to explain a forgotten truth—that in God’s hands, even small things play important roles.
Here is another parable. We are like travelers who know their des- tination and begin their journey despite not knowing all the details of the trip. Many great stories are about a person who embarks on a journey or a quest but does not entirely know the way. The hero’s success is partly dependent on his personal growth and partly the result of outside help, or put another way, divine intervention. Think of The Odyssey, The Lord of the Rings, The Wizard of Oz, and even Star Wars. While the characters, the settings, and the adventures are all very different, the basic plot involves the many challenges the hero encounters in order to become the person he was meant to be.
An old Irish adage says, “If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans.” In each of these stories, and in our lives too, the main character starts out knowing very little about the person he is destined to become. He has plans of his own that are based on his very limited ideas about himself. He expands only as he attempts to do what is asked of him along the way. As Pope Benedict XVI said, “Man was created for greatness—for God Himself; he was created to be filled by God. But his heart is too small for the greatness to which it is destined. It must be stretched.”1 The point is this: we come to know and to become our true selves by staying faithful to the mission God gives us, with all of its conspiracies of graces.
From a Christian perspective, the great journey of life is to become the person God has created you to be, which is also the only way to find true and everlasting happiness. We become that person by coop erating with His grace as we face challenges along the path He gives us. God loves us too much to let us settle for our own limited ideas of ourselves and remain in our comfort zones. That’s why He planted within us the big questions.
“Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.”
— Romans 12:15
The virtue of compassion means having empathy for others and being willing to share both their joys and suffering. Compassion lit- erally means “to suffer with”; it involves having a deep feeling for the misery of another person and the desire to relieve it. Sometimes we associate compassion with the emotion of pity. However, com- passion is never just emotion, as it demands putting love into action. As the Nobel Laureate and Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu so beautifully explained, “Compassion is not just feeling with someone, but seeking to change the situation. Frequently people think compas- sion and love are merely sentimental. No! They are very demanding. If you are going to be compassionate, be prepared for action!”1
It is hard to imagine, but many people in the ancient world thought compassion was a weakness. Some Greek philosophers saw compas- sion as a vice because it was not logical to show concern for those who didn’t deserve it or couldn’t repay you. There is one ancient people, however, who stand out for their esteem for the virtue of compassion—the Jews. The Old Testament is filled with praise and guidance for being compassionate. After God freed the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, He commanded them to be kind to strangers, since they knew what it is like to be a stranger in a strange land (cf. Deut 10:19). There is constant exhortation to be compassionate to others, because God has been compassionate to us. “The Lord is good to all; and his compassion is over all he made” (Ps 145:9).
Jesus modeled compassion as a virtue, revealing more completely the heart of God. The Gospels say explicitly that Jesus had compassion— for the widow who lost her son (Lk 7:13), for example, and for the crowds who had been following Him and who were hungry (Mk 6: 34; 8:2). One story from the Gospels is exceptional in its personal details about Jesus—the death of Lazarus. When Jesus saw Mary, the sister of Lazarus, weeping, He was “deeply moved in spirit and trou- bled”, and “Jesus wept” ( Jn 11:33, 35). It is compassion, empathy for others, that moved Jesus to action, that compelled Him to heal the sick, feed the hungry, teach the people, forgive the sinner, and even raise the dead. The entire mission of Jesus, to bear all of our suffering with us and for us, proves that compassion is at the very heart of our Father, God.
The truly amazing thing about the compassion of God is that He bestows it on not only His friends but also His enemies. The truth is, when Jesus died for us, we were God’s enemies. “God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8). Jesus commanded us to be as generous with our compassion as God: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you?” (Mt 5:43–46).
The virtue of compassion is admired, but not often practiced in the radical way God desires. We judge, point fingers, assume the worst, and join others in condemnation more easily than we forgive, assume the best, give the benefit of the doubt, or defend those being unjustly criticized. On social media people often belittle, bully, slander, or otherwise behave in ways that can cause serious injury. Meanwhile, there is a good deal of virtue signaling going on, as if a person’s opinions, rather than his concrete actions, prove that one has compassion. Imagine what it would look like if we took seriously Jesus’ exhortation and put it into practice. To help us do that, let’s look at two of His parables.
Of all the parables of Jesus, the two most well-known are the Prodigal Son and the Good Samaritan, and both of them contain the word compassion. One parable shows us the compassion that God has for us; the other shows us the compassion we ought to have for one another.
In one of the most beautiful stories in all of Scripture, Jesus revealed the true love and compassion of our heavenly Father. The Parable of the Prodigal Son (Lk 15:11–32) begins with a young man asking his father for his inheritance and leaving home. After spending all of his money on “loose living” (v. 13), he ends up destitute and tend- ing swine as a hired laborer. Humbled and famished, he decides to return to his father, confess his sin, and ask to be treated as a servant. Jesus said that while the young man “was yet at a distance, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him” (v. 20). The father had every right to disown this son, who had forgotten who he was and squandered his inheritance, but instead the father rejoiced over the young man’s return. He clothed him in his best robe, put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet, and called for a feast. Oh, the compassion of the Father! His first in- stinct was not to punish his son but to restore him fully. His first move was not to point out what the son had done wrong, but to celebrate that he had done something right by returning. The father in the parable is an image of our Father in heaven, who is not angry when we sin, but sad that we have forgotten who we are and what He created us to be. He is full of compassion and waiting for us to turn around and come back to Him.
The Gospel of Luke records that when Jesus explained that the great- est commandments are to love God and to love neighbor, one of the scribes asked Him, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus responded with the Parable of the Good Samaritan:
A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him, and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was; and when he saw him, he had compassion. (10:30–33)
The priest and the Levite were following their duty not to break the Jewish purity laws; however, they failed to follow the higher duty that we have to one another. The Jews had disdain for Samari- tans because they did not follow the laws of Moses, so Jesus chose a Samaritan to show that compassion is the true meaning of the law. The Samaritan went to the beaten man and “bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; then he set him on his own beast and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back’ ” (34–35).
After telling this story, Jesus asked, “Which of these three, do you think, proved neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” (34:36). Consider the following questions for a moment and allow the Holy Spirit to speak to your heart: Who is your neighbor? To whom are you called to show compassion? The scribe in the story answered, “The one who showed mercy on him.” And Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise” (v. 37). In the original Greek, the statement is even stronger. Jesus literally told the scribe and all those listening, “Go now and do the same thing!” If this is the attitude that we are meant to have toward the stranger we do not know and who can’t repay us, how much more are we called to have compassion for our family, friends, colleagues, people in our churches, schools, offices, and even on the evening commute home.
Compassion is the virtue of heroes, of loving parents, and of good Samaritans who serve others without counting the cost or seeking a reward. Compassion is love in action, or if you prefer “love that has legs”. It is one of the most sublime and heavenly virtues because it reflects the heart of God. Compassion makes the supernatural virtue of love visible in a broken and wounded world starving for love, hunger- ing for authentic Christ-like heroes, which we are called to be!
Christ calls us to continue His work on earth by serving others with compassionate hearts. After He washed the apostles’ feet, He said, “For I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you” ( Jn 13:15). The saints who have gone before us took seriously this mandate to serve others with compassion, and many people of faith continue to serve in creative and remarkable ways—in hospitals that care for the sick, soup kitchens that feed the poor, houses of hospitality that welcome the destitute, and so on. Our compassion for the wounds of others is a response to the com- passion that God has shown us. It is a response to His call to love Him and to love one another as ourselves.
Some of the most amazing stories are about people who are filled with the virtue of compassion, people who go beyond just feel- ings and take concrete steps to put their love into action. For nearly one hundred years Reader’s Digest has included little stories about the kindness of strangers. While everyone is capable of being com- passionate, as with any other virtue, compassion must be practiced in order to grow strong in us. Very often the compassionate people in these stories are not only in the right place at the right time (perhaps orchestrated by God), but practiced in the virtue of compassion and therefore ready to help when the need arose.
In one story, a woman driving home in a blizzard noticed a car trailing her closely. Suddenly her tire blew, and as she pulled over, so did the car that was following her. A man jumped out and without hesitation changed her tire. “I was going to get off two miles back,” he said, “but I didn’t think that tire looked good.”2 Simple stories of compassion like this, fill us with joy and speak to the goodness of men and women, who are created in God’s own likeness. It is the scars and the wounds of sin in the world that tarnish our true identity.
What is often very telling in stories like this is that the people who do acts of service refuse any reward or adulation! They say things like “I was happy to help” or “I was lucky to be there” or my favorite “I know that someone would have done the same for me.” In 2019 Danny Trejo, an actor who plays some of Hollywood’s best-known villains, saved a baby that was trapped in a rolled over car. When asked by reporters for a comment, he said simply, “Everything good that has happened to me has happened as a direct result of help- ing someone else. Everything.”3 As Scripture teaches: “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). Compassion is the vir- tue of heroes, and every Christian should be filled and guided by it. Our world needs more Christian heroes, and God has equipped and anointed you to be one.
Since compassion is love in action, it can take many forms. It can mean being patient with a difficult person as it did for the French saint Thérèse of Lisieux. From the time she was a young girl, Thérèse had a deep desire to serve God in dramatic ways. She wanted to be a missionary in far off lands, but due to poor health, she stayed close to home in a small Carmelite monastery in France. She lived a quiet life of compassionate and simple daily tasks, learning to serve God by serving others, especially a cranky older sister in the Carmel. Her “Little Way” was to do small things with great love. She wrote, “You know well that Our Lord does not look so much at the greatness of our actions, nor even at their difficulty, but at the love with which we do them.”4 She modeled the axiom attributed to her, “At every moment, do what love requires.”
A compassionate person knows the value of each person and wants what is truly good for each person. He sees everyone as a member of the one human family, with the same basic needs and desires as everyone else. Compassionate people think that we all have a respon- sibility toward each other, and they are willing to make sacrifices for others. They are not push-overs or sentimentalists; they are lovers of mankind who serve others with prudence and justice.
The beatitude that corresponds with the virtue of compassion is “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Mt 5:4). Mourning is not fun; it is difficult. Mourning is not something you choose to do but something that you experience after some great loss like the death of loved one. When someone mourns, he experiences intense feelings of sadness or emptiness.
To mourn well is not to suppress those sorrowful feelings, but to direct them toward something meaningful. In the case of the loss of a loved one, mourning leads to anguish and tears, but also to gratitude for the one who has died and for the gift of life itself, which is often taken for granted until one faces the reality of death. Mourning can lead to the realization that death is the result of sin having entered the world, and so the thing mourned is not only the loss but also the reality of sin. And that’s why mourning in faith is a blessing (which is what the word beatitude means), because it leads to the comfort that comes from turning to God, who is compassionate, “merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in mercy and faithfulness” (Ps 86:15).
Compassionate people are often those who have themselves suf- fered losses. Archbishop Fulton Sheen, who hosted the number one television show in the 1950s, once explained that “it will invariably be found true that those who have suffered and who are saintly are always the most merciful to others.”6 Compassionate people react to the injustices and challenges others face with empathy (placing themselves in their shoes because they know well what being in those shoes feels like) and sympathy (accompanying them in their sadness or joy). When Jesus says blessed are those who mourn, he means all those who do not run away from the pain or discomfort caused by the brokenness of this world, but rather seek to heal, to redeem, and to restore the world to the way God indented His creation to be.
Your temperament is a gift from God, and as any good gift you most know what it is for and understand it well. While our temperaments are innate and natural, they are perfected by virtue. In a way, compassion makes each of our temperaments more life- giving and beautiful. But for that to happen, you need to be aware of how your temperament impacts the way you grow in the virtue of compassion.
People with a choleric temperament are motivated by action. They are doers and love to respond to a challenge. Because they are action- oriented, they can sometimes fail to serve others with compassion. They can prioritize the task, the project, or the goal above the needs of individuals. They can be overly harsh and judgmental, especially toward people who do not have their same level of energy or will- ingness to endure hard work. The choleric is protective of things that they have invested in and worked on, so being compassionate toward family and friends may come easier. They will need to take that same empathy, sympathy, and compassion and work at applying that to others beyond their immediate circle. They will need to develop the virtue of compassion to counteract the tendency to use people as means to their ends. A compassionate choleric is an incredible force to be reckoned with. and they often do great things to serve their fellow man.
People with the sanguine temperament are motivated by relation- ships, and they love people. Because they are more socially engaged, compassion and considering the needs of others come more naturally. They want to fix problems for those who are suffering and can have real empathy for the poor and needy. However, often compassion requires patience. and the sanguine temperament tends toward being quick and shallow. Sanguines will need to develop the virtue of com- passion in order to be patient and to bear the burdens of others. They are also easily offended and more sensitive to not being appreciated. Compassion cannot be motivated by self-gain or self-satisfaction, and the sanguine will need to be willing to sacrifice for the sake of others and to forgive often in order to be compassionate.
People with phlegmatic temperament are motivated by peace. They have a keen sense of justice and are drawn toward healing and restoring any brokenness they encounter. This keen sense of justice and desire for peace do not necessarily mean that they are naturally com- passionate. Phlegmatics can sometimes be analytical and cold, and they need to temper their logic with compassion. They need to prac- tice the virtue of compassion by seeing not just the problem to be solved, but the human being who is suffering and is in need. They need to allow their heart to be moved along with their head and ask themselves how to be most compassionate when serving others. The compassionate phlegmatic can do much to advance peace and justice for all mankind.
People with the melancholic temperament are motivated by ideas. They tend to be deeper and have rich interior lives. They also tend to be direct and matter-of-fact. While they are in touch with their own emotions and feel deeply, they are often not intuitive about people they do not know well. They may come off as harsh, uncaring, and not compassionate when challenged with a particular individual in need. However, they are deeply justice-oriented, and the ideas of oppression, poverty, and suffering stir their hearts. The melancholic needs to cultivate the virtue of compassion by allowing the ideas of equality, dignity, and love animate their interpersonal relationships. Rather than seeing a person in need as a problem to solved, they must be willing to compassionately encounter and serve those in need. The compassionate melancholic can think deeply about human challenges, and they are capable of executing incredible ideas that restore justice, advance dignity, and promote love.
The virtue of compassion is assisted and practiced more readily when accompanied by these other virtues.
0 Kindness is treating others as you want to be treated.
0 Sympathy is acknowledging and trying to understand someone’s pain or struggle.
A lack of compassion can manifest itself in many ways, and we must be careful of these vices if we are to cultivate compassion.
Steals the joy of being in control of your emotions.
That’s the textbook stuff but let us talk for a moment about real com- passion in action, and what it takes to develop this virtue in work, at home, and in life. To have compassion, a person needs four things:
Unfortunately, many people often find Christians to be more judgmental than compassionate. God is full of compassion, so we should be as well. We are called to love others, even as we are called to hate sin. This is not a double standard or cop out. We can have compassion for the sinful, because we too are sinful and know that sin does not define us or them. The truth is that compassionate peo- ple are trusted and listened to, much more readily than the street preacher yelling that everyone, except him of course, is “going to hell”. When Jesus walked the earth, He never stopped condemning sin, but He also never stopped loving and having compassion for the sinner. The adage, attributed to Theodore Roosevelt, “no one cares how much you know, until they know how much you care” rings true here. We must lead with compassion because we follow the Lord of compassion.
Jesus came “not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him” ( Jn 3:17). The world needs to see more Christians, not with a hand raised to condemn or strike, but a hand reaching out to help lift up and heal. When you and I reflect the compassion and mercy of Jesus, wounded hearts are healed, and the world begins to look a little less broken, and more like the King- dom God has destined us to live in. Burt Bacharach was right: “What the world needs now is love, sweet love, no not just for some, but for everyone.”7 To put love into action we need the virtue of compas- sion, otherwise love is just a sterile thought or emotion.
By practicing compassion daily, you will build up this important spiritual virtue muscle, and more easily love others as God loves us. You will be freer to put your love into action, serving, forgiving, and calling others to treat each other with love and respect.