12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. — Colossians 3:12-14 (New International Version)
I don’t tend to bring my faith (explicitly) into this blog a lot, but it’s something that’s important to me and fitting to end this year. This past weekend, the message at my church service was on finishing the year strong with love, and I wanted to spend a few moments reflecting on this, on the last day of the year.
Whether you’re a person of faith or not, when I read the passage above, I think about the many privileges that I have and how important it is to use those privileges to act with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness, and love. 2018 has been a year full of opportunities to either respond in anger or reactiveness or to act with compassion, kindness and patience.
Something I’ve learned in 2018, particularly, is that all of these qualities (compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness and love) don’t mean that I’m not also fiercely advocating for justice. In fact, how can we express true compassion and love without advocating for justice? But, what these qualities (when I’m able to embody them) do help me to do is remember that each person, as an individual, is operating from their own perspectives, biases and lenses, within social and societal structures. If I can speak and listen to them, particularly with the people I know personally, and their humanity, they are more likely to hear what I’m saying. Will we still disagree with each other? Since I’ve considered my beliefs carefully and hold on to them strongly, yes, we probably will, on that point. But, does it mean we can’t coexist peacefully and respectfully? In most cases, no. And, honestly, on the individual level, I’ve been pleasantly surprised at the common ground we can find when we have conversations with one another across perspectives.
There are exceptions to this, where I can still hold love for the person, but in order to be compassionate to myself, I can’t interact with that person anymore, and that’s something that I’ve also learned in 2018. Sometimes, I need to walk away. Sometimes, I need not to respond. Sometimes, the most loving thing to do is to leave a toxic situation. Sometimes, I do best to remember that change that makes an impact is structural and not individual, and I need to use my energy to dismantle structures, rather than focusing solely (or even primarily) on changing individual hearts.
Because I am trying always to embody the qualities mentioned above, I give away my time and energy in ways that aren’t actually compassionate, kind or loving to myself. I struggle most with being patient, forgiving and humble where there’s something that I need to get done or someone who needs more help than I can give. I need to remember that I can’t be all things to all people (humility!) and that I can’t be anything to anyone, if I’m not first engaging in self-preservation. And that’s challenging. It’s something I need to continue to work on balancing as I move into 2019.
As this Biblical passage goes on, it talks about being grateful. And, I am so grateful, for my community, that journeys alongside me, in life, and online, that remind me to be compassionate and kind, humble and gentle, patient and loving, to others and to myself. I wish you all the best that 2019 has to offer and hope you end 2018 in peace, joy, and love.