Admittedly, there are just some topics/ideas that are uncomfortable for people.  For me, oh they are usually the ones that are more affective and abstract, can’t learn them in a book, types.  Naturally, the day before I am attending a spirituality workshop with my religious community titled “Embracing Compassion,” I go out and purchase new running shoes and make sure I locate my nearest exits.

Don’t get me wrong, compassion is much needed in our world – in fact if the workshop were titled  “Compassion … Learn It, Give it, Live It,”  I would have been in a much different space (I’m pretty sure this isn’t the more inviting title).  Embracing it … what does that even mean?  Then our speaker, Franciscan Sr. María Elena Martínez, said, “… in crisis there is grace … embrace the messiness … seize the moments of our vulnerability …” I thought, run away – fast.  Lucky for me, my running shoes looked funny with a skirt, all of the exits were blocked, oh, and I’m sure the sisters I was sitting with would have glued me to the chair had they known of my escape plan – so I’m stuck … gulp.

Pre-conference me would have said, “Oh, compassion … it’s something you can give to others who are in need.  We need to give a lot of compassion because there’s a lot of need … sometimes it’s more challenging than others …”  The Prayer of St. Francis, particularly the line, “It is in giving that we receive,” struck me in my reflections about the workshop.  I am very comfortable with giving to those in need, to the “other,” out of a place of deep love for my sisters, family, friends, out of the fiery passion for mission … etc.  If I flipped the line from the Prayer of St. Francis around and said it is in “receiving that we give,” I find that much more difficult.  

Sr. María Elena shared three profound stories of her personal journey of compassion-filled experiences with us.  Much to my surprise they were times in which she needed to go inside of herself to find that deep place of compassion.  Through her experiences she nurtured that “fiery passion and contemplative strength” within in order to see the face of God in all people and invest her life in a shameless commitment to God. 

I battle with that which is comfortable and uncomfortable all the time; both cases there is learning and growing.  The difference is that uncomfortable growth usually results in a stretching and a deepening.  Sr. María Elena’s gift (one of many) was that she could take these topics which invoked the run factor and ground them in some concrete reasoning in order to help me see that this might be worth the uncomfortability and the stretching.   

As I was challenged to use my imagination and envision passionately using compassion to view the world and needs differently, I was being uncomfortably stretched by the road getting there that was placed before me.  Let’s face it, the thought of seizing vulnerability, embracing messiness and thanking God for these times of receiving these unwanted gifts or graces … well, think running shoes and exits. 

Until I do my soul-work, recognize myself at my worst, and believe that I am also goodness abounding – embracing compassion for my own self – I cannot offer that deep and profound compassion for others.  It is in receiving that we can give….

Compassion directed toward the needs of others and/or common good requires that conversion of our deepest selves – seeing the goodness abounding in the “enemy” or the ones who hurt as well as the ones who are hurting.  The experiences of compassion for self allow us to view the world differently, see what no one else can see, and own those parts in you which may be ugly and undesirable so that you can see beyond these barriers in others.

Embracing the whole of you with fiery passion and shameless trust in God is my new roadmap to this uncharted territory called compassion.  I guess if there is challenge and goodness in “it is in receiving that we can give,” then stretched and deepened post-conference me must also acknowledge that it is in compassion in which we can embrace.

(Sr. Katy LaFond, 30, is the youngest member of the School Sisters of St. Francis. She professed her vows Aug. 11, 2007. Learn more about her order at <> and read her blog at <>.)