An Encouragement to Compassionate People

Some measure of compassion is universal.

Every one of us cares deeply about some people; our families, those we feel an affinity for—certainly our own well-being. We all understand selective empathy rooted in self-preservation. It makes perfect sense to be burdened for the safety and happiness of our children, our spouses, the people we live and work closely alongside. This all feels quite normal and it is difficult enough; to experience the pain of others we are emotionally invested in.

But not everyone naturally feels deeply for things and people beyond this close proximity; for humanity as a whole, for the planet, for the welfare of strangers, for the suffering they know exists that they aren’t even aware of. Not everyone is acutely burdened with other people’s pain in such a way that each day brings a fresh wounding. Not all of us spend their lives regularly bleeding for the hurt around them.

And yet if you are such a person, these are incredibly treacherous times because there is so very much to be grieved by. It is a perilous act, simply waking and reaching for your phone and wading into the relentless flood of things capable of breaking a heart. The steady stream of bad news can easily overwhelm those who suffer vicariously. And while others seems quite capable of shutting it all out and resuming normal life, you aren’t—because this is your normal. It is your default setting to give a damn, and for you to try and stifle this guttural impulse is to be less than the truest true of who you are. To do so would be an act of personal treason.

And the problem, is that people who don’t normally feel deeply in this way aren’t equipped to understand the toll these days take on you. They aren’t capable of comprehending the despair that accompanies daily life; the compounding heaviness that builds with each bold-typed headline, with every breaking story, with each bit of graphic video.

I get it. I see you. I understand. I know the invisible weight you’re hauling around lately. And it may not help, but I want you to know you’re in very good company. There is an army of such similarly wounded souls walking the planet right now; people who are equally overwhelmed.

Many people might advise you not to care as much as you do, but I won’t. I know the impossibility of the ask. I know that this is simply who you are, it’s how your heart works. More than that, I know that this is a treasure—this incredible, counterintuitive ability to truly feel. It is an invaluable gift to the world and it is more precious now than ever. When so many are pushed past the threshold of their compassion by the circumstances, we need resilient hearts that can continue to open themselves to wounding on behalf of others.

And as with all treasures it is costly. This deep empathy comes with sacrifice and sorrow and that’s something you’re going to have to live with, the same way someone oversensitive to ultraviolet rays needs to account for twelve or so hours of sunlight each day. Yes, you need to guard yourself from too much exposure, to shield yourself at times; you need to step away often so that you are not irreparably damaged. That is perhaps the greatest danger for those of us who feel deeply: not becoming compassionate martyrs, not being destroyed by our own hearts, not becoming so consumed by suffering that we succumb to it. Your expiring is not the goal or the desired outcome here, friend, so save some of that compassion for yourself.

But in these days when it is tempting to be apathetic and to turn inward and to say “to hell with it all,” the world needs people who refuse to surrender to the bad news and become calloused and hardened. It needs people who still run headlong into the fray, bleeding hearts affixed to their sleeves; those with just enough hope to believe others are worth sacrificing for, crying for, fighting for, bleeding for.

It needs compassion more than it ever has.

It needs people like you.

Be encouraged today.






47 thoughts on “An Encouragement to Compassionate People

  1. There is always hope, even in the darkest of times. I am a gay man, but also a father and a human being. It is very disturbing to see the news and what is being done to people all over the world, especially when we in our country take part in the oppression of others. What gives me hope is that so many people are not willing to stand for this cruelty anymore. It also helps to take some action oneself. I’m going to a march in Washington DC in June. I’ve never done anything like that before, but somehow it makes me feel better, free, just to do that.

    • Empathy without awareness is a kind of “cheap grace. ” I.E. …”I’m sorry this happened/is happening. Wish I could stop it. I feel your pain.” This being felt/said while the empathizer unwittingly engages in micro-insults/micro-aggressions that perpetuate/encourage “bad/hurtful behavior.” Sometimes what it takes is an empathizer to say, “Stop. We don’t say things like that in this office/house/store.” Or, “we don’t do things like that in this place.” Problems persist because good people say/do nothing. And oftentimes the something that needs to be done is merely to say/do a “right” thing at its point of origin. This is where problem-fixing needs to begin and painful empathy can be handled.

      • I totally agree with you. If we look the other way or do nothing or say nothing I think we are complicit. I also know it is not easy to find your voice but I also know that if one person does you can end up with a chorus behind you. Peace,

  2. The last sentence should also include…praying for. My teen boys always ask me why I care so much. I literally feel others pain. I pray for healing and peace regularly. When I see terrible things happening on the news, I think to myself…that child didn’t need to die, suffer, or feel unloved. I wish I could have helped in some way. But often the only thing left at that point is to pray and often I will send a card…to complete strangers in their time of grief so they at least know there are others who care and pray from a distance. Sometimes I do feel like this heart of mine is a blessing and a curse at the same time when pondering the question my sons ask. But I try to share my compassion as best I can and hope that at some point they may see that in the end it is better to care than not. And I hope they realize I cared a lot!

  3. Thank you John P! And on this Good Friday, I am encouraged. I see the hope, I feel the possibility and I humbly follow the lead of Christ knowing He will take me in the direction I must go.

  4. Well Said John, Just as Jesus Christ was Compassionate to the point of Death on a cross for those who did not understand, see, or comprehend the magnitude of the cross of Calvary.
    Taking on the sin of the whole world for a Horrible death that no person could understand.
    All thru out the new testament God Shows us thru examples of giving, helping, feeding, working together for the common cause of eternal Salvation thru Jesus Christ .
    Because of Gods unselfish love for mankind , he hold s back judgement so that right up to the end of time as many as can be saved will be .
    For god did not send his son into the world to condemn it. But to save it from a fallen life of sin and rebellion. God is Love , Patient, Long suffering, Giving to the pt of death on the Cross.
    No man can do this , or even come close.
    As we Reflect this easter of what really took place so long ago and how God waits for people to Change, Repent, Turn from sin, Turn to God for a better way of life. He shows us , mankind what true compassion is.
    How a loving god is waiting until the very last second of life for us, mankind to turn to , trust in, accept his gift for sin.
    What a true example of Compassion he ( Jesus Christ Is. ) While we were still sinners, living in our own ways of selfish will , Christ ( Said Forgive Them they do not know what they Do. )
    True compassion on humanity
    Make a statement of his love for YOU , Give Him Praise for what he has done for YOU .
    Love YOU JESUS CHRIST , from us to you

  5. I think in all we do we must have purpose, reason, will for what we do.
    In the same way have purpose to perform what God, a Loving God has put on your heart to do. as the bible says 2tim 2:16 be a good steward, shepard, helper, servant of the lord .
    Keeping eyes on Purpose, not surroundings. Gods Will , Not my will, Godly Love , Not worldly lust, love
    Need , NOT GREED , Being content with what we have not going out of our way to get all we can get.
    True Love , Purpose in Jesus Christ to serve the body , Giving Hope and a Life Boat , Life Vest , Way of escape of the coming flood of judgement on the world for Rebellion

  6. Thank you, John. Once again you seem to know what I need to hear, much better than I do. I so appreciate you and your caring, encouraging words. I pray that you continue because you keep a great number of people from sinking into despair. I will wear my bleeding heart openly, unashamed of it. Peace and Love,

  7. We care so much because God cares so much and can only express His love through us. I am very, very proud of my empathetic little brothers and sisters – each and every one of you. Never stop caring. The world will never know how much God loves us all if we don’t show them.
    Happy Easter!!!!

  8. Once again, you put your finger solidly on the problem. Those who empathize do not offer that compassion to themselves. It never occurs to them to do so–until they are so depleted that a “recharge” takes much longer than the usual, daily “topping off”.
    Thank you for reminding us that sometimes, the greatest show of compassion we can make is for our own well-being. We’re not helpful if we’re not able to sustain the compassion for others and we can’t do that if we’re not thoughtful of our own needs.
    Peace and blessings!

  9. “Resolve to be tender with the young,
    compassionate with the aged,
    sympathetic with the striving,
    and tolerant with the weak and wrong,
    because sometime in your life you will have been all of these.”

      • Me too, and often.

        And I looked at this saying every hour of every day for 23 yrs. Trying my best to be those things to a group of people in society that most people wouldn’t deal with; by all accounts were throw-aways. And you know, they we’re the ones that taught me how to love, that gave me love… I was blessed, so very blessed.

        • I believe that, my husband was involved a a volunteer in prison ministry, not preaching but listening, guiding, just being there and I think that he received far more than he gave. So I understand where you are coming from. Peace and Love,

  10. I have such a heart. When I was 4 or 5, my step-mom said that I seemed to carry the weight of the world on my shoulders. I read about horrific events and I cry for the both victims and the perpetrators. Sometimes I can simply look at the gathering clouds of a storm and it seems as if the world itself sighs in pain and weariness. Then I cry for those who simply have no tears left to cry. And pray that a child who feels totally alone may feel the hope-inspiring touch of the Holy Spirit and see a future that can hold something besides more hell.

    But a vital thing we who possess such hearts forget is that we can also feel the joy of others. When we hear good news and reply, “I’m so happy for you!”, we aren’t just mouthing pleasantries while our hearts feel jealousy, envy or even question whether the recipient of that good news ‘deserves it’. We really are glad the person got good news. It lifts our own spirits, even if in small or brief amounts. Those small lifts can save our sanity.

    I have resolved that for every depressing headline story or reckless tweet, I will click on a link about kittens or puppies, or adorable kids being adorable. I will notice those small moments of kindness like someone holding the door for me or create them by holding the door for someone else. It is spring and the world around us is bursting with life. Google the before/after wildflower blooms in California for a visceral reminder that hope can always burst forth. I will remember and meditate on the blessings I have had before and those I still have now and pray for the courage and inspiration to try to extend them to all God’s children without limit or conditions, as did the One whose example I seek to follow. Please help me, God.

    • I like your comment. I decided a while back that I would do everything I could to leave a smile or a laugh when I am out and about and encounter strangers. Just a small act, like telling a clerk, no problem if something doesn’t go quite right, or asking them how their day is going while looking them in the face. A simple Thank you in the fast food place will get a smile and some surprise. It takes so little but you get back two-fold. Peace and Love,

  11. That IS the difference in people. I have men friends who meet around a table every week for a couple hours and talk honestly sharing our feelings and emotions. One of the men, a murder detective, I have seen cry over his overwrought emotions. Yet he and a few others are staunch trump supporters. But…….these are wonderful men who I love dearly. No, they don’t care about starving in Africa or refugees or poor having healthcare or paying for public schools or all the others issues that consume my thoughts and confound me.
    But they are good compassionate people who care about many things.
    You have made it possible for me to tell them at our next meeting that, yes, I am a snowflake. And I know in my heart that they will love me that much more.
    To all my men friends: Yes we do have feelings and emotions. Let them out. Search out a group like mine or form one. Look for “men’s work” or call a few local psychologists. It has absolutely nothing to do with complaining about women. That was the reason I joined, but through honesty and more than a few tears I learned to love my wife, women and even trump supporters. And life itself.

  12. Dear John Pavlovitz Reader:

    “Beware that there is no base thought in your heart, saying, ‘The seventh year, the year of remission, is near,’ and your eye is hostile toward your poor brother, and you give him nothing; then he may cry to the LORD against you, and it will be a sin in you. “You shall generously give to him, and your heart shall not be grieved when you give to him, because for this thing the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in all your undertakings” [Deu 15:9-10].


    “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders” [Mt 15:19]. “Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels’ ” [Mt 25:41].

    “You shall give him his wages on his day before the sun sets, for he is poor and sets his heart on it; so that he will not cry against you to the LORD and it become sin in you.” [Deu 24:15].


    ‘the pay of the laborers who mowed your fields, and which has been withheld by you, cries out against you; and the outcry of those who did the harvesting has reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth’ [Jam 5:4]. “If you afflict him at all, and if he does cry out to Me, I will surely hear his cry; [Ex 22:23].

    ‘He who shuts his ear to the cry of the poor Will also cry himself and not be answered’ [Pro 21:13].


    “Now there was a rich man, and he habitually dressed in purple and fine linen, joyously living in splendor every day. And a poor man named Lazarus was laid at his gate, covered with sores, and longing to be fed with the crumbs which were falling from the rich man’s table; besides, even the dogs were coming and licking his sores” [Lu 16:19-21]. “So when you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide My eyes from you; Yes, even though you multiply prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are covered with blood” [Isa 1:15]. ‘Vindicate the weak and fatherless; Do justice to the afflicted and destitute’ [Ps 82:3].


  13. Thanks John for getting inside our heads and allowing us to become centered in loving without attachment to all the masses who cannot achieve acceptance as equals.
    We will continue to be a presence for equality in every instance and every case.

  14. Dear John,

    Thank you once again for your words of prophetic wisdom.

    I have friends who will not watch the news, listen to the news, read the news because it makes them too upset. That’s their choice>

    Mine is to stay informed, bear the cost remaining informed and taking what action I can to change things.

  15. I’ m finding that I need to structure self-care into my life…some days of ignoring the horrors unfolding around us and sticking to kittens or jokes or whatever. I feel so helpless; I can do so little to help. But that suggestion of smiling, greeting, remembering to pass on compliments – that I can do. It feels so small. But I once read that you should do what God puts in front of you to do . Small things add up. It takes faith to believe this.

    • Emily, if you have flown, you will recall the flight attendants’ talking about sudden drop in cabin pressure, the oxygen masks coming down, and parents are supposed to put on their own before they affix one to their children.

      If we are to love our neighbors as ourselves, then we must also be loving to ourselves.

  16. Excellent post John Pavlovitz. None of the compassionate people in Christ here, including me, are going to give up on the Biblical call to be compassionate to our fellow man and woman because we are all passionate about being compassionate.

  17. Wow, John. You have spoken to my heart today! Compassion fatigue can take its toll. For my whole life, I have had a deep passion for social justice, racial equality, and economic opportunity for all. I will never change because I try to side with what is right. Not that I have a monopoly on what it right, but I try to guide my decisions from my heart. Thank you, John, for being there to help express what many of us are feeling. Resisting with Pride and Passion.
    Happy Resurrection Day to all believers!

  18. If you care deeply one thing that is very important to do is to “act.” I have a good friend right now who is feeding hungry migrants on the border near Syria. Other friends are in difficult places, having given up their comfort to serve on the front line. When you get busy putting yourself in places you can be stretched and challenged you will be blessed and less judgmental. Go find a place to serve. I have fed inner city kids and walked the streets of Mexico. It does wonders!

  19. Having had my heart torn open in recent times in a way which is new to me, I’ve been struggling, seeing the gift and not wanting to close down. I’m still learning how to dance with it and, yes, as you say, it does take a toll that friends just don’t get. So, John, thank you, for seeing me, for your empathy and compassion. Once again, you leave me in tears.

  20. Thank you John. I try to tell myself this every day. Some days are harder than others. Some days I truly cannot cope. But then I read your blogs and others and find compatriots who share this true, deep compassion for those who are hurting, dying. And I try to do my best to fight for their justice, their liberty, and freedoms. And I keep hoping thet WE will win in the long run (even though I know the fight never truly ends).

    • Ellen Casteel, something I have to tell myself every single day is that any compassion I have is based on knowing Jesus. Over and over again, I want to quit and then I remember bo much in love with Jesus I am, and compassion once again floods my heart. If to be compassionate means my heart bleeds, then I wear the label of bleeding heart with a great deal of joy because Jesus’ heart bleeds every day.

  21. Thank you. I needed to read this today. We compassionate people keep going and praying despite the heaviness that threatens to crush us sometimes. In Christ alone.

  22. Thank you as always for your wise and compassionate words, John. I too am one of those who care deeply – and I always have. In 8th grade history class, our teacher was reading to us from the Black Book of Poland (a fearful chronicle of Nazi atrocities against Jews), and I began to cry, quietly but obviously. The teacher mocked me for it, and some of the kids laughed, but it was the reaction of my heart. And still is, to this day some 50 years later. It’s a hard way to go through life; I remember reading in a favorite novel where the main character described himself this way – “Life is a comedy to those who think, and a tragedy to those who feel. But nobody ever addresses the problem of what life is to those of us poor bastards who both think AND feel.” This describes me to a T – but I wouldn’t live any other way.

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  24. Thank you. While it is encouraging to know that others out there know this pain, this compassion fatigue, even the validation brings fresh tears. The weltschmerz is overwhelming. Yet it’s the pain closer to home – adult children who are struggling just to make a life in this world, people with whom I come in contact every day in my work who feel so broken and have lost hope… these are the painful moments that take the breath out of me. I appreciate that you know. That you see and that you understand that I’ll keep caring even if it hurts.

  25. I honestly didn’t know there were many of us around. I study psychology and my professor told me they are now studying something called transcendental empathy. It’s a real thing. It’s empathy that’s beyond normal. The brains of those who have it are different. I just know I feel and hurt and love differently.

  26. This describes me perfectly. I wish I could shut it off. I would wake up in the middle of the night worrying about children being abused and I would get upset because I was powerless in helping them. When GW Bush ordered the invasion of Iraq, I fell into a depression I’d never known prior. For a person to carelessly order another nation to be destroyed and the people including children, killed, was beyond my understanding. I tried to direct my attention to helping children in underpriviledged Nations through my 501c3 Non-Profit charity organization, Educate The World Inc. ( I understand that I can’t save the world, I don’t have the answers nor the capabilities. I am not God. But changing one person’s life, makes me feel fulfilled. My organization has changed hundreds of lives.

  27. Thank you John. Many times my family and friends have told me to not watch the news, read the papers, read magazine articles because I “let myself get upset”. My aunt once comment that I was such a serious little girl, always concerned about perfect strangers! How does one explain that a billboard, suffering in someone’s eyes, a item on Facebook, can trigger great sadness? How does one explain that perhaps my tears may be the only ones that fall for that person, that I feel that I want to take the whole world in my arms and hold it like I held my babies when they were hurt. In some weird way I believe compassion and empathy goes out into the world and “infects” others. Someone, the other side of the world, has a moment of compassion and reaches out in a situation where it is needed. I asked that people would see the Father’s eyes in mine, little realizing that I would end up seeing the world through His eyes too. The reward – the immense joy I feel when I see someone treat another with goodness and dignity, see someone speak out at wrong, random acts of unexpected heroism, compassion, and kindness.

  28. I feel like this everyday. I study psychology and I’m almost done with my bachelor’s and willl go on to get a masters in social work. The head of the psychology department and I have talked a lot about this. they are starting to study this now because it is unusual and they’re calling it transcendental empathy. They know that our brains are different than regular brains and they’re trying to understand it better. My goal is to be a therapist for lgbtq kids and teens and I’d love to be able to be a therapist that reconciles gay kids with their Christian parents. right now I work in mental health with mostly teenagers and everyday face the trauma and pain that they’ve experienced. it takes a lot of self-care, probably more than most would need. My family is pretty understanding and they know that I need time to just relax and do nothing but be completely away from it all. I’ve never felt like it’s a burden although at times it’s very painful but I’ve learned how to separate my pain from their pain and that helps a lot. thank you so much for all the work that you do. It is a highlight to my day to read your post on Facebook and your blog.

  29. The death of a pet can emotionally tear someone up without the eventual consolation of meeting in heaven. The response of many people is “”He was just a cat.” I guess this is just another case of failing to offer emotional support.

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