I remember President Monson sharing that each year at Christmas time he reads “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens. I've also read it several times during past Christmas seasons. In that story, the main character (Ebenezer Scrooge) receives a visit from the spirit of his deceased, now fettered, business partner who can only tell him of the grief and guilt he now suffers as a result of their uncharitable dealings. Scrooge asks his former partner, “But why do spirits walk the earth, and why do they come to me?” The reply from Jacob Marley is foreboding:
“It is required of every man that the spirit within him should walk abroad among his fellowmen, and travel far and wide; and if that spirit goes not forth in life, it is condemned to do so after death. It is doomed to wander through the world—oh, woe is me!—and witness what it cannot share, but might have shared on earth and turned to happiness!”
“At this time of the rolling year I suffer most. Why did I walk through crowds of fellow-beings with my eyes turned down, and never raise them to that blessed Star which led the Wise Men to a poor abode! Were there no poor homes to which its light would have conducted me!”
Scrooge is even permitted to see other spirits in similar plights:
“The misery with them all was, clearly, that they sought to interfere, for good, in human matters, and had lost the power for ever.”
We don’t know for sure what the afterlife entails for anyone, but this scenario represents a sincere and good-faith effort to imagine what we might call a Spirit prison. “A Christmas Carol” is all about the change of heart that only the atonement of Jesus Christ can bring. We can all benefit from our own changes of heart, even if they represent more minor course corrections that what Ebenezer Scrooge experienced in this story.
Andrew Workman, an early member of the church related this story of his first meeting the prophet Joseph Smith:
“I saw the Prophet Joseph for the first time in May ... A few days after this I was at Joseph’s house; he was there, and several men were sitting on the fence. Joseph came out and spoke to us all. Pretty soon a man came up and said that a poor brother who lived out some distance from town had had his house burned down the night before. Nearly all of the men said they felt sorry for the man. Joseph put his hand in his pocket, took out five dollars and said, ‘I feel sorry for this brother to the amount of five dollars; how much do you all feel sorry?’” (in “Recollections of the Prophet Joseph Smith,” Juvenile Instructor, Oct. 15, 1892, 641).
$5 in 1842 is approximately equivalent in purchasing power to about $170 today!
When moved with compassion, let us be moved not only to tears, but to action!
Compassion is simply wanting to help someone who's having a bad day. It can really be that simple! If you want to get more technical, Merriam-Webster provides interesting insight:
Compassion: sympathetic consciousness of others' distress [accompanied by] a desire to alleviate it
If you want to think more scripturally, the "Guide to the Scriptures", found in the Gospel Library app, provides this insight:
In the scriptures, compassion means literally “to suffer with.” It also means to show sympathy, pity, and mercy for another.
In the larger Christian world, the phrase "Passion of Jesus" refers to the events in the week of the crucifixion and resurrection, which makes the term compassion and it's meaning of "to suffer with" even more meaningful.
It's not always obvious when someone is going through an awful experience. Even when it is obvious, it can be difficult to know what to do to help, for many reasons. We might not be very 'in tune' to what they are experiencing. The metaphorical term 'in tune' is very meaningful, but it's so common as to have lost some of it's impact. One of the definitions of compassion I sighted earlier uses the phrase "sympathetic consciousness". In physics and electronics, the term 'sympathetic vibration' refers to the phenomenon wherein a passive vibratory body responds to external vibrations to which it has a harmonic likeness. In the case of two identical tuning forks, the vibrations of one of them will actually set the other into motion.
The term "in tune to the promptings of the Holy Ghost" refers to us being both sensitive and responsive enough that when he prompts, we take action!
Where being compassionate is concerned, I often have little difficulty feeling a 'sympathetic consciousness of others' distress', and I feel a genuine desire to alleviate it--the question is how! What should I do? This isn't always clear to me. But it is clear to the Savior Jesus Christ:
And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind... and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities.
Jesus knows, "according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities". No wonder President Nelson has urged us to "Hear Him"! So, much of the time I need to make myself more worthy to "Hear Him" better. Maybe some of the time what would be most helpful would be to try to help those we suffer with "Hear Him" as well.
The Savior suffered with each of us in the Garden of Gethsemane and on the Cross at Golgotha. Isaiah gives an exquisitely detailed rendering:
He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we, like sheep, have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquities of us all.
25 And, behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?
26 He said unto him, What is written in the law? how readest thou?
27 And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself.
28 And he said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live.
29 But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbour?
30 And Jesus answering said, A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead.
31 And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.
32 And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side.
33 But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him,
34 And went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him.
35 And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee.
36 Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves?
37 And he said, He that shewed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise.
17 He that hath pity upon the poor lendeth unto the LORD; and that which he hath given will he pay him again.
40 ...Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.
17 And behold, I tell you these things that ye may learn wisdom; that ye may learn that when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God.
In Elder Soares most recent conference talk he makes a bold statement:
The expression of compassion for others is the essence of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
If you take away the essence of something you won't have much of anything. Elder Soares shares the story in:
The Gospel of Luke [of] a certain woman, considered a sinner, [who] entered Simon’s home while Jesus was there. In humble contrition, the woman approached Jesus, washed His feet with her tears, wiped them with her hair, and then kissed and anointed them with a special ointment. The proud host, who considered himself morally superior to the woman, thought to himself with reproach and arrogance, “This man, if he were a prophet, would have known who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth him: for she is a sinner.”
Elder Soares concludes:
The Pharisee’s holier-than-thou attitude led him to judge unjustly both Jesus and the woman.
Apparently, it is in large measure our attitude toward and opinion of other people that determines whether we will experience a "sympathetic consciousness of [their] distress". For example, ever since attending a heated sporting event as a fan of the visiting team (who lost) I've struggled to feel happy for fans of that particular home team when that team does well. At times I've caught myself enjoying their misfortune! How silly! Have you had a similar struggle, maybe in a different societal area? We all need to deliberately reach across the generally accepted dividing lines in our society, whether athletic, economic, educational, ethnic, philosophical, political, or religious, and actually see real people, with real struggles.
Elder Soares contrasts the Pharisee with the Savior:
As do many other events during Jesus’s earthly ministry, this account demonstrates once more that the Savior acted compassionately toward all who would come unto Him—without distinction—and most especially toward those who most needed His help. The contrition and reverent love shown to Jesus by the woman were evidence of her sincere repentance and desire to receive a remission of her sins. However, Simon’s superiority complex, coupled with his hardened heart, prevented him from showing empathy for that repentant soul, and he referred even to the Savior of the world with indifference and contempt. His attitude revealed that his way of life was nothing more than a strict and hollow observance of rules and outward manifestations of his convictions through self-aggrandizement and false holiness.
It is meaningful to observe that Jesus’s compassionate acts were not occasional or mandated manifestations based on a list of tasks to be completed but everyday expressions of the reality of His pure love for God and His children and His abiding desire to help them.
27 Behold, this I have given unto you as a parable, and it is even as I am. I say unto you, be one; and if ye are not one ye are not mine.
A good personal theme for the next year:
5 Wherefore, be faithful; stand in the office which I have appointed unto you; succor the weak, lift up the hands which hang down, and strengthen the feeble knees.
6 And if thou art faithful unto the end thou shalt have a crown of immortality, and eternal life in the mansions which I have prepared in the house of my Father.