“The world is hip-deep in tears. Compassion is not an option. It is a matter of survival.” Sue Monk Kidd
Charlotte’s Web is a beloved children’s book by E.B. White, which tells the story of a spider named Charlotte and a pig named Wilbur. An unlikely friendship develops between the two of them; one that is very symbolic and ripe with lessons we can learn about caring for one another. The story unfolds when Charlotte learns that Wilbur is soon to be slaughtered. She then begins to fervently weave intricate webs with words like “some pig”, “terrific”, “radiant” and “humble” to extol Wilbur’s worthiness. Wilbur becomes a celebrity, and his life is spared.
The first lesson to be learned is how Charlotte became aware of how desperately Wilbur not only needed a friend, but one that would intervene for him in his dire situation. The next lesson from Charlotte is how, at all cost she gave of herself sacrificially, by expending her energy and strength to come to Wilbur’s aid. Lastly, not only did she draw everyone’s attention to how special Wilbur was, but she was also able to encourage and affirm Wilbur through her acts of love.
While these parallels are easily identifiable from this story, the truth is there are many around us who are weak, vulnerable and susceptible. Their reality resembles more closely that of nature. In nature, the spider carefully and meticulously weaves its web as a death trap. The purpose is to entangle, entrap and envelop its helpless prey. Once caught, the spider bites and paralyzes its catch.
For many, life’s difficult circumstances can seem to be all consuming and paralyzing. The web of life can seem disorienting, overwhelming, constricting and debilitating. David Jeremiah in his book, A Bend in the Road, writes about David’s similar feelings in Psalm 142. He writes, “David confesses to us in vs. 3 that his spirit within is ‘overwhelmed.’ The Hebrew words literally mean, ‘the muffling of my spirit.’ David has come to a place where he has begun to distrust his powers of judgment. He is no longer certain where to turn or what course to take. Life has become a great flood rushing in upon him, and he struggles to stand firm against the current. David’s muffled spirit is a picture of disorientation.” Dr. Jeremiah says of vs.4, “In my estimation, it’s one of the saddest verses in the Bible.”
“Look on my right hand and see, for there is no one who acknowledges me; refuge has failed me; no one cares for my soul.” Psalm 142:4 (NKJV)
Can you imagine any words more desolate and despairing?” Mary Ann Froehlich in her book, Living with Thorns writes, “despair is defined as: an utter loss of hope or confidence; and complete despair is that feeling that there is no way out. This kind of despair leads people to wonder if anyone loves them or cares. Not only David but Job, the Israelites, Jonah, Paul and Jesus Christ among many others in the Bible experienced despair. The most well-known example of Jesus’ despair occurred in the garden of Gethsemane. Jesus said, ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.’ (Mark 14:34 NIV) The disciples were physically with Him, but they were not emotionally with Him. Jesus was at His lowest point ‘deeply distressed and troubled.’ He was overwhelmed with sorrow.”
Froehlich also writes, “Sometimes people who have not experienced despair or depression can be intolerant of those who do suffer with these problems. These inexperienced people view despair and depression as weakness and worst of all sin. Those who judge despair and depression as disobedience to God only heap guilt on an already paralyzed person. Advising someone to ‘snap out of it’ is not helpful. The last thing that a struggling person needs is to feel judged.”
Dr. John Townsend writes in Where Is God?, “People resolve depressions, anxieties and even medical problems sooner when they are with individuals who are compassionate and share in the feelings the person is experiencing.” Froehlich writes, “Only with the comfort God gives us are we able to comfort others. That is the miraculous chain of compassion. The word compassion means ‘with suffering’ or an even better translation, ‘together suffering’.” Lloyd Ogilvie says, “Sympathy is concern at a distance, but empathy is true mercy, actually feeling what another person feels. When we have the gift of mercy, we have the ability to feel another person’s pain.”
Back to our example of the web, the spider is only able to catch insects that are its size or smaller, such as flies. Larger insects like bees, are able to easily break through the web, destroying it and rendering it useless to ensnare the weaker ones that may follow.
In the same way, for those of us who are stronger, we need to be aware of the weak and despairing. We need to make a way for them by our acts of mercy, compassion and empathy. We need to go ahead of those who are struggling and break through the “webs” that threaten to bring them down. As you come alongside, your strength and presence can provide safe passage through many of the “webs” of life that so easily entangle those who struggle with life issues. We all need to aspire to be like Charlotte who was aware, self-sacrificing and proactive. She was also a defender and an amazing encourager.
Philip Yancey writes in Grace Notes, “In moments of extreme pain or grief, very often God’s love can only be perceived through the flesh of ordinary people like you and me. In such a way we can, indeed, function as the body of Jesus Christ.”
“…use your freedom to serve one another in love; that’s how freedom grows.” Gal. 5:13 (MSG)
Reflections on THE WEB
Nowhere is the need for a friend more apparent than in situations where someone has fallen into the pit of despair. If you have not yet been there, at some point in your life, you will be. We need to be aware that life is hard and the Bible says that God sends “rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” Matthew 5:45(NASB) All of us will face periods of trials and hard times. Some of us face those times when we are younger and some of us do not face them until later in life, but we will all find ourselves there at some point. Beth Moore, in her book Get Out of That Pit says that there are 3 ways to end up in the pit: 1) slide down into it gradually; 2) jump into it on purpose; 3) be thrown into it by circumstances beyond your control. No matter how you got into the pit or caught in the web of despair, when you end up there you will want other people to help and encourage you.
Would you want someone like you to be that friend? Or would you want someone more caring and compassionate than you are? Most of us were raised with the “Golden Rule” which is actually a Biblical concept… “In everything therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you…”Matthew 7:12(NIV) I wonder how often we actually live by the Golden Rule? If we are honest with ourselves, I believe that most of us will find that most of the time, we are not putting ourselves in other people’s shoes. We are doing what we think is best for ourselves at the moment and not putting the other person first.
Jesus ministered to people every day. He often had trouble eating or sleeping because He was surrounded by so many people every day and He was compassionate and responsive to them and to their needs. He was also busy teaching His disciples, both by word and example. We don’t see Jesus taking a coffee break or a vacation. We see Him pulling away to refresh spiritually by spending time with His Father and praying. He emphasized over and over the importance of seeking His Father’s guidance. He set the example in both submission to His Father’s will and in seeking His Father’s face and fellowship.
Are you willing to sacrifice your own needs for someone else’s like Charlotte did for Wilbur? Are you willing to seek what is best for the other person first and trust God to handle your own needs? God is well aware of all of our needs. When I obey Him, He supplies my needs.
“But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things shall be added to you.” Matthew 6:33(NKJV)
Will you seek what is best for others first? Try God and watch Him honor His promises.
Prayer for the hurting person:
Help this one who is hurting to be able to rest in Your provision for her. Help her to feel Your presence and trust You to help her. Encourage her during this trying time.
In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
Prayer for the helper:
I confess that I often tend to look out more for myself than for others. Please give me Your heart and Your compassion for others, and help me to see their needs and to respond in practical ways to help them. Use me Lord as Your instrument of encouragement.
In Jesus’ Name, Amen.