Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. 1 Peter 3:8
You’ve seen him while driving, standing on the corner with a cardboard sign – Homeless. Out of work. Trying to feed my kids. God Bless. When I was young, I felt bad for him. Then, somewhere along the way, I learned he was a charlatan. He wasn’t really trying to feed his family. He was just begging for money to buy booze or drugs. Knowing this made me feel better about not helping him. I wasn’t completely wrong. When I was in treatment, I met one of those guys who informed me that yes, he begged for money, and when he got enough, he went to the liquor store to buy the cheapest bottle of alcohol he could find. Then, he’d drink himself into oblivion and repeat the whole process again the next day. All my suspicions were confirmed.
I also learned his back story though. I learned about his abusive childhood. I learned about the neglect. Taking time to listen, I learned about his struggles with mental health and addiction. I learned about the horrible circumstances which brought him to where he was in life. Knowing his story didn’t necessarily make me want to give five dollars to the next beggar I saw, but it certainly gave me compassion for him.
This is almost a universal truth. Working in addiction medicine, I regularly see those who make almost unbelievably bad decisions daily. It’s maddening to watch. How can one person make so many bad choices? How dumb can you be? Frankly, it’s easy to become arrogant and condescending. I’ve got it all together. Why can’t you figure it out? If I take time to listen to the story though, something changes in me. Learning about the neglect, the physical abuse, and the sex trafficking, makes it all make a little more sense. Taking time to get to know someone and learn the back story always causes me to be more compassionate, less judgmental, and more willing to help.
This seems to be what Peter asked of us in today’s passage. In it, he urged us to choose humility, compassion, and love. When we meet those who appear to make terrible life choices, it’s easy to be condescending. In judging though, we engage in pride, which may be the worst sin of all. I’m not saying we must always throw money at the guy on the corner. I’m just saying that everyone’s got a story and that compassion is something we must choose daily – not just for the guy on the corner, but for the sake of our own souls.