There is a lot of talk in my country about compassion, particularly in relation to nursing – and why people today are seeing a lack of compassion in the profession.
But what does compassion really mean? The literal meaning is “to suffer alongside.” Most Bible translations use the English word compassion to translate several different words in the Bible – none of which has so simple a meaning.
We see Jesus expanding this meaning in Matthew 20:29-43:
As they were leaving Jericho, a large crowd followed him. And two blind men sitting by the road, hearing that Jesus was passing by, cried out, “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!” The crowd sternly told them to be quiet, but they cried out all the more, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!” And Jesus stopped and called them, and said, “What do you want me to do for you?” They said to him, “Lord, we want our eyes to be opened.” Moved with compassion, Jesus touched their eyes; and immediately they regained their sight and followed him.
In this passage, “moved with compassion” is translated from the Greek word splagchnizomai, literally meaning “to be moved in one’s innards” – either the bowels or the organs of the rib-cage. It is an expression of the most visceral, physical response to the needs and suffering of others. When Jesus hears the plea of the blind men to have their sight restored, he is moved to his guts.
But while we see Jesus profoundly moved, he does not stop with his feelings. He acts decisively and firmly to address the need that he sees and he heals both blind men immediately.
In the Bible, compassion is a verb, not a noun. Like love, it only means something if it leads to decisive action.
In nursing, we are often told to keep a professional distance, not to get involved. But to be truly compassionate, we need to be open to the pain, suffering and needs of our patients, at any level, and be willing and able to be truly moved. Responding decisively may mean sorting out displaced pillows to make someone comfortable, or providing appropriate analgesia on schedule, or simply being present with a person in the most profound and inexpressible distress.
If we cannot be moved and spurred to action by our patients’ needs, how can we be truly compassionate?
NCFI Board Member & Europe Regional Chair
Nurses Christian Fellowship International
Nurses Christian Fellowship/USA partners with national NCF movements around the world through Nurses Christian Fellowship International (NCFI).