Living Compassionately

By Sarah Miller, Open Table Nashville Intern

What does it mean to bear witness to the suffering around us?

What does it look like to have hope in the midst of that suffering?

These are heavy topics, but this is what has been on my mind lately. As an intern with Open Table Nashville, I have had the privilege of walking alongside our friends experiencing homelessness and of hearing their stories. The more I have gotten to know a few of them, the more they have shared of their suffering with me. At the same time, I have also been able to see the remarkable resilience they hold and the signs of change coming on the horizon.

I think that bearing witness to someone’s suffering means to give them space to be fully themselves – fully human. It means listening to them without judgment and without trying to “fix” their situation for them. It also means not running away from my own personal reactions of fear, sadness, anger, or anything else that comes up inside of me as I watch and listen. If I cannot be present and compassionate with myself and what I am experiencing, I cannot be fully present for someone else.

At the same time, I’ve learned the importance of looking for hope in the midst of suffering. For me, that means recognizing the incredible strength that our friends have and the amazing privilege it is to be invited into their journey. I think having hope also means actively working towards restoration and reconciliation and looking for the places that work is being done around me.

Remembering that I am not in this alone and that the weight of the world actually doesn’t rest on my shoulders helps me to better care for myself and to remember my place in this work.

For me, this experience of suffering and hope has carried a spiritual weight, especially in the month of March as I pondered Jesus’ suffering and resurrection during Easter. As difficult as it has been at times to process all of this, I have been so grateful for the relationships I have gained and the support from our friends and our staff. I know that I will carry this experience with me as I leave, and that I will be better equipped to live a life of compassion wherever I go in the future.

“We cannot eliminate hunger,
but we can feed each other.
We cannot eliminate loneliness,
but we can hold each other.
We cannot eliminate pain,
but we can live a life of compassion.”
“Accepting This” by Mark Nepo