Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.Colossians 3 NIV
Looking back at my clothing choices in life, what I put on seemed to reflect the earthiness of a casual lifestyle and the necessity of following dress rules in another culture. I was somewhat of a tomboy growing up with a little brother, so middle school photos are painful with cat-eyed glasses, bell bottomed pants and mismatched tops.
As an adult I spent ten years in S. Asia in a very formal culture making what you wear and how you wear it of primary importance. My first big dress code violation was showing up to an outdoor church picnic in what I thought was an appropriately long shirt and conservative pants, only to find out that all the women were wearing saris and even running relay races in them. Our pastor’s daughter greeted my husband and I saying: “Oh, two gents have arrived.” Putting on a sari was a 30-minute sweaty event where I felt like I was tied up in five meters of wrapping and couldn’t move properly until with great delight I was able to pull it all off.
Disliking putting on or changing clothes can make the clothing metaphor in Colossians 3 a challenge. Isn’t it so much easier to keep on those old comfortable outfits of fear, sadness, anxiety, impatience and anger?! Yet, look at the earthy wording in the MSG which calls us out on our bad clothing choices:
Your old life is dead, your new life, which is your real life, is with Christ in God. He is your life…and that means killing off everything connected with that way of death: sexual promiscuity, impurity, lust, doing whatever you feel like whenever you feel like it, and grabbing whatever attracts your fancy…You are done with that old life. It’s like a filthy set of ill-fitting clothes you’ve stripped off and put in the fire. Now you’re dressed in a new wardrobe. Every item of your new way of life is custom-made by the Creator, with his label on it. All the old fashions are now obsolete…So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you.”Colossians 3 (MSG)
It all sounds really cool to put on the new wardrobe of the character of Christ, which William Barclay calls the garments of grace. The five character traits we must wear are the stuff of mature human relationships: compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. These belong to community life, shared by people of varying gifts, experiences, and backgrounds, who bear with each other and forgive one another because we are bound together in God’s love.
Putting on Compassion in Marriage and other Partnerships.
My husband and I have been meditating on these verses to improve our personal relationship. We had conversations about how to apply these five character qualities. We decided to take a trip, just the two of us, to unplug from work, enjoy the beauty of nature, and to talk and pray about our personal relationship. We had such a beautiful time together, really, we put on compassion, kindness and forgiveness. Our mantra was “respond not react.”
Then, wham, the first day back to reality, we had a big emotional drama and we threw off the new wardrobe of patience and kindness and went right back to wearing impatience and anger. That day I really lost hope that we could ever fully put on the compassion of Christ. Then that night, about 3am, desperate for reconciliation, we put on humility, we put on forgiveness and love bound us together. I guess that is really what it is all about, we are imperfect people trying to follow Christ and love each other. The taking off involves dying to self: “you have died and your life is hidden with Christ.” Being hidden in Christ, going often to a silent place of prayer and presence, is so important to seek the things above and not get tripped up by earthly things such as selfishness, pride, and anger.
A really good resource for putting on kindness and patience is found in The Love Dare, by Alex Kendrick, featured in the 2008 movie Fireproof. Understanding the difference between kindness and patience and “putting them on” daily will strengthen compassion for one another in marriage relationships and other intimate partnerships:
Love Dare Challenge: Putting on Kindness and Patience.
Starting today, resolve to demonstrate patience and to say nothing negative to those closest to you. If the temptation arises, choose not to say anything. In addition to saying nothing negative, do at least one unexpected gesture as an act of kindness. This week be intentional in practicing kindness and responding with patience.
“Love is built on two pillars that best define what it is. Those pillars are patience and kindness. All other characteristics of love are an extension of these two attributes. Love inspires you to become a patient person. When you choose to be patient you respond in a positive way to a negative situation. You are slow to anger. You choose to have a long fuse instead of a quick temper. Rather than being restless and demanding love helps you settle down and begin to extend compassion.” (Day 1, Love Dare)
The following two spiritual formation practices will help to sit with the Lord and put on the character of compassion. Prepare yourself for these by setting aside time and space to be quiet, listen, and as God’s beloved to be clothed in the beauty of God’s character.
PRACTICE OF PUTTING ON DIVINE COMPASSION
For this practice, you need to set aside time and space to be open to the Divine Compassion, the God of forgiveness and love. Find a comfortable place and take several deep breaths allowing the Breath of Life to fill your soul. Rest in the calm of your breathing in and out. Allow yourself to be intentional in your openness.
To bring yourself into the presence, you can repeat, “Come, Divine Compassion,” or “O God, you are my God.” Recollect or remember a sacred moment with Jesus when you have encountered compassion, kindness and forgiveness. Rest in that moment. Remember the images, sounds, emotions, or words of the encounter. Sit with this compassionate encounter and feel again being held, forgiven, seen, or understood by God. Allow a symbol of the experience to come to mind, such as a cross, broken bread, or the sound of cleansing ocean waves. Use the symbol to draw you back into the Compassionate.
Practice OF Putting on Compassion for the Other
It is our nature and our culture to see each other through judgements and reactions conditioned by our own needs, desires, and sensitivities. Through contemplative awareness and putting on compassion we can see the other’s longings, fears, wounds, and delights. Compassion engenders truly being seen without filter and reactions of judgment or agenda.
Take time to search your mind and heart for someone you need to offer the gift of compassion or kindness. As you think of the other, see if there is reaction or judgment that needs to be removed from your thoughts about this person. Clear your mind of these thoughts one by one.
How can you offer kindness, patience, gentleness, and humility through forgiveness and love? Sit with this question and imagine putting on compassion toward the other. Ask for the compassion to be deeply moved by this person’s experience. As you sit with this, notice what comes up for you and respond in ways to heal hurts or promote kindness.