Look out of an airplane window on a clear day. As I watched the landscape below us on a cross-country flight, I was impressed by vastness of this planet that God surveys. It connected me to the verses I had read earlier in the day:
O LORD, what is man that you regard him,
or the son of man that you think of him?
Man is like a breath;
his days are like a passing shadow. (Psalm 144:3–4)
Underneath me, the shadows of the clouds look like permanent stains on the land. But the majestic cumuli are transient, water-vapor sheep – like us, soon to dissipate.
Even a raging forest fire is reduced to a smudge of smoke. We are such little, insignificant creatures in a world of temporary stains and smudges.
And there are so many of us. In O’Hare, people swirl around me under a hanging globe as I consider all the destinations these travelers represent. Each trip fits into a larger context like an individual word fits into a paragraph. And somehow God reads the sprawling, unedited, messy manuscript of all humanity.
As I stand at the gate, waiting to board my last flight, a story unfolds in front of me. A father brings his two young daughters to the door and squats down to hug them. Both girls start to weep quietly, clutching on to him. He whispers comforting words. We, the bystanders, try not to notice and tamp down our own welling emotions.
Once on the plane, I am not surprised that God has placed me across the aisle from them. He is inviting me to be a part of the comforting. I get out paper and my pouch of markers (but of course!) and draw them something. When I hand it to them, we converse a bit. The older girl, perhaps age ten, is funny and articulate. She says, “I do hope the pilot of our plane isn’t a dog.” I suggest that I go up and ask for her, which makes her laugh.
Compassion. That’s the answer to the psalmist’s question. It isn’t about what man is. It’s about who God is. He loves because he is love. And somehow, beyond our ability to imagine, he cares about each individual story on this planet simply because he is who he is.
But how does he care for so many? I am challenged today to remember that, like the feeding of the five thousand, Jesus’s compassion involves his followers: receiving from him the broken bread and passing it on to ranks of people on the hillside. Or across the aisle of a plane.
It is no less miraculous that God cares for so many by involving his people. It still boggles our minds.
O Lord, who are we that regard us? We are so small, so complicated, so wrapped up in our own stories. Yet you know and meet our needs. What a wondrous love! Make your compassion drive us to care for those around us – like you, to take the time to enter into their stories and pain.