What is Compassion? And How Can I Be More Compassionate?

5 inspirational resources to help you as you consider being compassionate and caring for others.

Compassion is a deep feeling of sympathy for someone who is suffering. It’s not just an emotion – Compassion is accompanied by a strong desire to take action and alleviate the suffering you witness.

Compassion Definition

Define: Compassion (n.). The meaning of compassion is literally “a suffering with another.”

What does it mean to be compassionate?

Having compassion can be difficult in a world where we’re bombarded with bad news. We want to take action and help those in need, but we can become desensitised by suffering.

Compassion UK, the children’s charity where I work, gives one simple but incredibly effective way to show compassion. The scale of poverty can seem hopeless, so we offer people the chance to start by alleviating the suffering of one child by becoming their sponsor.

We also want to offer you 5 resources to help you as you consider being compassionate and caring for others:

Examples of compassion: who inspires you?

Who inspires and challenges you to become more compassionate? Reflect on what makes them different, and let yourself be challenged to follow their example.

compassion definition

When I read the story of how Compassion International began, I’m always struck by the courageous action of one man who refused to ignore human suffering.

Imagine this, you’re standing on a street devastated by war in 1950s Korea. Amongst the debris you see a group of men throwing piles of rags onto the back of a truck. Your eyes focus as you notice the rags have a distinct shape. You slowly move over to the truck to take a closer look.

The piles are not rags. They are the bodies of children. Orphans who died overnight in the street.

What would you do?

For Reverend Everett Swanson, he made himself available to be moved by God’s compassion. On the aeroplane home, Swanson heard a simple message resounding in his head. As the engines whirred, he heard the challenge, “What are you going to do? What are you going to do?” over and over again.

Everett Swanson

Swanson knew he could not turn his back on these children. He vowed to find a way to help them. Swanson raised money to support a Korean orphanage and soon established a unique programme, linking each Korean orphan with a caring individual whose generosity provided them with education, food, clothing, shelter and medical care.

66 years later and Compassion’s mission has not changed. Everyday our project staff undertake acts of compassion to protect and empower some of the world’s most vulnerable children. And it’s all made possible by individuals who’ve taken the step to sponsor a child and be compassionate.

If you’ve been moved to act with compassion, find out more about how you can sponsor a child and make a real difference.

Sponsor a child today

2. ‘Am I suffering from compassion fatigue?’ Honest questions to ask yourself

The tragic truth is that we often ignore the mass suffering that takes place in our world. Crises such as the global refugee crisis present us with figures we don’t know how to process: a staggering 65.3 million people are now displaced from their homes worldwide.

As debates rage about whether there are limits to human compassion, and why some atrocities provoke greater news coverage and outpourings of compassion than others, we don’t have any easy answers. But we do know that caring for the one is a powerful and Biblical place to start.

Find somewhere quiet to reflect and think through these questions:

  • Do you really see those in need? To borrow Danielle’s Strickland’s words, “the first step must always be to choose to see the injustice around us. Let’s open our eyes, it’s a choice.”
  • Are you authentically listening to those around you who are suffering? Good listening takes active effort and energy.
  • Have you been affected by the cynicism of our culture which often tells us nothing makes a difference so why bother caring at all?
  • Do you only show compassion when it’s fashionable or convenient to you? I know that I’m guilty of responding to a one-off TV appeal and mentally ticking the I’ve been compassionate box.
  • How are you driven to be compassionate? Why do you offer to help a neighbour in need or volunteer at the homeless shelter?

It’s interesting to see how there are compassion peaks and troughs depending on when suffering receives news coverage and when we’re preoccupied with the business of life.


Google searches for poverty, refugees and compassion significantly dip over the Christmas period when perhaps we’re too distracted to exercise compassion.

And disasters move in and out of the news with alarming speed. Hurricane Matthew struck Haiti on 4 October 2016, destroying 90% of parts of southern Haiti.

hurricane matthew searche

It only took 11 days for the disaster to disappear from the news to the extent that people stopped searching for it. We know from our Compassion Haiti office that the effects of the destruction are still impacting lives today.

Can you challenge yourself to be consistently compassionate? Are there causes you can commit to following, taking action on and praying for?

3. How does the Bible define compassion? Take time to reflect

If you’ve ever wondered what the Bible says about compassion, it’s crammed full of examples. It speaks of a God who has so much compassion for His people that He sent His one and only son to demonstrate what is means to be compassionate.

Reflect on these Bible verses about God’s compassion and remember that we are created in His image.

  • “But you, Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.” Psalm 86:15
  • “‘Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,’ says the Lord, who has compassion on you.” Isaiah 54:10

define compassionate

  • “Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you; therefore he will rise up to show you compassion. For the Lord is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for him!” Isaiah 30:18
  • “The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love. The Lord is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made.” Psalm 145:8-9
  • “The Lord is gracious and righteous; our God is full of compassion.” Psalm 116:5

4. What does Jesus say about compassion? Ask God to guide you

Jesus Christ is the ultimate example of someone with true compassion. Not only did Jesus have compassion and heal people from physical suffering, He also showed the greatest compassion for mankind when He died on the cross.

Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Matthew 9:35-36

Jesus teaches us how to show compassion to others:

  • Jesus greeted the Samaritan woman at the well and showed her grace (John 4)
  • Jesus was compassionate to the woman caught in adultery and saved her life (John 8: 1-11)
  • Jesus showed love and compassion to Zaccheus by invited him to dinner, the ultimate sign of acceptance (Luke 19:1-10)

Mother and daughter hugging in Rwanda

As Christians we’re called to be like Jesus and show compassion to everyone we meet. It’s not always easy so we need to be gentle with ourselves and recognise we can’t do this in our own strength.

Ask the Holy Spirit to give you more compassion towards those you will encounter today:

Father help us to show your love to those around us. Give us compassion and humility in our hearts. Holy Spirit, change us to be more like Jesus as we care for those in need. Amen

5. Empathy vs compassion: learn from an extraordinary six-year-old

There’s often confusion about the difference between empathy and compassion.

Empathy isn’t just another word for compassion. It’is a feeling which can move you for a moment, but compassion puts hands and feet on that feeling so you have to do something about it. Meet Moses, one remarkable six-year-old from Kenya who has helped teach me the difference:

Moses’ story

It was a cool day in Kenya, near Homa Bay, an eastern inlet of Lake Victoria. Moses’ mother was given a food parcel packed with sugar, flour, oil, beans, rice, tea and a box of biscuits – essential items for a family that often struggled to gather together enough food for one meal a day.

Moses handing out biscuits

Seeing other hungry children around him, Moses was moved with compassion. Without thinking, he took one of the packets of biscuits from the box and started giving them out to his neighbours. It was as if there was no question in his mind –if he had something and his friends did not, the obvious next step would be to share it.

It reminded me of the abandonment and generosity of the widow in the story Jesus tells: “This poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”

It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the gaping needs we can see in the world around us, even in our communities. But today, let’s ask ourselves, “How are we using our two coins like the widow, or our packet of biscuits?” How can we act with compassion, and not just empathy?

You may also be interested in:

  • Naomi Scott: Meet the Woman Behind the Big Screen and Discover Why She’s Empowering Girls Worldwide

Sources: UNHCR: Displacement Hits Record High, Definition of compassion

Becca Stanley

Words by Becca Stanley


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