Keri Wyatt Kent, a Chicago-based author known for her writing on spiritual formation, wants her most recent book, Simple Compassion, to connect readers' inner world to the larger world and its need for justice seekers. In each of the book's 52 devotions, Kent provides Compassion Steps (looking inward) and Community Steps (providing tips for group discussion and outreach efforts). In the end, Kent says, she wants her readers to remember the small but effective steps they can take to serve Christ in others. Christianity Today intern Elissa Cooper recently spoke with Kent.
How does Simple Compassion relate to your other books?
My other books are about spiritual formation—about connecting your faith with everyday life. If we are being formed in the image of Christ, then we have to look at what Christ was like. He was a compassionate person. He reached across social lines, he associated with people who were poor, and he associated with people of different social standings than him. If we are being formed in the image of Christ, then we are developing a heart for the poor and for those on the margins of society. Compassion is the logical next step in spiritual formation.
What exactly is compassion, and why is it so challenging?
Compassion is caring about the welfare of someone else as much as you care about your own welfare, which is what Jesus calls us to do. It's challenging because we are naturally hardwired to look out for ourselves. That's one thing we in 21st-century America have lost sight of: the Christian life is not the life of health and wealth and ease. It's challenging to live a life of compassion, but I think it's more rewarding, just like anything that's challenging.
You write that many Christian women believe they can't make a difference, or that others don't want them to use their gifts. Do women have a more difficult time acting on compassion than men do?
I don't think so. Instead, I think women often over-commit to volunteering or taking care of others and end up feeling spread thin. On the other hand, it's easy to throw up our hands and say, "How can I make a difference?" That's what I stress in the book's early chapters. Many women look at giant problems and think, I couldn't do anything. But there are many Christian women who are making a difference, for example, in the AIDS epidemic in Africa. At my church [Willow Creek Community Church in suburban Chicago], Lynne Hybels has dedicated the past several years to working with World Vision and using her influence for good in that arena. And Heather Larson, the head of Willow's compassion and justice ministry, has also played a major role.
Many of the great social movements of the last 100 years, such as child labor laws in the United States, were instigated by women. But today's woman faces a busyness of life and a feeling of scatteredness much more so than women in the past. Ironically, our moving too fast slows us down when it comes to compassion. Our busyness becomes a barrier to taking steps to actually change things. Or, we try to do everything and end up being ineffective.
I don't want anyone to come away from reading the book saying, "I'm going to devote myself to all sorts of causes and concerns." I want them to listen to God and ask, "Where is God calling me to make a difference?"
The title of this book seems misleading—in a good way—because if readers actually follow the simple steps, they could have a great impact on the world.
Everyone has told this story, but it's still great: There is a child on the beach throwing starfish into the ocean because they've been stranded by a wave. And someone comes along and says, "Why bother? It's not going to make any difference." And the kid throws another starfish into the ocean and says, "It made a difference for that one." That's what I want people to come away with saying: "I can make a difference for one." My book is not a call to solve every problem in the world. It is a call to become more like Jesus. And that will look different in each person's life.
We don't become more like Christ to earn points or to say, "I'm so deep" or "I'm so mature." We do it for the sake of others. Robert Mulholland [professor of New Testament at Asbury Theological Seminary] says, "Christian spiritual formation is being transformed into the image of Christ for the sake of others." I think that's key.