Recently, one of my daughters, Felicity, got a splinter in her foot. It didn’t hurt too much, but the skin around it was red and irritated. She asked me to get it out for her, and I asked one of her sisters to bring me my tweezers.
Felicity heard the word “tweezers” and began crying. I hadn’t even touched her foot yet, but fat tears rolled down her cheeks from the very thought of the pain she would soon endure.
As soon as she started to cry, my third daughter Merideth began crying too. I asked her what was wrong and she responded, “I just hate to see my sister hurt, Mommy!” Violet returned to the bedroom, tweezers in hand, and Merideth ran from the room, wailing.
Felicity was already crying on the floor in front of me and jerking her foot away, so I decided to deal first with the splinter and check on Merideth later. The room wasn’t very bright, and I asked Violet to hold a flashlight for me so I could more easily grab the little sliver of wood that was causing so much trouble. But when I looked up at her face to see her response, her eyes were already tearing up and she backed away, shaking her head. “I just can’t be here when Felicity is hurting, Mommy! I’m sorry, but I just can’t stay in here!” And she ran down the hall after her sobbing sister.
I looked down at the sniffling daughter whose foot was in my hand, then over at my son Benjamin, just three years old, kneeling beside his sister and looking on with interest. “Could you hold this light for me, buddy?” He nodded solemnly and held it up high for me. Of course, the scream-inducing extraction took only seconds, and I held up the hated splinter triumphantly for Felicity to see. She gulped a few times, took a couple of shuddering breaths, and told me, “It really didn’t hurt at all! Not even as much as a shot!”
One problem down, two to go. I praised Benjamin for being a brave helper and went to the other end of the house to tend to the crying sisters. Violet had managed to compose herself and determined that as long as Felicity was okay again, she was fine too. She skipped happily away, but Merideth remained burrowed beneath the blankets on my bed, crying her eyes out. I tugged the quilt back gently and pulled her onto my lap.
“She’s okay now, Mere-bear. I got it out and she said it didn’t even hurt like she thought it would! You can calm down, honey. She’s okay.” It took longer than I care to admit (and a phone call to her daddy), but my hysterical daughter finally calmed down and was able to stop crying. My heart broke for her, and for the extent to which she’d fallen apart at seeing only the smallest amount of discomfort. I don’t know if the girls are more sensitive toward each other’s feelings because they’re triplets and have spent nearly every moment of their lives together, or if this is a completely normal response for a six-year-old, but either way I didn’t want Merideth to be paralyzed by fear.
I took her tear-streaked cheeks in my hands and smiled into her troubled blue eyes. “Merideth, I am so proud of you, honey. That sadness you’re feeling because your sister was hurt? That pain over seeing her so upset? That’s called compassion, Merideth, and it’s a wonderful thing.”
Her eyes opened wide. “Jesus had compassion,” she whispered.
“That’s right, honey; Jesus had compassion.”
“Addy had compassion too. She cried when she had to leave baby Esther behind. She left her doll for her.”
“That’s right, Mere. Addy had compassion too. But you know what? Having compassion for others is wonderful and right and exactly what God wants, but when you feel this way, you have two choices: you can choose to be scared by all those big feelings and run away from the pain, or you can choose to be brave and try to help the people who are in pain. Do you understand that?”
She nodded quietly, her face thoughtful.
“Merideth, think about Jesus. You were right when you said He had compassion. Do you remember some of those stories? When Jesus had compassion on the people, did He run away from them?”
“No, the Bible says that He had compassion on them, and He healed their sick. He had compassion on them, and He fed them. He had compassion on them, and He sent out His disciples to minister to them. Compassion is a great place to start, but that’s not where it ends. Always let your compassion remind you to be courageous and to help. It’s hard and it hurts to be with people when they’re hurting, but it’s wonderful too.”
Her face had cleared while I was talking, and she smiled at me as she nodded slowly. “I know I can be brave like Jesus and Addy, Mommy.”
“Yes, you can! You can be brave; God gives us the courage we need when we ask Him for it, honey. Remember that I am SO PROUD OF YOU. I love your heart, Merideth, and I’m so glad to see it caring for others.”
She gave me a shy smile and a bear hug, then went to check on Felicity.
I groaned when I stood up from my knees (did I mention it was past bedtime?) but I was glad to have seen my little girl learn something so important amid all the noise of the evening. I don’t know what God has planned for her life, but I know that it is good, and I’m grateful for the task of helping to shape her heart while she’s young.
I want my children to be compassionate and to think of others more than themselves. A splinter is such a very small thing, but I’m glad the Lord could use it anyway.