As Ukraine continues to be in the news with heart-rending stories and photos of human suffering, massive destruction, and the looming hardships of a cold winter without heat, electricity, and possibly food for its citizens – it’s sobering.
I can’t help but realize how relatively safe and comfortable my own life is. Sure, there is poverty in many places in the world and even in my own neighborhood. Families everywhere face deaths, emotional traumas, and hardships, but… when I reflect on my own life and my bubble of friends, I feel called to humility and action.

What have I done to deserve my privilege, my comfort. Sure, I work hard, I donate to worthy causes, serve in the local soup kitchen, etc. but the scale of suffering in Ukraine, and places like it around the world, put me in a favored place. I keep asking what more am I called to do? Do I need to keep stretching myself till it hurts?

Then, last week suffering got personal. I got Covid. It’s not a bad case. I was already vaccinated and boosted, but still I felt crummy for a few days. This too called me to reflect on how a couple years ago, Covid might have been a death sentence. Even today, it means quarantining, canceling a medical test, missing in-person meetings, etc. It’s inconvenient but not life threatening.

Both of these experiences (reading about the people of Ukraine and the physical discomfort of Covid) prompt me to humility and compassion for those who are facing much more serious life struggles. Upon reflection, I realize that it is through noticing the pain of humanity around the world and close to home that I become a better person myself.

  • I don’t as blithely carry on with my day wondering why another person missed a deadline or didn’t follow through on a commitment.
  • I feel called not only to pray for those in need but to figure out more tangible actions to take to turn the prayer into action.
  • As my world opens wider to the sufferings of others through the media and my own relatively minor physical ailments, I am moved to a deeper compassion. Life’s not all about me and the tasks I busy myself about.
  • Although I don’t want to minimize the serious pains of people near and far, it has been an emotional wake up call for me. Tuning in to the suffering of others has deepened my spirituality.

If these experiences are a wake-up call, then what is my next step? I already feel maxed out with work and volunteer commitments. I’m deeply involved with efforts to reduce global warming. Should I do more? Or is this primarily a call to identify more deeply with suffering humanity and let go of my pride?

How do YOU deal with suffering – your own, others, and global injustices? What helps you know what actions to take and when it is enough?
I also welcome any thoughts you have about steps I might take to move from concern and compassion to action.