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Thom Gardner: "Compassion: A Carrying Love"

The Lord descended in the cloud and stood there with him as he called upon the name of the Lord. Then the Lord passed by in front of him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate...” (Exodus 34:5-6).

How many of us have ever been carried by someone when we were small children? There is a universal signal of a small child who wants or needs to be picked up and carried: two up-stretched arms aimed in the direction of the one whom the child selects for comfort, love, and holding. The resulting embrace releases healing, security, and love to the child.

I observed this signal recently at the Baltimore-Washington International Airport. I heard a little voice calling out, “Daddy! Daddy!” Then I turned to see a little girl running to her daddy with her arms up-stretched as she ran. Her father was getting off the air- plane, and she was there to greet him. It made me a little homesick, and I hadn’t even left the airport yet. It made me think of my children and grandchildren who might have performed the universal “carry me” sign if they saw me under similar circumstances.

Being carried brings joy and comfort to the one who is carried and to the one who is doing the carrying. I have early and pleasant memories of being carried up to bed by my dad. He could carry both me and my twin brother at the same time. His carrying us gave us a feeling that we could never be dropped—that we would never fall.

He carried us surely. He carried us because we were too little or too tired to make it up the stairs on our own. Do you ever long to be carried? Do you ever become weary of carrying others who cannot carry themselves? The calling of the Body of Christ is to be carried and to carry those who cannot carry themselves. We may well be the only arms available to them. Beloved, God loves us with a carrying kind of love. He longs to pick us up. He sees us and waits to see us give the universal sign that says, “Daddy, Daddy, carry me.”

When the Lord unfolded His heart before Moses, the first thing He called Himself was compassionate. Our English word compassion comes from the Latin word that literally means “to suffer with.” God loves us with a carrying kind of love. So what is the Lord telling us about Himself when He tells us that His heart is one of compassion?

He is telling us that He carries us when we cannot carry our- selves. The Hebrew word translated as compassion in Exodus 34 comes from the same root as the word for the womb. When God was disclosing Himself to Moses, He was, in effect, telling Moses and us that He was carrying us in the womb of His own love. God describes His feelings for Israel in such intimate terms. Thus says Yahweh:

Is Ephraim [Israel] my dear son? My darling child? For the more I speak of him, the more I do remember him. Therefore My womb trembles for him; I will truly show motherly compassion upon him (Jeremiah 31:20).

God loves us with a carrying, suffering kind of love. So what is the Lord telling us about Himself when He tells us that His heart is one of compassion? He is telling us that He will carry us because we cannot carry ourselves. In effect, just as God said to Moses, He is saying to us that He is carrying us in the womb of His own love.

The womb is a place of intimate awareness where all the resources of the mother are focused on sustaining the child who is being carried in the most secure and intimate place. The womb of God’s love is an even more secure location: “Can a woman forget her nursing child and have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, but I will not forget you” (Isa. 49:15).

Compassion is what our hearts feel in the presence of need just as a mother is moved or disturbed by the need of the child she carries. Compassion arises as the one who carries is utterly present to the one being carried.

We have a Father who carries us securely in His heart. He carries and has always carried us as a father carries his child, because we are too little to carry ourselves. “...the Lord your God carried you, just as a man carries his son, in all the way which you have walked until you came to this place” (Deut. 1:31).

Like a shepherd, He carries us securely to safety and to pasture. A shepherd gathers his lambs—the young ones who lack ability to get safely to places of feeding. He carries them because, if He didn’t, they would be at the mercy of wolves and jackals. “Like a shepherd He will tend His flock, in His arm He will gather the lambs and carry them in His bosom; He will gently lead the nursing ewes” (Isa. 40:11).

The Father has always carried us and is committed to never put us down. He says,

Listen to Me, O house of Jacob, and all the remnant of the house of Israel, you who have been borne by Me from birth and have been carried from the womb; even to your old age I will be the same, and even to your graying years I will bear you! I have done it, and I will carry you; and I will bear you and I will deliver you (Isaiah 46:3-4).

When He says, “I will be the same,” He is literally saying in the Hebrew, “I carry you because I am He!” He carries us because that is who He is: a carrying, loving Father. He carries all who will be carried—all who lift their arms and declare they are too little or too weak to carry themselves.

Jesus was the greatest expression of the compassion that so fills the Father’s heart. He loves with that carrying kind of love. The Gospel of Matthew tells us:

Jesus was going through all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness. Seeing the people, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd (Matthew 9:35-36).

The prophet Isaiah speaks of the coming Messiah’s carrying love when He says, “Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried...” (Isa. 53:4). The many times I have read these words, I have seen Jesus loaded down with my sin and sorrows on His back. I suppose that is the best sense of Isaiah’s words, but I wonder if we might dare to paint an even more intimate picture.

I see a different and more intimate picture now as I read these words. I see that Jesus was a man who was “...despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief...” (Isa. 53:3). I see that He was a man who understood something about pain of all kinds. It is more than a comfort to me when I am in physical or emotional pain to know there is One who is carrying the same pain I am carrying and to know that my pain disturbs the living God as He carries me in this most intimate love.

Jesus, who enjoyed the most intimate of relationships with the Father’s heart, saw what the Father saw and felt what was in the Father’s heart. Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing...” (John 5:19). When Jesus healed someone, He was responding to the heart of the Father.

Compassion sees the need and stirs the heart. If the needy one is stuck in sin, then the Father’s heart is filled with compassion and manifests mercy in forgiveness. If the needy one is wounded, then the Father’s heart is filled with compassion and disturbed within Him to such an extent that He sends healing. If the needy one is ignorant of the Father’s heart, then compassion is manifested as teaching. The Father’s heart is filled with compassion and He releases it to our benefit. (See Psalm 78:38; 86:15; 111:4; 112:4; 145:8.)

We humans are puny when it comes to having compassion on our own, because we are usually insecure and focused on ourselves rather than seeing the need around us. As we grow in our awareness of the intimate security that is found in the womb of God’s love, we can begin to carry others. It is the heart that is intimately connected with God that sees what the Father is doing and then does the same.

If we live in ignorance of the naked and wounded around us, we need to reconnect to the heart of God. “But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?” (1 John 3:17 KJV).

Compassion is the seed of His life planted within us that grows and lls our hearts; it displaces everything else in order to see the need. As with any seed, there must come a death before there can be life. Jesus said that a grain of wheat has to die before it can bear fruit. (See John 12:24.) There must be an emptying before there can be a filling. The question is: What seeds are we carrying in our hearts?

Paul tells us that compassion has to be the condition of our hearts as we live with one another. He says,

So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you (Colossians 3:12-13).

Compassion is the condition of the Father’s heart that flows to us as life would flow to the unborn in the womb. We become as the One who carries us. When the seed of compassion has germinated, it cannot remain inert, and it wells up to become grace.

Whatever it is that you are carrying, remember, you are not carrying it alone. He is at this moment carrying the pain you carry. Because He is eternal, He began to carry our pains long ago. Christ saw us from the cross.

There is a story from the United Kingdom about a businessman who went home at the end of long day and was greeted at the door by his little girl who was in a wheelchair. The little girl greeted her father with a smile and said, “I can carry your brief- case upstairs if you like.”

The father smiled, but said, “Sweetheart, you can’t carry my briefcase up the stairs in your wheelchair.”

She replied, “Daddy, I can carry anything if you carry me.”

Whatever we carry, He is carrying us in a secure, loving way, and He will not put us aside or call a babysitter to take care of us. We are safe in His compassionate love. Will you lift your arms to Him and say, “Abba, carry me”? We enter into a secret place of rest when we are hidden in the womb of God’s love.

- Thom Gardner, author of Relentless Love and instructor of Grace at the Table e-course


  • Thanks.
    I have found His nourisment

    Olukayode Tiiye on
  • What a beautiful story, it brings me to tears long after I read it. I don’t remember my own father ever carrying me, but now I Feel like I know the one who carries me now more intimately then ever. Tears of joy and compassion fill my heart. I have known the Lord at the age of 4,he has been carrying me for 56 more years, my husband past, September last year, It was the hardest thing, our children and I have ever been through, but I am stronger than ever thought I could be. I know my God will continue to carry us, praise God and God bless you for sharing.

    Teresa Nilson on
  • What an awesome God! To think the nations are as a drop in a bucket and He carries me! He is compassionate. I love the comment, God doesn’t have babysitters! Precious!

    Jacqueline Black on
  • I really understand now how my Heavenly Father loves me now I feel closer to …I Am That I Am.

    Rina Henderson on
  • I really understand now how my Heavenly Father loves me now I feel closer to …I Am That I Am.

    Rina Henderson on

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