Rev. Natalie Hanson on the impact of compassion
“You sweep humans away like a dream;” these words were part of a Call and Response in the June 1 Memorial Service at the 2017 Annual Conference session.
Bishop Webb thanked the members who supported the clergy and clergy spouses who have passed away since the 2016. He said, “Thank you for supporting the ways in which you supported the ones that we celebrate tonight…I pray that you will continue to remember that in death, there is resurrection.”
The Rev, Natalie Hanson, in her Memorial Service sermon, Does it Last?, reiterated the fact that life passes by so quickly and that so many at the end of their lives stress over whether or not they have made an impact to anyone, whether or not they will leave a legacy behind?
Rev. Hanson said, “I imagine that many of these friends whose lives we celebrate tonight have asked…in the small hours of the night…What in God’s name am I doing? Does anything I do matter, to anybody…Will anything survive?”
She offered an interesting perspective on how we can leave a lasting impression in this world.
Rev. Hanson insinuated how so many are fixated on their job and so deeply desire that their work lasts longer than they do, but she brought up examples of how so many projects we work years on, never become anything. She referenced how many of St. Paul’s churches were gone 100 years later.
Rev. Hanson shared a personal experience that poignantly showed her how we can have an impact on someone without ever even knowing it. She illustrated how it’s the little things we do that plant seeds to have a lasting impact.
Recalling her experience, Rev. Hanson said, “Years ago, at a United Methodist gathering of some kind, I ran into a young woman who had been in the very first church I served. She had grown up, and married, and she and her husband had recently had a baby boy… It was absolutely delightful to talk with her, to catch up with what all the family had been doing, to hear her joy in her life, her excitement in being a mom. It was obvious that she had grown as a person and grown in her faith: her face was shining with it. Just before we parted, in the midst of the crowd, she lowered her voice a bit and she said, ‘You know, we named our son Nate.’
I said, ‘That’s a great name, it’s almost like ‘Natalie.’
She said, ‘It would have been Natalie if we’d had a girl. We named our son after you’ She went on to say, ’Do you remember when I was in the hospital, and you came to see me? I’ve never forgotten what you said that day. It meant the world to me. So we named our boy Nathaniel’
I was speechless, absolutely caught by surprise. They named their son after me?
They named their son after me? When I found my voice, I told her how humbled and pleased I was, and that she and her husband had given me an extraordinary gift that day – which was all true.”
Rev. Hanson had no recollection of her conversation with the young woman in the hospital. She wasn’t intentionally trying to do something amazing; she wasn’t purposeful in trying to have an impact on this woman’s life. She was just being compassionate.
Rev. Hanson said, “I believe that it is the essential work of God’s Spirit to catch up the bits and pieces, even the tiniest seeds, of compassion and love that we scatter about in our every-day lives, and make something meaningful, something life-giving, something lasting from them. So I believe God did ‘the rest,’ and does the rest, creating the most extraordinary impacts in the world with the most ordinary offerings from us, again and again.”
Rev. Hanson explained how simple offerings of compassion can literally be a life-line for someone.
She continued, “We’re never going to know which word, what hug, which shared moment is going, by God’s continuing grace, to take on lasting meaning in someone’s life, or in the world. “
Rev. Hanson challenged the crowd to "live every, single day as attentively as we can, as honestly as we can, as lovingly as we can, as generously as we can. The challenge is to put ourselves out there: trusting, but not knowing. The challenge is to make giving ourselves away in love an ordinary thing…not a once-in-awhile event, but a lifestyle. The challenge is for us to give the Spirit a little something to work with.”