I believe and have observed that one of the most essential characteristics needed for a meaningful, fulfilling, life-long marital relationship is genuine Christ-like compassion towards your spouse. It has been my first-hand experience and observation that most of the Christians I have known personally, over the last 43 years, did not possess this critically important characteristic. Many Pastors I have known, did not possess this essential quality. In fact, I have found that many Christians were like Job’s friends in the Bible who in the most difficult, excruciating days of Job’s life, only added to his torment with their thoughtless pontifications during his time of intense grief, sorrow, suffering, trauma, and pain!
Most Christians I’ve known had no real idea how to weep with those who weep, how to walk through sorrow with a friend, how to grieve with others, or how to show deep empathy and compassion towards a hurting, broken brother or sister in Christ. Honestly, it has broken my heart to see this tremendous lack of Christ-like compassion in Christians and the church. Please do not misunderstand me. I have seen Christians show genuine compassion to a world in need, I have seen them give generously to those suffering. But, I have witnessed firsthand the great dichotomy between their public compassion for say, helping the starving in Africa, and the way they fail so often to deeply empathize and show prolonged, compassionate understanding to a suffering fellow Christian in their circle of fellowship.
Most Christians I know do not like to be around people who are in pain. They do not like to be around those who are walking through the valley of pain, grief, sorrow, and suffering. They often share a pithy little truth, wanting the person they are sharing it with to embrace it, move on, be positive, get happy, and let’s all put on smiles and rejoice! Many times they actually blame the hurting person for their pain or for prolonging their own suffering because they won’t trust God enough, let go and let God, blah, blah, blah!
This is incredibly foolish, naive, immature, and actually does real harm to your loved one when this is your attitude and perspective. In the early years of WWII, the British military often referred to young men in combat who suffered a breakdown after prolonged, intense combat as lacking moral fiber. They later understood these men were suffering severe combat fatigue or as we call it today, PTSD. In the meantime, their very hurtful label and lack of genuine understanding hurt those men deeply and shamed and humiliated them. I see Christians doing the same thing to other Christians.
I have been deeply impacted by the passage in the Gospels where Jesus looked upon the multitudes of people and said, “My heart is filled with compassion for the people, for their problems are so great, and they don’t know where to go for help.” Another version states, “they are helpless and harassed.” This word, compassion, means to literally feel something deep in your gut for others with a deep genuine desire to help them. You are truly, internally moved.
I want to address this topic very honestly and forthrightly with all of you today. Christians, sincere, devout Christian men and women who walk with God, can indeed suffer great emotional pain, trauma, grief, deep sorrow, and PTSD. Jesus is not a magic pill that makes all the bad stuff bounce off our chest! Jesus is not a magic pill that if we just swallow, our emotional, mental, and soul anguish will just disappear and we will begin skipping through the devastation of our lives, like a young colt frolicking through the lush clover field of the pasture of life.
Some years ago, after living day in and day out through the intense illness and suffering of a loved one for the previous 5 years, I was in a hospital with this precious loved one when an evil, wicked person made a phone call to this hospital and made a vile accusation against me. This hospital and the staff unleashed a kind of emotional torment, abuse, and trauma on me and my wife and my loved one in ways I would have and could have never imagined. It was so egregious, so deeply hurtful, and a deep violation of our soul. Here is the truth, it was terribly abusive. It traumatized me. It gave me severe diarrhea. It tormented me that I was so powerless that I could not stop it, that I could not protect my precious loved ones from the unjust pain, suffering, and mental and emotional anguish these medical people unleashed on us. It felt like our soul and spirit had been raped. It traumatized me that professionals we trusted could do this to me and my family.
When it finally ended after almost 7 excruciating days, the PA Dr. came into the room and in tears, she acknowledged how wrong the things the official doctor had done were, how she knew we were innocent, and they were discharging us that day. All I could do was sit and sob. Her apology, while wonderful to hear, came too late. The trauma, the stress, the abuse of it all, the damage, the emotional concussion had been done, the egregious violation had already happened. The truth is we all came home more hurt and damaged than when we went to that hospital. In the next several years there was much, much more trauma that was done, but I won’t go into that now. Very, very few people understood, or wanted to understand.
It took years for me personally to recover. Over the next several years, I had to go back to some hospitals again and each time, I felt nauseated, got diarrhea, and shook inside just walking down the halls of this place that came to represent such torment and violation to me.
There are many Christians who would say that is weak, they would say I wasn’t trusting God enough, that I was simply lacking faith. In fact, others did accuse me of those things in some of the most egregious ways you can imagine, and it hurt deeply and still does to this day.
Let me ask you this, why is it we grasp that a man or woman can suffer a physical brain concussion from a blow to the head that hurts them, alters their life in very difficult ways, but not grasp that we can also experience a deep emotional concussion from a cruel, violent, unjust blow to the heart? Why is it we can have great compassion and understanding on a friend who is hit by a drunk driver, whose body suffers the ravages of that accident done to them by a wicked person, and we make accommodations for their resulting handicaps or struggles, but we have such paltry compassion and understanding when someone is hit by a fool intoxicated with folly, who rams into their life with their slander or lies, or smashes into their soul and spirit while living under the influence of evil, stupidity, and folly? Do we not grasp the tremendous pain that humans feel? Do we not want to acknowledge our own fragility and human limitations? We are not Superman or Wonderwoman. We are DUSTMAN! On our very best day, as Psalm 103 tells us, we are little fragile balls of dust and we can come apart quite easily from the terrible, devastating blows and injustices of life, or the pain inflicted upon us by other peoples egregious, wicked actions and betrayals.
I have a true confession to make. I have felt misunderstood most of my Christian life by other Christians. In fact, the greatest heartaches, pains, and violations of my life have been inflicted by other Christians. I have personally suffered tremendous mistreatment and abuse at the hands of other Christians. I bear in my heart and soul the scars they have left. That is my reality. While these things, that I could enumerate in a book, have left their mark inside of me, they have also made me a more deeply compassionate, empathetic and understanding man.
I would go so far as to say this: the compassion, empathy, and understanding that Kathy and I have grown in and experience in our relationship, is the most precious thing to me in our marriage!
Shortly before we were married, Kathy and I were in a terrible, horrible car accident. We were driving home from a week of sharing the Gospel with college students on a southern university. We were about 20 miles from home, I was asleep and Kathy was driving. We got caught in a blinding snowstorm, ice all over the road, when our car slid to the side of the road, into the ditch, hit a culvert, flew up into the air, and rolled end over end. Honestly, it changed our lives and my wife’s precious health forever. Of course, at the time we did not know it. But it did. The car was destroyed and the ambulance eventually came, but could only drive about 10 miles per hour and Kathy’s vertebrae and neck suffered permanent injury. It left her in significant pain all these years and has limited in many ways what she can do. It has robbed her of much sleep through the years as well.
I learned much compassion and empathy for Kathy through this horrible experience. Most Christians seem to understand these kinds of physical hurts, but fail to grasp the deep hurt and trauma of emotional pain, sorrow, or injustices and wrongs suffered.
Men, as couples it is essential that we grow in compassion to the emotional trauma and pain that our spouse has gone through or is going through. Life is very, very difficult and people are very, very cruel. Many times the stresses and troubles of life are overwhelming and relentless! The Bible, in fact, tells us that. Ps. 90, “Even the best of these years are filled with pain and trouble.”
It will take real, intentional, deliberate effort for you to grow a compassionate marriage. You will need to make genuine efforts to walk in the trauma and pain of your spouse. You must be willing to share in it, to put yourself in their shoes and you must want to let yourself feel what they feel, to listen with your ears and your heart, to understand what has happened to them, and to share their tears, their griefs, and their sorrows. You must be willing to be patient with their anger, and their frustrations, and accept the possible new limitations of how that trauma has impacted them. You must be willing to give them the time and the empathetic understanding they need to process it all and to come to some measure of healing. Sometimes they will not ever fully heal. You must change your understanding of true Christianity and embrace the truth about how pain and emotional trauma can affect us and be willing to fully understand the compassion of our Savior, Jesus Christ. Compassion costs us. Compassion takes effort, sacrifice, and is not natural to humans. It is a divine quality that grows in us as we grow into Christ and Christ-likeness.
There is no one in my life who understands me more than Kathy. This was not always the case, our early years were filled with misunderstanding and I think a lack, on both our parts, of compassion for each other and the unique challenges and emotional hurts and pain we each had, through a variety of things people inflicted upon us. As the years went by, Kathy began to grasp and deeply understand that many times my anger or frustration was a pain response to underlying traumas and emotional concussions that had been inflicted upon me by other people. Kathy began to grasp that my sorrow had a source as she saw first hand what others did to me or inflicted upon me. Her growing tenderness, empathy, and genuine, heartfelt understanding and compassion became a tremendous balm and comfort to my soul.
NEVER FORGET THIS INSIGHT
We are, and act relationally with other people the way we perceive God to be, believe God to be, and experience God personally being and acting relationally with us. We deal with others the way we truly believe God deals with us.
My point is this: our entire lives are to be built around our relationship with the true God of the Bible. He ministers to us emotionally, He is an emotional refuge, He is an emotional comfort, He is a tender, empathetic, compassionate Heavenly Father. In fact, the God and Father of all compassion! If I do not perceive Him that way, if I misunderstand God, and His grace, and how it is I interact with God and how He interacts with me, if I never experience God’s empathy, His tender understanding, comfort, and compassion, I simply will not convey that to others when they need it, and it will hurt my loved one in great ways.
Eph. 5:1, “Therefore be imitators of God as beloved children and live a life of love, just as Christ also loved you.”
Our deep, fundamental understanding of the real God, what He is like, what His compassion is like, what to be loved and cared for by God means, and feels like, that is what we have been called to imitate. Many are imitating the wrong thing. You cannot imitate a God you either do not know or have a wrong understanding of.
Please hear these messages as they will help give you a much deeper grasp of this, and help you grow in specific ways to be a more compassionate person. Make sure to hear part 1 first, about God himself, then part 2.