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Monday, January 14, 2013

A heart of compassion says "We can do this together."

We’re kicking off the new year talking about your new wardrobe for 2013. It’s the new set of actions and attitudes that God calls us to put on in Colossians 3 in light of our new nature, which we received when we believed in Christ.

These new "clothes" can give a fantastic boost to your marriage if you will only choose to wear them.

Today we are talking about putting on compassion.

What is Compassion?

The word used in Col 3:11 is variably translated into compassion (NKJ, NIV) tenderhearted mercy (NLT), mercies (KJV), and tenderhearted pity and mercy (AMP).

In the Greek, the word is Oiktirmos, which to me is best translated as “a heart of compassion.” I think Webster’s cuts to the chase when it defines compassion as “sympathetic consciousness of others' distress together with a desire to alleviate it.” That’s exactly what it means to have a heart of compassion for your spouse:

Stress Response

I don’t know about you, but when I’m distressed I get kind of “prickly,” as my wife calls it. I give curt answers, I get impatient and easily frustrated, and I'm sometime even angry. Different people react differently to stress. Maybe yours is typically fear, sadness, withdrawal, anger or some other negative emotion.

What about your spouse? How does he or she normally act when under stress? And when that happens, how do you typically respond?

Because people’s distress reactions are not very attractive, our response is often either to pull away (in self protection) or to strike back if we feel (often wrongly) that our spouse’s negative emotions are directed toward us.

But we are called to something greater. Rather than wearing reactivity when your spouse is in distress, we are called to put on compassion.

Compassion in Marriage

It’s not always easy to put on compassion. Why is it sometimes harder to be compassionate toward those that are closest to us? It’s often easier to have compassion for friends, acquaintance, or even a total stranger.

I think one reason it is so hard is that we react by wanting to change our spouse’s stress reaction rather than help alleviate their distress. “He shouldn’t be so short with me; I haven’t done anything.”  “She shouldn’t be so cold toward me when I’m not the one who spoke harshly her.”  “Why does he always shut down when work gets hard?” “There’s no reason for her to cry over something so small.”

Rather than trying to help them deal with the cause of their distress, we want to change them. Clue: it doesn’t work.

Here are some things to do that work much better:
  • Learn to recognize your spouse’s natural stress reaction. Chances are it’s often the same kind of behavior in response to a variety of stresses.
  • Remember that when they express negative emotions at you, there is usually something else going on. It’s not really about you.
  • Put on a “sympathetic consciousness” of your spouse’s distress. The kind of things that distress them may not be distressful to you, but you don’t get to decide on the validity of their distress. To them it is real.
  • Draw closer. Yeah, that’s a hard one, especially if their negative emotions are unattractive and even hurtful. Remember that you are still one, and drawing away ultimately hurts you too.
  • Express kindness (see my last post for more on that). Kindness changes the atmosphere in your home and marriage.
  • Ask what you can do to alleviate their distress. You may not be able to fix it or solve their dilemma, but let them know they are in it with them, that you are on their side and that you want to face it together.
  • Most importantly, speak truth. It’s sometimes hard to recall the truths of God when we are under stress. One of God’s great purpose for the marriage partnership is for us to remind each other of God’s promises, his power, his faithfulness in all things, and his unconditional love.
So are you ready to put on compassion next time your spouse is under stress?


We had some great stories of kindness on my last post. Let’s hear your compassion stories! When has your spouse shown you compassion? How did it change things for you? Leave a comment!


Did you miss any of the previous posts in this series? Here are the links to get you caught up:
  1. Dress for Success - Introduction
  2. Put on Love (Part 1)
  3. Put on Love (Part 2)
  4. Put on Kindness


photo credit: masta4650 / 123rf.com
Next in the series: Put on Patience


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