One morning, looking across the table at breakfast, I saw my wife reading a newspaper; tears were streaming down her face. I immediately asked her what was wrong. Wiping the tears from her eyes, she remarked that she just couldn’t read any more of the story about Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT.
I knew that this wasn’t the time for a discussion, but for thoughtful, caring compassion for my wife in her role as a mother. As I sat silently praying and reflecting, I remembered a helpful article about compassion that a friend had sent me.
The article was written by Jeremy Adam Smith and was titled, “What Happens When Compassion Hurts?” Certainly that morning I could see that my wife was hurting because of her compassion about the tragic events at Sandy Hook. I also knew that I could be the most supportive to her by not casting her deep feelings about this incident aside, but instead lifting my response to cherish the good from all those who expressed so much courage and compassion during this tragic event. I have a long-standing habit of turning to the Bible and to prayer to guide me in moments like this, and as I prayed I remembered the compassion article.
Smith shares the following story in the article. One morning he was out walking and was attacked and robbed by a gang of kids. He felt uncomfortable going to his neighbor to ask for help. But he did. When he rang the neighbor’s doorbell for help, he received not only the compassionate help of the neighbor but also compassionate help from a whole network of caring friends, neighbors, and institutions. To quote Jeremy, “When I was in trouble, I could feel a social net tighten around me, to catch me as I fell.”
How could I express that same feeling to my wife who was brimming over with compassion?
I realized that understanding compassion was key to helping my wife with her hurt. Dacher Keltner, a psychologist who leads the Greater Good Science Center, defines compassion as the “concern to enhance the welfare of another who suffers or is in need.”
Since compassion is about action, psychotherapist Babette Rothschild “recommends mindfulness practice.” There is study after study showing that this mindfulness works in controlling stress, fear, and fatigue. In his final remarks about compassion, Smith commented “that most hurts are not external, they’re internal and invisible, and those we suffer in silence.”
I was able to share with my wife some uplifting ideas that actually helped both of us. Instead of suffering in silence, that morning after breakfast my wife and I paused for a few moments of mindfulness filled with prayer and thoughts of support, and then we were both ready to help those in need with a compassionate response.
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