Tag Archive for compassion

Marital Advice from “Captain Obvious”

It may seem obvious, but simply understanding your partner’s needs, desires, and struggles does not build intimacy. To build intimacy requires you understand AND care! A compassionate response flows from caring and must accompany understanding to build a healthy marriage. Rhett Butler’s statement to Scarlet O’Hara, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn,” marked the end of their relationship. He understood her desire. He understood her need. He just didn’t care…and without a caring response, relationships die. How can you build compassion and caring into your marriage? Try these four action steps.

  1. Senior Couple - Kiss on the CheekBe responsive to your spouse. When you spouse turns to you with a need or desire, turn toward them. Turn away from the TV, your book, your phone, your game, or whatever else holds your attention and turn toward your spouse. Give them your attention so you can carry out the next two actions.
  2. Listen actively and intently. Take the time to ask questions and clarify what your spouse is trying to say. Listen with your heart as well as your head. Hear the emotions and motivations behind your spouse’s words.
  3. Replace snap judgments with possibilities. Rather than dwelling on your first reaction and initial judgement of your spouse’s words or actions, consider possible reasons for their behavior. What may motivate their behavior? What emotions may drive their behavior? Are there past experiences that may spur this behavior?
  4. Give your spouse unanticipated compliments. Compliment your spouse’s appearance. Thank your spouse for tasks completed. Compliment your spouse for an act of kindness or a firm boundary or any other positive, kind, or special action.


Following these four steps can transform mere understanding into compassionate caring…and that will build a healthier, more intimate marriage.  By the way, these four action steps can help you raise compassionate caring children as well. As a bonus, here are three more action steps to raise compassionate caring children and nurture compassionate caring in every family member!

  1. Build an emotional vocabulary. The greater our ability to identify and express emotions, the greater our ability to feel compassion. Nurture a broad, extensive vocabulary for emotional expression by labeling emotional experiences, reading and recognizing the emotions of various characters in novels, discussing the motivating emotions of movie characters, and, most importantly, openly discussing emotions as they arise in your family.
  2. Give clear reasons for the rules. Explain how behaviors impact other people and rules help limit behaviors that negatively impact other people. Quietly and politely point out how your child’s behavior impacts people around them. Discuss how the behaviors of TV or novel characters impact those around them. Perhaps most important, acknowledge how your behavior impacts other people, including your spouse and children.
  3. Provide hands-on opportunities to practice compassionate caring. Share with those in need. Bake a casserole for those who suffer some loss. Get a drink for another family member when you get your own. Practice simple, every day acts of compassionate caring.


Together, these seven action steps will add compassionate caring to understanding in your family. Compassionate caring will nurture intimacy and relational health. Instead of hearing “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn,” you will hear, “Really, my dear, what can I do to help?” “What can I do to help?”…What a wonderful question to hear within the walls of our homes!

The Paradox of Happy Families

It seems paradoxical, even counterintuitive but it’s true; happiness is fleeting when we pursue it. The more we try to make ourselves happy, the more it eludes us. Paradoxically, we find ourselves happy when we forget about ourselves and reach out to help another. In Handother words, to truly experience happiness a person has to plant seeds of service in the soil of kindness and fertilize it with generosity. Research even has a name for the good feelings that come from helping others. They call it a “helper’s high.” Those who do things for other people experience the euphoria of the “helper’s high” due to a release of endorphins. Helping others also increases a person’s sense of self-worth, which enhances happiness as well. So, to grow a happy family, sow seeds of kindness and plant starter plants of helpfulness, fertilize with generosity, and water it daily with polite hospitality. Still confused about how to grow happiness in your family by giving to others? Try these four ideas to get started.

  • Model kindness within your family. Give your spouse and children words of kindness and encouragement. Words like “Thank you,” “Please,” “Can I help?” and “You look nice” will model kindness. Don’t stop with words alone; walk the talk. Practice some “mighty little deeds of kindness,” like holding doors open for one another, letting someone else manage the remote…you get the idea. This is the first step in producing a happy family filled with kindness. Researchers at the University of California in San Diego and Harvard observed that one act of kindness leads others to engage in kindness. Ultimately, this “tripled the value” of the first kind act as it spread from person to person. When you share kindness in your family, your spouse and children will follow your example. Your kindness and generosity will “cascade through your social network [family] to affect” the lives of everyone in your family and more! ( read more in Why This Beautiful Human Behaviour is Highly Infectious)
  • Model kindness to those outside your family. You could start by trying an experiment researchers used in a study reported in How To Be Happy By Giving to Others: perform five random acts of kindness one day a week for six weeks. Have each family member assess their level of happiness at the start of this experiment. During the experiment, let each person record their acts of kindness just so you can keep track of all five each week. At the end of the experiment, assess your level of happiness again. You might be pleasantly surprised at the results.
  • Volunteer as a family. Take the time as a family to volunteer with your church, a community activity, or an organization designed to help others (like Habitat for Humanity, a local animal shelter, or your local church).
  • When you gather as a family for dinner or in the car to travel to an activity, ask your spouse and kids about any acts of kindness they carried out. As each person talks about their act of kindness, explore specifics about the reaction of the recipient of their kind act. Were they surprised? Did they smile? How did they respond? Did they say thank you? Breaking the larger goal of showing kindness into a concrete observable goal of making someone smile will increase the overall happiness of the giver (see How to be Happy by Giving to Others for more).


Follow these four tips and you will notice acts of kindness, of giving to others, increase; and, as they increase, family happiness will increase as well!

We Have a New Cat…

My family just got a new kitten. My wife loves kittens so we have had a cat (or two) most of our married life. My daughters also love kittens. They laugh, giggle, “ooh,” and “aww” as the cats play or snuggle up. I don’t tell them, but I kind of like cats too. I don’t “ooh” and “aww” or sit around watching them play; but it is relaxing to pet a cat and listen to him purr. Actually, owning a pet of any kind brings great benefit to your family. Let me share a few.

  • catsPet ownership actually has medical benefits for your family. University of Pennsylvania conducted a study showing that owning a pet had benefits similar to health-promoting behaviors like eating a healthy diet, regular exercise, not smoking, and having close ties with family and friends for those with heart disease. Other studies have shown that petting a dog or cat lowers blood pressure. One study showed that 5- to 11-year-olds who had a pet in the home took fewer sick days off school. And children who had a pet in the home during their first year of life had fewer allergies and less asthma when they were between 7-13 years old. Pet owners also live longer. (Read more about these benefits in Medical Self-Care: Health Benefits of Pet Ownership)
  • Pet ownership reduces stress. Whether you watch a cat chase a red dot, receive a rambunctious welcome from your puppy, or simply watch fish in an aquarium, pets help us laugh and relax.
  • Pet ownership teaches responsibility. Your children can have the chore of feeding, scooping, cleaning, or bathing. They learn responsibility by taking ownership of such a meaningful chore, a chore that promotes life and relationship. You can also participate in these jobs with them to enhance your own parent-child relationship.
  • Pet ownership promotes learning. It may seem strange, but you have seen it if you have pets-your child sitting with their pet curled up beside them reading a book or doing homework. A pet offers a non-judgmental ear for children’s learning. In one study, children who owned dogs were given the choice of reading with a peer, an adult, or their pet dog. Forty percent chose to read with their dog. They felt most relaxed practicing this skill with their pet. (Learn more about how pets help kids learn at The Benefits of Pets).
  • Pet ownership can provide comfort to family members. One study asked children what they would give less popular children to help them make friends. The number one answer: a pet! Pets teach us how to show empathy. They also provide a great starting point for relationship, a common ground to talk about with many other children. Another study asked a group of five-year-old pet owners what they did when they felt sad, angry, or afraid. Forty percent mentioned their pets. Pets provided them comfort, a non-judgmental ear, and affection when they needed it. I have met several children who note they feel safer at home with a pet to keep them company or a dog to offer extra protection.
  • Pet ownership increases family bonding and fun. Families come together to share in grooming, feeding, walking, and cleaning pets. They play together with their pets. They watch them together, laughing at “pet antics.” In one instance, 70% of families surveyed reported an increase in family happiness and fun after acquiring a pet. In a study of one hundred children 13 years old or younger, 80% of those who owned cats got along better with friends and family. (For more on these and other benefits read The Positive Effects of Pet Ownership for Kids).
  • Pet ownership encourages everyone’s ability to care for others. Caring for a pet can plant the seeds of compassion. In particular, caring for a pet allows boys the opportunity to engage in a caring activity that does not appear “too girly.”

There you have it-7 benefits of pet ownership for your family…and mine. I admit it. I enjoy our cats. Perhaps these two quotes sum up the benefits of pet ownership. I hope you like them.

“Such short little lives our pets have to spend with us, and they spend most of it waiting for us to get home each day. It is amazing how much love and laughter they bring into our lives and even how much closer we become with each other because of them.” (John Grogan, Marley and Me)

“Pets devour loneliness. They give us purpose, responsibility, a reason for getting up in the morning, and a reason to look to the future.” (Nick Trout, Tell Me Where It Hurts: A Day of Humor, Healing and Hope in My Life as an Animal Surgeon)

Jesus Did It For His Family. Will You?

way to the GodThe religious leaders had determined to kill Jesus several months ago, right after He raised Lazarus from the dead (John 11:53). Months before that, Jesus had begun telling His disciples that He would be crucified and buried. Now the time had come. The leaders had paid a traitor to identify Jesus in the garden. They had arrested the Son of God and tortured Him in preparation for His crucifixion. More than enough time had elapsed for Jesus to grow bitter in response to the constant traps, manipulation, and name-calling; but, He did not. He could have allowed resentment to rise up in His heart in response to the lies, the mockery of a trial, and the total disregard for His life; but, He did not. When they mocked Him, beat Him, and spit on Him, He could have blown up in a righteous rage, called down ten thousand angels to exact a righteous judgment and stood in victory over the defeated rubble; but, He did not. Instead, Jesus, an innocent, appeared to be broken before His accusers—beaten and bloodied, surprisingly humbly, and silent.


We would understand it and even been sympathetic if He had muttered curses at the people who watched Him carry His cross; but, He did not.  He could have cried out against the character of those contributing to His death, cast an angry glare at those yelling hateful names and cursing epithets at Him; but, He did not. I would have expected somebody in His shoes to harbor a silent desire, for revenge and carefully contemplate how to execute a host of malicious acts upon His enemies after His resurrection…but, He did not!


No, Jesus did not respond with anger, wrath, bitterness, or harshness. Instead, He revealed kindness and compassion. Rather than utter threats, His speech revealed kindness and truth to the one man who had the power to crucify Him (John 19:11). When soldiers beat him, He said nothing. He simply accepted their hate and committed Himself to “the one who judges righteously” (1 Peter 2:23). When a convicted criminal recognized the justice of his own punishment and repented, Jesus responded from a tender heart of compassion and promised him, “Today you will be with Me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43). As Jesus’ mother stood nearby weeping in the arms of a disciple, Jesus did not think of His own pain and isolation but offered words of comfort and care to His mother—”Woman, behold your son” and to His disciple, “Behold your mother.” In the midst of personal pain and suffering, He saw the pain in His mother’s heart. He reached out to her in compassion and assured her needs would be met. Jesus even looked with compassion at the crowd that mocked Him and spat upon Him; and, rather than condemning their actions He prayed for their forgiveness: “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).

cross against the sky

Even while enduring the humiliation, pain, and despair of crucifixion, Jesus acted in way that put flesh and blood to Ephesians 4:31-32: “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”


He gave us an example of kindness, compassion, and forgiveness to follow in our own lives. He showed us how to do it under the worst of circumstance…during the absolutely worse day of anyone’s life! Following this example begins in the home…in relation to our spouse and our children. Just as Christ showed us kindness, compassion, and forgiveness, we need to show our family kindness, compassion, and forgiveness.  You will have days that seem to go from bad to worse in your family. Your family will have disagreements and arguments in which you or some other family member will make harsh comments. A curse word may slip out. Bitterness may threaten to rise up in your heart or anger lash out in your speech. Temptations to say something harsh about your spouse’s character or your children’s intention will arise. Your children may even slander your character. This is the perfect time to follow Christ’s example…to “be kind and compassionate…forgiving…” Jesus did it for His family. Will you?

2 Words That Will Change Your Parenting!

Maybe you have had one of these experiences and felt your heart go out to your family member: watching your daughter cry after breaking up with her first boyfriend; seeing the hurt in your young son’s eyes because he was passed over on the sports team; seeing a spouse drown their deep sorrow in one too many drinks; watching a child who has experienced being bullied fall into the “wrong crowd.” When we encounter these painful experiences in ourselves and our family, our heart goes out to the person suffering; we feel compassion for them. We want to reach into their lives and end the suffering, to make the pain “go away.” It would be nice, we think, to make it all disappear with the wave of our magic wand…but there is no magic wand. Still…
This feeling of compassion calls to my mind the father of the prodigal son. Can you imagine the desire this father must have felt to protect his son, to make his son see the foolishness of his request? But, he could not make his son see things differently. I wonder if he knew what his son was doing after he left home. Did he know his son was blowing all the money on an illicit lifestyle? Subjecting himself to those who would take advantage of him? Placing himself in dangerous situations? Leaving himself open to all kinds of diseases and pain? The father must have felt great pain to know that his son had lost it all, even falling to the depths of living in a pig sty and eating pig slop. Can you imagine the father’s desire to relieve that suffering and restore his son to the comfort of family and home? The father could have sent his son an extra few bucks to help relieve some of his suffering…you know, “Son, I know times are hard so here are a few extra bucks to buy yourself some food this week.” The son would have likely blown that money on those friends who simply took advantage of him. The father could have said, “Son, I don’t want you living in a pig sty. It makes our family look bad; so, I’ve arranged an apartment for you. Live there.” The son would have most likely enjoyed the apartment…and had huge parties in that apartment every night.
The father did not reach out in simple compassion to relieve his son’s self-induced suffering. Instead, he exhibited longsuffering—he patiently endured the hardship of watching his son suffer; he patiently endured the offense of his son’s behavior. Why did he do this? I believe he did so in order to allow his son to know the full consequences of his behavior. He wanted those consequences to bring his son to his senses and turn his heart toward home. He knew that self-induced suffering must be endured; and, when allowed, this suffering often brings maturity. I’m sure that the father “suffered long” with his son and felt a deep compassion in his heart for his son. I’m sure the father longed to reach out to his son and relieve the suffering; but instead, he suffered the pain of watching his son go through the hardships of his choices. Whose sufferings were greater? I’m not sure…perhaps the father’s. Fortunately, in this story, the father’s longsuffering paid off in the end. The son did learn from those consequences. The son did mature and turn his heart toward home. And, as soon as the son turned his heart toward home, the father ran to meet him…embraced him, kissed him, reinstated him into the family, and held a welcome home party.
Like the prodigal son’s father, we have to practice both compassion and longsuffering in our effort to parent our children. They are both necessary to establish a healthy family life. Compassion without longsuffering will contribute to continued negative behavior. Longsuffering without compassion leads to coldness and indifference, anger and apathy. Together, compassion and longsuffering will lead to maturity and growth. Compassion and longsuffering also reveal the character of our Heavenly Father (Exodus 34:6-7). Practicing both will help us be like our Heavenly Father…and establish a family built in the image of God.

What is Forgiveness?

If you have lived in a family for any period of time (anything above an hour or so), you know that forgiveness is absolutely necessary for a healthy, strong family. In the words of Bryant McGill, “There is no love without forgiveness, and there is no forgiveness without love.” When we choose to not forgive, we find ourselves tied to the past, unable to move forward and weighed down by stones of judgment, bitterness, and resentment that turn to harsh words, angry allegations, and hostile remarks indiscriminately hurled at those around us. Our perspective becomes so clouded and filtered that we can only see those things that confirm our bitterness and resentment. We act in anger, unable to find the compassion, empathy, and intimacy we truly long for. A lack of forgiveness will tear a family apart. Forgiveness is crucial to family unity, intimacy, and even personal health. But what is forgiveness?
Forgiveness is:
a decision. Forgiveness is a conscious choice. If we do not choose to forgive, resentment will take up residence in our hearts and minds. Sprouts of bitterness will surface in our life. Bitterness will continue to grow and take root unless we choose to actively dig it up and remove it from the garden of our mind. Those roots will extend to indirectly stain the character of many. Think about it. If I allow bitterness to take root and grow in my life, it will choke out compassion, kindness, and love. I will find it difficult to show kindness when I nurse resentment. And, those around me will find it difficult to show kindness to me, a person who constantly responds with biting sarcasm and sharp tones of anger. To root out bitterness and resentment, we must choose to forgive. Forgiveness is a decision, a conscious choice. What do I decide to do?
to let go of a record of wrongs.  Forgiveness is an act of love and grace. Love does not keep a record of wrongs. Forgiveness is the decision to let go of that record of wrong. The unforgiving mind and heart dwells on past hurts and ruminates on possible ways to “get back at” the offender, making them “pay for what they did.” Forgiveness, on the other hand, chooses to dwell on other things. I find it interesting that Scriptures tell us that God forgives our sin and “remembers it no more.” God does not passively forget our sin. Our sins do not “slip His mind.” No, He actively chooses to “remember it no more.” He makes a conscious, loving choice to “let go of our record of wrongs.” He offers us a “free gift” that begins with forgiveness. Forgiveness is a decision to let go of a record of wrongs and…
and the demand for revenge. There is no question about it—people do sin against us. Family members make hurtful comments. Spouses, children, parents, and siblings become impolite, unkind, rude, and even hurtful from time to time. Truly, wrongs are committed. Justice demands a price, even revenge. The offending party needs to “pay the price” for their wrong actions and words. But wait…forgiveness recognizes that the other person’s actions have not only hurt me, they have hurt that person as well. Their unkind words come back to haunt them sooner or later. Our sin will find us out and “bite us on the butt.” “What goes around comes around.” This does not mean there are no consequences. We still practice the natural consequence of misbehavior. But, forgiveness deals with the state of our heart…and the state of my heart is no better than the heart of the person who wronged me. Forgiveness recognizes my heart is morally incapable of holding another person guilty of sin when I am so great a sinner myself. Recognizing my own shortcomings allows me to… 
replace feelings of bitterness and resentment with compassion, good wishes, and even kindness. The foundation of forgiveness is laid when we make a decision to let go of a record of wrongs and the demand for revenge. Now, we have to do the work of building on that foundation. We begin to replace bitter thoughts about that person with compassionate thoughts for their well-being. When bitter thoughts of revenge and payback creep into our mind, we throw them out and replace the void they leave with good wishes for them and their family. When harsh allegations arise from the recesses of our mind, we throw them out and contemplate how to show kindness to the offender with our words and deeds.

Forgiveness is a decision to let go of a record of wrongs as well as the demand for revenge and replace feelings of bitterness and resentment with compassion, good wishes, and even kindness. Forgiveness is not for the faint of heart. Forgiveness is a battle that demands courageous action. However, when we enter that battle and bravely reach out in loving forgiveness, we find healing, intimacy, and peace beyond our wildest dreams.

Freedom & Family

Happy Fourth of July! Today we celebrate the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, a step toward a free and independent United States. What does family have to do with the Fourth of July? For one thing, we celebrate the Fourth of July with our families.   Secondly, and perhaps of greater importance, family lays the foundation, creates the stability, and perpetuates the freedom and independence of our country…in any country really. People have known this truth in our country since the signing of the Declaration of Independence and represent such diverse times as…
…Elias Boudinot (a President of the Continental Congress) who noted that “Good government generally begins in the family, and if the moral character of a people once degenerate, their political character must soon follow”
… to EH Chapin (a preacher alive from 1814-1880) who realized “break up the institution of family, deny the inviolability of its relations, and in a little while there would not be any humanity”
…to Charles Franklin Thwing (a clergyman and president of Adelbert College and Western Reserve University alive between 1853-1937) who proclaimed that “Under any system of society…the family holds the future in its bosom”
… to Pope John Paul II who, in 1986, stated that “As the family goes, so goes the nation and so goes the whole world in which we live”
…to Barbara Bush (First Lady of the United States from 1989-1993) who said, “Your success as a family, our success as a society, depends not on what happens at the White House, but what happens inside your house.”
Even those who held less esteemed views of the family knew that family undergirds any society. Lenin (living from 1870-1924) is known to have said, “Destroy the family, you destroy the country.”
Why do such diverse people note the importance of family to our society and our country? Because…
Family provides the training ground for moral character. Successful families honor moral character above personal comfort and material possession. Parents model moral character for their children. All family members encourage one another to stand for what is right. Families teach us to act in kindness and fairness, and to make personal sacrifice for the welfare of one another. It is in families that we learn moral behavior contributes to a happy, successful life.
Family teaches us of loyalty and faithfulness. Family members teach the importance of faithfulness when they keep promises made to one another. They show the importance of loyalty as they support one another in the face of difficulties, protect one another in spite of personal danger, and encourage one another in the face of disappointments. They show tolerance and work cooperatively to strengthen the family even in the midst of disagreements. Families elicit and teach that loyalty brings stability. They show that peace and trust extend from faithfulness.  
Family models that freedom is not unrestrained but accompanied by personal responsibility. The price of freedom is costly. Parents have the personal responsibility to work so they can support their family and maintain a home. Children learn the personal responsibility to complete chores, doing their part to maintain the household. When everyone in the family does their part in keeping the household running smoothly, the family is free to engage in fun activities and experience times of relaxation. However, if even one member of the family does not “pull their weight,” opportunities diminish and the whole family becomes overwhelmed with stress. The family teaches that “doing my own thing” results in others being hurt and the family unit becoming strained. Discipline soon follows such situations. So, family members learn that freedom is not unrestrained, but contingent on personal responsibility. 
Family also becomes the training ground for compassion toward others. Not only does family teach personal responsibility, but they teach us compassion for those in need. Successful families treat each family member with kindness and grace, coming to one another’s aid when a need arises. They reach out, as a family, to those in need and experience the joy of helping others. When one family member mourns, the whole family mourns with him. When one family member rejoices, the whole family rejoices. In compassion, each member of the family reaches out to encourage and lift up those family members struggling with any hardship or difficulty.
Overall, families are the backbone of a free and independent society. Without healthy families, society will lose its most important teacher and training ground…the foundation of freedom will crumble. Without strong families, our individuals will become more self-absorbed, self-centered, and self-serving. The accurate perception of responsibility, loyalty, faithfulness, moral character, and compassion will be lost. So, celebrate our independence with your family. Teach your children patriotism and loyalty. After all, the strength of our country and the perpetuation of our freedom and independence rest on the shoulders of strong families.
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