Look on Them with Compassion – #4 in the Top 10 Strategies to Turn Away Wrath
By H. Wallace Goddard
Editor’s note: This is an excerpt from the book The Soft-Spoken Parent: The Top 10 Strategies to Turn Away Wrath.
We can remove wrath from family relationships by looking on each other with compassion. Brigham Young taught us to apply compassion to our perception of weakness:
Let all Latter-day Saints learn that the weaknesses of their brethren are not sins. When men or women [or children] undesignedly commit a wrong, do not attribute that to them as a sin. Let us learn to be compassionate one with another; let mercy and kindness soften every angry and fretful temper, that we may become long-suffering and beneficial in all our communications one with another. [i]
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When our daughter Emily was in kindergarten, she and a neighbor friend named Donna often went across the street to the school playground to kick a ball and swing. One day as the two girls left our house and headed to the playground, Emily stopped at curbside and Donna dashed into the street. A slow-moving car was unable to stop and hit Donna sending her skidding and finally sprawling on the pavement. She lay in the street frightened and pained.
What is the right response to Donna’s pain? Would it make sense to approach her and remind her of our oft-repeated and wise counsel to look both ways before crossing the street? Would it make sense to tell her that maybe she needed a timeout to reflect on her carelessness? Would we ground her or demand that she apologize to the frightened driver?
No! Such callousness is akin to abuse. We would go to Donna and offer words of love and assurance even as we helped her get comfortable. We would call for appropriate medical care. We would do anything we could to help her feel safe and to start the healing process.
Far more often than we realize, our children are injured by painful encounters with life. They come home bruised, skinned, and bleeding. We adults almost surely do not realize how often they feel frightened and wounded. If we try to understand their pains and challenges, we are likely to look upon them with compassion rather than judgment and impatience.
Time and again Jesus encountered people with various maladies. The New Testament reports that he responded with compassion to the blind, possessed, bereaved, injured, and those who were reluctantly repenting.
In Jesus’ great story of the Good Samaritan, he contrasts the official response of priest and Levite (who walked around the injured one) with that of a true neighbor: “When he saw him, he had compassion.”
He had compassion! It is the difference between responding in the world’s way and responding in the Lord’s way. It is the mark of the Christ-like soul.
When our children are injured by unkind words from classmates, rejection by friends, stinging criticism from teachers – whatever the source of the injury – we can respond with compassion.
Jesus is the perfect example. After he had ransomed our souls by paying for our sins, he went the extra mile. He bore our pains, discomforts, disappointment so that he would fully understand us (Alma 7:11-12).
Amazing! We can never rightly say to him, “You just don’t understand how I feel.” He does understand! And he paid a terrible price so that he could understand everything from the heartbreak of psoriasis to the pains of childbirth. He knows what it is like to be shunned and hated. He has personally experienced in Gethsemane the pains of divorce and the agony of cancer. There is no pain we will ever experience that he has not borne – so that he can respond with compassion to every pain we ever bear.
And he invites us to look on each other with compassion. Enoch was surprised to find that God wept as he witnessed the suffering of his wicked children – even though they deserved to suffer (Moses 7:33). He questioned God about it. God responded: “These thy brethren. are the workmanship of my hands. Should not the heavens weep, seeing these shall suffer?” (Moses 7:32, 37).
God hates suffering even when it is suffering we have brought on ourselves. He looks on our struggles and suffering with compassion.
When we see one of our children burdened or injured – even if it is due to their own foolishness – we do not ask, “What’s wrong with you, Sourpuss?” Instead, we approach with compassion in our words and in our spirit: “Looks like you’ve had a hard day.” We lean into their struggle with our love.
We do not demand that they tell us more than they are ready to share. But we try to remember and be humbled by the challenges of being a child-feeling unskilled and often powerless. We come to them with emotional first aid.
Having compassion on them can prevent us from attacking unhelpfully. It can also help us deal with differences and irritations when we have them. And it can make us more willing repenters when we have added insult to their injuries.
Stay tuned for another strategy next week. Or purchase the book, The Soft-Spoken Parent: More than 50 Strategies to Turn Away Wrath (which just arrived at the warehouse!) by clicking here.
[i] Discourses of Brigham Young, ed. John A. Widtsoe (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1954), 273.