Can Compassion Create Contagious Concern?

She sat across from me, shades hiding the pain and hurt in her eyes, but emotion escaped through her broken voice.

He’s cheating on me. I knew it. I’ve had suspicions and believed it for a long time, but now I have proof. He didn’t deny it. What do I do now? Where do I go?

This wasn’t the first time Bailey’s (not her real name) husband had cheated on her. And what hurt the most was that it went far beyond physical. He had established an emotional bond with each of these other women, confiding in them about his wife, their struggles, her shortcomings.

I don’t know if I have the capacity to forgive him again. I don’t know if I can stay; I don’t know if I can leave. We have four kids! What do I do now?

My heart ached physically. I have no training in these matters; I have compassion. And oh, I have empathy. My husband I have faced similar hurdles, but ours were shrouded in the secrecy of the internet and magazines. I too have stood, quite literally, on the threshold of our home with boxes half-packed and heart distraught with hurt and confusion.

But God. God redeemed us. God stepped in and restored us, ever so slowly, over the course of almost seven years. Now we stand in the most hopeful, forward-facing place we’ve ever been. I’m grateful, but as Bailey’s wounds bled before my eyes, I felt empathy turn part way toward fear.

Just a couple weeks before, Deena had called me. “I found my husband talking with another woman online. He has history of long chats with her on Facebook and he’s talked badly about me to her!”

In this case again, it wasn’t the first time Deena’s husband had been unfaithful. “I told him I’m not leaving yet, but I can’t promise in the future. I don’t want to leave him; I love him, but I can’t live with this repeating itself for the rest of our lives. What do I do?”

I listened with an open heart and shared my empathy and compassion as well Scripture that came to mind. But by the time we hung up, my heart was chilled by fear. What about my own marriage? Am I delusional to think that we’ve healed and my husband is faithful? All the good that God is working in our lives—is it real?

When my own husband came home that night, I looked at him a little more skeptically. Can we really do this? Will he really do it with me? Or is this hope I felt only postponing the inevitable?

Can compassion create contagious concern?

Have you ever watched a romantic movie and then walked out of the theater wondering why your own marriage didn’t look that glamorous? On a less intense note, have you ever set down a magazine and imagined you looked just like the cover model, or at least really wished that you did? Have you ever lost yourself so deeply in a good book that it took a minute to sift your reality from the pages and remember your true identity? I’ve even had dreams in which I was angry with my husband and woke dangerously close to acting on unfounded emotions. Our minds are powerful things. It’s no euphemism that your mind can play tricks on you.

I’ve learned that I need to be very careful what I expose myself to, even in the context of listening to and loving on friends in crisis. It’s very easy for me to hang up with a friend who’s marriage is crumbling and impose that on my own marriage. The news of one husband cheating can ignite suspicion in me toward my own husband. I’ve become angry at him for no fault of his own on more than one occasion.

So how do we manage this? How do we place ourselves on the spiritual battlefield with friends and family and offer comfort and encouragement without allowing our minds to get carried away?

Philippians 4:6-7 has long been one of my favorite passages to combat worry, suspicion and fear:

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.

However, it wasn’t until recently that I noticed prayer and thanksgiving are not God’s only instructions for finding peace. The next verse completes the thought:

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.

We have to fight to not only know the truth but to think on it, fix our thoughts on it and let it dominate our minds and actions. That’s the key to exposing ourselves to the hurt and pain in the world while still living in peace. No matter how shaken I feel, how suspicion rises up, how empathy twists itself into fear, I must set my mind what is true, honorable, right, pure, lovely and admirable.

This is for the benefit of my husband, my marriage and my sanity! But these verses are applicable to all forms of worry.

My life has been filled with terrible misfortune; most of which never happened. (Michel de Montaigne)

I must pull my mind away from the precipice of worry and onto the solid ground of all that I know is true. Does that mean nothing bad will ever happen as long as I think positively? Of course not. However, I will relish a peace beyond human understanding by choosing to think only on what I KNOW is true.


Abby Kelly is a blogger, personal trainer, partner in Moms Who TRI, a journaler and a dog owner. She currently lives in Northern Virginia with her military officer husband. She writes on cultural, personal and relational lies that destroy women's lives and seeks to share the truth, hope and love of Jesus Christ.

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