Paul speaks to us in the book of Galatians 5:16-23 about life in the Spirit:
16"So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.17For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. 18But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law."
19"The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God."
22"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law."
Now I am not calling God out on the Heavenly carpet and insinuating that “He” overlooked a Spiritual fruit. But what I am suggesting is that in our efforts to practice the nine spiritual fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, etc., I believe we tend to disregard or even forget another very important character trait – empathy.
The ability to understand and enter into another person’s feelings does not come naturally – at least not for most. The willingness to embrace another person’s perspective and attempt to walk in their shoes is a choice – and a humble one at that. It requires putting aside our sinful nature and embracing the virtues’ of love, patience, kindness, goodness, and gentleness. It also demands self-control over our prideful judgments towards what we perceive another person is feeling, what they should be feeling, as well as what we think is right or acceptable behavior on their part.
To assume we know what lies in the heart of the person in front of us is short-sighted and self-serving because we have not personally experienced their circumstance. We would all be better off if we simply “asked” how or why a person feels or acts a certain way instead of self-diagnosing, or worse, not caring at all. It is quite painful to be vulnerable with our feelings only to have our transparency met with a stone wall of apathy. This lack of empathy may leave a person feeling rejected and defeated. And the merry-go-round of miscommunication will continue to spin.
Now think of your marriage. How well do you know your spouse today? I am not talking superficial knowledge. I am talking depth…the heart and soul of your husband. Do you know him? Can you relate to his emotional state of mind, his struggles, doubts, fears, joys, dreams, and desires? Do you truly understand the way he feels and what makes him tick, both good and bad? And when and if you do understand him, do you choose to share with him in both the highs and lows of his emotional journey? Do you want to walk in his footsteps? If not, why? The greatest commandment is to love one another as Christ loves us. If we cannot genuinely appreciate the spirit of our husband, if we do not take a vested interest in his well-being, if we fail to practice the fruits of the spirit in our own home, how is it possible for us to model these virtues to our children and then take them out into the world with a spirit of authenticity?
It is important to resist the temptation to blame a lack of knowing or understanding of our spouse by saying, “well, he doesn’t want to share with me, so it is impossible for me to empathize.” Find a way to connect. Draw it out. Turn to God for discernment, guidance, strength, and patience. This is the most important person in your life. The man God enjoined with you in a sacred covenant – the father of your children and a son of the King. God put you in a position of great importance in this man’s life and your husband needs you – whether he says it or not. God blessed you with the incredible gift of helping His wonderful creation to heaven, and He patiently awaits your obedience.
Now is the time to put aside discord, envy, hatred, jealousy, selfishness, dissension and put on a cloak of empathy for the good of our sacrament. It is time to see Christ in our spouse’s eyes, walk in his shoes to the best of our ability, and choose to love him with fullness and understanding, the way Christ loves us. Against such things, there is no law.
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