Compassion Fatigue… When Does it End?

Compassion fatigue
We all experience it. We all know it's there. Stories of the most evil forms of slavery, brutal famine, violence, poverty, homelessness, infant mortality, child soldiers, natural disasters, youth addictions, domestic violence, cancer… any one person reading this could add pages more of heinous realities in our world today. 

What happens when we are so bombarded with legitimate requests for help? Who helps the helpers? When so much devastation occurs all at the same time in this world, who do we start with? Where do we start? How…? Some days, we feel like the world is more like one giant triage unit and each specific issue in each specific region will just have to wait its turn. The gut-wrenching truth in that pudding is when we choose who waits and who gets help, people still die.

Nicholas Kristof, in one of his timely blog posts, mentions this very condition after describing the worst sort of nightmare for Somali women. On top of severe famine where men, women and children are dying painful deaths, bandits are raping the women — often repeatedly. It is certainly NOT the Somali people's fault for the famine that has struck, nor is it their fault men of violence are engaging in rape. Help is needed. Empathy is required. Long term life love and compassion are must haves… right now.

During this Weekend of Fasting and Prayer to End Human Trafficking, my frail humanity went straight to: "I can't deal with this right now! God, it's too much! When will it end?" The precious and holy thing about spiritual disciplines is that when you listen, God truly does respond.

Here are some thoughts on Compassion Fatigue:

1. God is still God, even over what seems like the most hopeless and painful of situations. We might wonder why He even allows these atrocities to happen, but we would do better to remind ourselves of how He is already present in the darkness, and being Comforter, Sustainer, and Lover. He is already in those places we know need Him the most. The most forgotten of people are closest to His heart.

2. Isaiah 58 says that if you spend yourself on behalf of the hungry… THEN your own healing will quickly appear. Not only is this backwards in terms of worldly common sense, but it challenges us to give even in our dire pain. Not only will our own healing appear, it will appear quickly. How that healing will look is not for me to say. When people share about it, it seems to be different for everyone but exactly the kind of healing required.

3. We are not God. The call to social justice never wavers, and our hearts are perpetually pelted with the needs of this world, but we can give thanks for this. Jesus tenderizes our once hardened hearts to the needs of His kingdom around us. However, stillness (Psalm 46:10), retreat, meditation, and sabbath are also holy acts too. Without times of refreshing, our kingdom acts become hollow — without worship — and our bodies decay in weariness. Prayer and quiet times with God, I believe, break down strongholds in these dark places we cannot seem to make a difference in. We must never "poo poo" someone who says: "I need a break." Yet in that need for breaks, I challenge us all to use those breaks for worship and communion and rest. It is only in direct contact and relationship with God will be healed, renewed and refreshed.

4. We will be broken. We're human. To enter into the fray is to make yourself vulnerable to being physically, mentally, emotionally, socially, relationally, spiritually beaten black and blue. But as God admonished Paul, "my power is made perfect in weakness". If we enter the fray admitting we are weak, and we cannot do any of what we are doing or be anything of who we are without Jesus Christ, that humility will stand us firm. There will be times the beatings are so bad, we feel we cannot go on. We will have to retreat. It is here satan will try and use shame to make our retreat a sinful thing. No! Even Jesus needed to retreat.

5. We aren't saviours. Only Jesus Christ has overturned death, but the Final Day for death's dying has not yet come. Until then, we must weep with those who weep, and mourn with those who mourn. This is not fatalistic. It is real. Our world is broken, just as we are broken. Instead of pushing us back into a stupor of "We can't overcome this", it should really rather spur us on towards those small daily acts of love which change the world. Furthermore, know we must all be as Christ's image bearers together. None of us can do any of this alone. Mavericks and heros make damage. Humble servants together create church prophetic… life. When one of us is down, the others are there to tend and nurture.

6. Turn off the TV. Continual messages and images of hopelessness and despair will rip your heart apart. Do not confuse this with sticking your head in the sand. Be aware of the needs around you and in the world. But you do not need constant RSS feeds of children with swollen bellies burning your retinas to know intelligently what needs to be done. Trust me. When it's too much… turn off the TV.

Compassion fatigue word cloud

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