I confess: I work for a nonprofit ministry, and I sometimes get tired of helping people. I hate to say it, but it's true. Staying compassionate can be exhausting.
Day-in and day-out, IDES works with mission partners all over the world to meet the physical and spiritual needs of suffering people in the name of Jesus Christ. It's beautiful, and the stories we witness are breath-taking. It's also incredibly hard sometimes to keep going, keep doing, and keep working. "Compassion fatigue" is a real issue in the world of nonprofit ministry, especially when the odds seem to be stacked ever against us in regards to alleviating physical and spiritual poverty.
Maybe you have experienced similar feelings. Here are some examples to help you understand.
Physical and Spiritual Poverty Statistics (cited below):
Feeling low yet? Statistics like these are absolutely mind-blowing, too heavy to bear. The only reason I choose to share them is to make a point: there is much need for help and hope in our world today, and there always will be. Unfortunately, it sometimes feels like there is no way to make a significant difference.
This feeling of helplessness can lead to physical and emotional exhaustion. It's clear that there is work to be done, and there always will be, but it can feel almost paralyzing to one's mind and body to even begin. Sure, some days are better than others. But eventually this "paralysis" on our level of compassionate energy leads to ineffective and insincere ministry in the future.
How do we combat compassion fatigue? How do we raise our spirits and renew our energy in working for the Kingdom? I'm no expert, but in my experiences with compassion fatigue, I've come to four conclusions on how to combat it and continue the good work we are doing for the glory of Jesus Christ.
1.) Analyze your intentions and motivations.
"What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, 'Go in peace, be warmed and filled,' without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, 'You have faith and I have works.' Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works." - James 2:14-18
"By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." - John 13:35
Now, to be absolutely clear, our good works do not earn our salvation. Jesus Christ did the final work on the Cross needed to justify us through faith in receiving His loving grace. However, as these scriptures clearly implicate, we have a responsibility to do good work in response to His love for us. Our work proves our faith. I think it's good to ask ourselves some hard questions, like: "Why am I doing this good work?" "For whom am I doing this good work?" "What am I getting out of this good work?"
Honesty with ourselves is key. Am I working for the glory of Jesus, or myself? Am I showing compassion out of love for those I'm serving, or for the sake of my own conscience before God? We must analyze our intentions and motivations in order to find the reason behind our fatigue. Working solely for one's reputation with others, or solely for one's moral-checklist before God can indeed be truly exhausting.
2.) Rest productively.
"Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain. It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep." - Psalm 127:1-2
"But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire." - James 1:14
I'm bad at resting. My wife can attest to this -- I often feel guilty for taking too much time to relax, which leads me to breaking points of emotional frustration. Sometimes, when I do finally convince myself to take a break, I find myself being tempted in the midst of my boredom.
The Psalm above is clear -- God ordains rest for His children. We overwork ourselves in vain. You may remember in the creation story that God Himself rested on the 7th day, and declared that day to be a holy "Sabbath," or day of rest for all of his people to follow. James is also clear in reminding us that temptation should be expected when we have time to ourselves. It comes from our very own hearts. Taking these things into consideration, I believe we should certainly make time to rest. It is essential for our physical and spiritual health that we get enough sleep, and spend some downtime relaxing. But, we must also be sure to rest in God's presence, being careful with how we rest and what we do in finding relaxation. We must rest "productively."
3.) Remind yourself of who Jesus is, and who you are.
"Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint." - Isaiah 40:28-31
"Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." - Matthew 11:28-29
Whenever we start to feel fatigued, too tired to continue showing compassion and doing good work, we must fix our gaze upon Jesus Christ. As the prophet Isaiah reminds us, God our Creator is infinitely energetic, compassionate, and productive. We have to remember that we are finite beings, with finite power. We are not God. We cannot (and should not attempt to) save the world all by ourselves. He is God! He is our strength when we feel weak.
And, as Jesus reminds us in Matthew 11, we are invited to join with Him in good works. He shares the burden with us, and blesses our souls with rest even as we pour ourselves out for others' sake. This is a beautifully encouraging truth, like a salve to our wounded and wearied spirits. Compassionate work is a gift that God gives to His children that we may experience more of His goodness, for His glory.
4.) Don't give up or give in; keep working.
"And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith." - Galatians 6:9-10
Perhaps the greatest challenge to our physical and emotional health is that we may never see the fruit of our labor this side of heaven. I have a really hard time accepting this; however, it is never explicitly promised that we will witness the grandiose, life-changing events that our small pieces of work contributed towards while here in the earth. But Paul reminds us that the reaping of fruit will indeed happen, even if not in our lifetime, upon one condition: "if we do not give up."
Sometimes, when we start feeling low, the best idea is to just keep working. We can't give in to the fatigue. We can't give up hope as we work for the good of those who are suffering. It is a temporary, passing feeling that we must combat both after and before it hits us. The opportunities to help and to do good work will continue to present themselves to us. According to this passage in Galatians, we are to take these opportunities wholeheartedly.
Compassion fatigue, more than anything else, should be a warning flag to us. It is an indicator that either 1) our motivations are skewed, 2) we just need proper rest, 3) we've forgotten our identity and God's identity, or 4) we are starting to give up.
Praise God that we are not alone in our work, and that our feelings are not invalid. God can and will meet us in our weariness, and energize us to keep going. I pray that these passages in scripture may be a source of encouragement to you the next time you are feeling compassion fatigue.
-written by Chase Cotten, Media Director at IDES
Sources for Statistics Above: