Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary. So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith. (Galatians 6:9-10)
The Church is a community based on generosity. Giving to meet the needs of others is a constant theme in both teaching and practice. This can be traced directly back to the Founder of the Church: Jesus Christ. He taught and exemplified a life of sacrificial giving, culminating in His death on the cross for the sins of the world. His giving did not end there, however, for He continues to give to a needy world by His Spirit and through His representatives, His followers on earth. Our little church is one such band of His followers and it amazes me to think of all the giving that has been done through her members down the years.
Giving costs those who give but there is a cost we sometimes overlook and it is called “compassion fatigue”. It is especially a hazard for those we say are “on the frontline” of giving: people whose jobs are all about giving to those in need, such as nurses, doctors, social workers, law enforcement officers, emergency “first responders”, as well as those who are caring for dependent family members, such as young children or those suffering with dementia. The demands for care from these people are relentless and take their toll over time. Compassion Fatigue can become for them a clinical diagnosis that requires specific treatment. But there is a lower level form of compassion fatigue that, while it may not require therapeutic intervention, still leads to apathy, resentment and a shutting down of empathy for those for whom we would otherwise care.
This season of Advent and Christmas is particularly treacherous time for feeling overwhelmed by the amount of need in the world and the many hands stretched out toward us with an invitation to give. First, there is the giving we need to do for friends and family, not all of whom really need our gifts but for whom it is an annual sign of our heart-felt (or dutiful) ties of affection. On top of that are the many charities and church requests for funds or time commitments. And, on top of that, there are the many victims of fires, floods, poverty, war, exploitation, crime and civil unrest whose plight is portrayed in news broadcasts and other kinds of media on a daily basis.
It is no wonder, then, that there are many Americans for whom the “Caravan” victims of gang violence and poverty in Central America inspire more alarm than compassion. The fierce and widespread condemnation of John Allen Chau, the young man who was killed by the Sentinelese tribe people when he tried to share the good news of Jesus Christ with them shows how Americans may have lost an ability to understand such self-sacrificial giving. A couple of generations back, the deaths of four missionaries at the hands of the Auca tribe people they were trying to reach with the gospel was generally seen as meaningful and heroic. Their widows were interviewed by the media and treated with great respect. Numerous books, articles and even movies have favorably portrayed their martyrdoms.
So how can we overcome common-place compassion fatigue? First, by remembering how much we owe to the compassion of others. Even the most “self-made” successes are never fully self-made. We stand on the shoulders of countless others who have sacrificed, not always specifically for us, but definitely for the common good. And let us recall that greatest of all givers, our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave His all for our salvation. Next, we need to realize that God does not require us to serve beyond the strength and resources we have – unless He gives us extra with which to do it. We must consult with Him about what our share of the needs of the world happen to be. Yes, our level of giving should limit our ability to indulge some of our personal desires but they must not negate them all. Jesus did sleep, enjoy a meal with friends or rest by a well while His disciples went into the town to find food. (John 4:4-6) He once even tried to take His disciples on a brief vacation after they came back from their missionary journeys – however, the crowds of needy people found them and His heart was moved with compassion to help them. (Mark 6:7-13, 30-35) But at least we know by this that taking a vacation can be the right thing to do! Finally, God freely offers us the refreshment of His presence and blessing as we take time to replenish our souls with fresh draughts of His glory and love. Rejoicing in the Lord is indeed our strength! Remembering the tender mercies of the Lord to us and others over the years of our lives up to the present moment can do wonders to our perspective and renew our will to do good for others.