Compassion Fatigue

“He was deeply disturbed by their indifference to human need.”  Mark 3:5

When did you first hear the term “Compassion Fatigue”?    It is actually a medical or psychological term, and it was first described in disaster response workers.  It was a form of stress where the worker saw so much suffering for so long, that they were experiencing a special form of burnout.  They ceased to be able to feel emotion.  They couldn’t feel sadness, anger at the situation, joy at gains made, or  well, anything.  It was called “Secondary Traumatic Stress”.  However, if you hear the term today, it can refer to something different.  It can refer to the amount of human suffering before our eyes on the television every day–suffering about which we can do nothing–that we start to take an indifferent attitude toward it, not feeling much of anything.  It can also refer to the frustration and finally indifference someone may feel toward the panhandler they have seen on the corner every day for the past four years, who never moves on or improves.  Was this what Jesus was disturbed about?

In Jesus day, the streets seemingly were filled with beggars.  People begged because they were too disabled to work, and their were no programs, homes, or charities to help them.  Obviously these were people whose families could not or would not help them.  There were so many, and it must have seemed so endless, that people just walked on by, ignoring them.  This deeply disturbed Jesus.  So, how are we to respond?

I believe the best way to handle things like this is to recognize while we can’t do everything, nor likely even anything big, we can do something!  And that something we do keeps us engaged.  The fact we are doing something we are able to do, alleviates the frustration that the problem is just overwhelming.  We can learn more, or meet someone we’re helping, and that helps us feel care.  Even if its just a small financial sacrifice, or an occasional gift of our time, it keeps us involved.  When we can’t stop to talk with that panhandler because we’re driving and its not safe, we can still offer a prayer for his wellbeing.  It keeps us from being indifferent.

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