Sometimes our love for others leaves us feeling helpless, empty, and confused. Compassion fatigue occurs most commonly among professionals who treat trauma victims, medical patients, and more. But as run of the mill humans, we experience compassion fatigue daily, too.
Maybe we ignore the GoFundMe campaign. We decide “it’s not our season” for a meal train. Our mind cannot handle hearing about that friendship drama again, so we cancel the coffee date but send our “thoughts and prayers.” Whatever the justification, I believe there’s a greater impact we can have by shifting our own standards.
I recently spent a weekend camping lakeside with old friends and enjoyed a full morning paddle boarding on still water. In the middle of the lake, I laid back and closed my eyes. I asked God to meet me – I was carrying a heavy heart over emotional upheavals in the lives of people I love. I wanted to seek God and hear His voice direct me on what I could say or offer in place of platitudes or silence.
Placating broken-heartedness is useless, and silence gives permission for the sorrow to remain. The heaviness settling in my spirit for so many of my loved ones had become fully burdensome to the point where my own emotions and understanding were floundering and crashing around me. I wanted to help – but I felt helpless.
This is where compassion fatigue shuts down the otherwise generous spirit. We cannot handle the onslaught of constant sorrow and neediness, physical or otherwise, and we check out.
Instead of hearing approval to act, I heard God direct me to nothing. “This is not your wave to ride. You are to remain still, offer no solutions. Express truth, integrity, honor, and affection, but do not try to repair what is not your responsibility.”
Receiving permission. From a place of worship, acknowledging the sovereignty of God over the emotions of my friends, He released me from influencing or “handling” any of the situations with my own solutions.
Some situations require hands on engagement, and often a genuine restriction stops our hand. But the emotional baggage side gets so heavy because you offered to carry their suitcase. YOU are not an emotional bellhop! Any therapist worth their couch is going to demonstrate active listening and compassion, but won’t go home traumatized by their inability to fix your life. So why do we accept so much responsibility to repair the lives of others?
Maybe I’m the only one who feels like this…but maybe not. If not, then my intentional prayer is more than, “I’m praying for you.” May you be still. May you be loved. May you know you are valuable enough to act and important enough to remain a compassionate witness and friend, holding space for those around you who desperately want to find home without building an entirely new house.