by Shelly Wildman
Let’s face it: the past couple of years have really taken it out of us.
We’ve worried about Covid. Disagreed over vaccines. Fretted over elections. Watched religious leader after religious leader fall.
In just the past few weeks we have seen horrific scenes of war in Europe played out in front of our eyes.
And we’re told we should care about it all.
It leaves us wondering, “How much more can we take?”
How do we stay emotionally engaged with our world when there is so much violence and destruction calling for our attention? How do we love in a world so divided? We just want a little peace already!
If you find yourself waning, unable to care about issues, or even people, you once found truly important, know this: Compassion fatigue is a real thing.
Sometimes, in response to all of the suffering around us, we lose our capacity to care. We act indifferently. We may even shut down.
It’s not that we don’t care, it’s that we simply cannot. Sometimes, our emotional bank account gets depleted and needs to be replenished.
It works something like this:
If you have a family, you probably spend the bulk of your emotional energy caring for the people under your roof. That’s as it should be. Suppose a family member gets sick or you have some big decisions to make about work. More emotional energy used up.
But that’s not all. You may have friends with needs that you should also rightly care about. And a church family full of hurting people who need your attention. The circle of care widens, stretching its boundaries until you think it may burst.
Maybe your community is affected by racial violence or some other form of injustice. You hurt some more.
And then you look around and see that the world is falling apart, you may even watch the news and feel despair or fear about the days ahead, and you realize that there is just so much to care about . . . until your emotional energy is spent.
Our bodies and our minds weren’t made to handle this much sadness.
Friend, here’s what I want say: Do not give in to despair. Do not fear. (A command we read throughout Scripture!)
And do not give in to compassion fatigue.
God, in his wisdom, has given us just what we need to combat the fears and stresses of the world we live in. Lately I have found such comfort in these great words of Jesus: “In this world you will have trouble; but take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
When we worry about the future or when we think about the tragic occurrences in our world today, we can remember that Jesus already has it covered. He came to overcome the world, including its trials and tribulations.
He knew about war. He knew about racism. He knew about abandonment and abuse and abortion. He knew that dark days would come, but he’s got it covered through his death on the cross. And he promises that the suffering of this world will one day come to an end when he returns.
Know this, friend: God does not want us to give up on compassion, but he understands compassion fatigue. Even Jesus had to pull away for a while, to get away from the crowds to pray.
So how should we handle compassion fatigue?
Micah 6:8 says, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.”
1. Pray. We cannot know God’s will for us if we’re not talking to him about it, so pray that God would show you the priorities that he has placed on your heart. We can’t do everything, but we can do something right where we are, so pray for compassion for the issues God has uniquely equipped you to care for. And don’t worry about the rest—that’s why we live in a huge world with people who care about different things.
2. Continue to seek justice in your everyday life. Again, we cannot solve every problem or fix every person, but we can be people of integrity who watch out for others. This doesn’t mean that you have to stand in on a protest, shouting through a bullhorn. It simply means that whatever you can do to seek justice, do it. Refuse to overlook injustice when you see it.
3. Be kind. Oh, how our world needs a little more kindness. And it can start with you. Forget cynicism. Forget backstabbing gossip. Forget lying. Remember that it’s God’s kindness that leads us to repentance. Who knows what your kindness might bring about?
4. Walk humbly. Learn from others as you learn from God. Listen well. Love well. Pray for a heart of humility.
These are the things God requires of us.
As you go out into the world each day, don’t be overwhelmed by the voices shouting for your attention. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other, faithfully seeking God’s will for your life, following his call, and the rest will take care of itself.
Shelly Wildman is a writer and speaker who is the author of First Ask Why: Raising Kids to Love God Through Intentional Discipleship. She is also the owner of Walkabout Tours, a boutique travel company that takes Christian women on spiritual retreat and sightseeing tours throughout Europe. Shelly and her husband, Brian, have three adult daughters and live in Wheaton, IL. Find Shelly on Instagram @shellywildman and Facebook.