Friday, November 26, 2010

Compassion Fatigue

Compassion Fatigue
Fr. Dale Matson
"But if you had known what this means, ' I DESIRE COMPASSION, AND NOT A SACRIFICE,' you would not have condemned the innocent.” (Matt. 12:7, NASB).
In context, Jesus is teaching that honoring the spirit of the Law is more important than the letter of the Law. Later St. Paul would say, “But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law.” (Gal. 5:18).
Since compassion is a characteristic of God, what is it that God has and imparts to us? Compassion (from Latin: "co-suffering") is a virtue —one in which there is emotional capacity of empathy and sympathy (for the suffering of others)
Years ago I was returning from a failed job interview and had stopped at a gas station somewhere between Lacrosse and Milwaukee. As I was filling my tank, a young woman pulled up in a jalopy of a car on the other side of the pump. She had two small children in the car with her. I still remember the plastic sheeting covering a rear window which was broken out. When she got out of the car, I could see that she was heading to the attendant with only a dollar in her hand. At that moment, I was overwhelmed with compassion for her. Although I didn’t have a lot of spare cash myself, I had enough to offer her a five dollar bill toward her gas. Her smile was her silent “Thanks”. I believe this was a compassion imparted by God. While I have had similar experiences since then, I don’t believe any have had the same impact on me.
While God is partial to the poor and the needy, “He will have compassion on the poor and needy, and the lives of the needy he will save.” (Psalm 72:13), He is also sovereign in his compassion. And He said, "I Myself will make all My goodness pass before you, and will proclaim the name of the LORD before you; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show compassion on whom I will show compassion." (Exodus 33:1).
Our Lord Jesus was a man of compassion but sometimes delayed helping (Lazarus) and only did what he saw His father doing. “Therefore Jesus answered and was saying to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner.” (John 5:19).
In this 24/7 world of need we find ourselves a part of, it is necessary that we don’t turn the grace of compassion into a law of service. We are finite and the needs of our world are infinite. Our compassion for others is given by God to us and directed by God for us. It is Him whom we serve. If our prime directive is to love, worship and serve God then it is to Him we must listen. He will direct our paths in serving Him. Jesus also allowed others to minister to him as demonstrated by the woman breaking the spices over his head. "Now when Jesus was in Bethany, at the home of Simon the leper, a woman came to Him with an alabaster vial of very costly perfume, and she poured it on His head as He reclined at the table. But the disciples were indignant when they saw this, and said, "Why this waste? “For this perfume might have been sold for a high price and the money given to the poor. “But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, "Why do you bother the woman? For she has done a good deed to Me.” (Matt. 26:6-10).
Those in the church who experience compassion fatigue and burnout have allowed others to determine their service priorities when it should be God who does this. I am continually reminded of a portion of the Morning Prayer Collect for Peace, “……to know you is eternal life, to serve you is perfect freedom…” (BCP, p.99). Jesus himself is our model for not allowing others to determine our service. I am writing this to those on the edge of dropping out; those who are exhausted and weary from doing good.
" Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. "Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS. "For My yoke is easy and My burden is light." (Matt. 11:28-30).

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