I must say, that what still comes very much without warning, I still find hard to deal with, but I know in being honest I can trust my method.
I have an irregular relationship with compassion fatigue, in that I feel I am sucked dry of empathy at times to the point where I have nothing left. Times like this I’m irrational in what I say, I complain, and I can’t quite seem to find space and outlet for recovery. It is generally the night’s sleep that brings me out of it.
It wasn’t until relatively recently that a fellow pastor shared with me how hazardous pastoral work is that I realised the gauntlet we pastors run. We work with sinners. We are sinners. We are in an environment to provide care, but the truth is we ourselves are not always taken care of; we are not always paragons of health. People come to church expecting to get their care, and when our lives are full to the brim with these relationships our tanks easily run dry.
Workers whose primary function
it is to provide care,
need a developed understanding
for how compassion fatigue
works in them.
Whenever I experience compassion fatigue it always feels like spiritual attack, because the spirituality I can normally rely on seems absent. It is as if God’s Presence has been drawn away. I know God is close, but only because I know, because I cannot feel Him. This feeling of spiritual attack comes in the mode of chaos, much like the sensory overload people with autism experience. Every sound is amplified, bumps in the road are particularly annoying, my thinking is dull, I don’t feel empathetically like I normally do, and my hope goes out the window. Everything feels like a test. Yet God is with me to the extent of wisdom; counselling me to guard my heart, be patient, and seek release into peace.
Whenever I experience compassion fatigue it’s as if my spiritual engine is sputtering and stalling, because although there are still little glimpses of care and love, intermingled with them are moments where I cannot muster any hope, or any motive of care.
I’ve learned to trust my method, because this kind of experience has been normal for me since I approached burnout in 2005. This irregular relationship I have with compassion fatigue is God’s warning to me, to heed the time to withdraw, to recover and replenish spiritual stores.
Self-care requires self-awareness, honesty and courage,
because to drive ahead nonchalantly is self-destruction.
Even as I reengage cognitively, allowing my mind to focus without the presence of emotional stimuli, I am able to gain confidence that I am ‘normal’ once again. I need to let my heart rest; to stop feeling. And to reduce the noise.
It is very disconcerting to feel the bottom fall out of our spirituality, just as it is scary for loved ones to see us disempowered. What feels like freefall is arrested, but only with rest and in faith that what works, works, and that we just need to do it.
I would be the first person to say that I am weak, and that the gospel encourages me, that, in being weak, I am strong in the Lord Jesus, but only when I surrender my denial and my resentment of the problem to Him.
Compassion fatigue comes through
being drained of empathy.
What I’ve found
is I’ve had to find
what works in restoring my soul.
This irregular relationship with compassion fatigue thankfully only occurs in a kind of monthly cycle. God can quickly show me how much I rely on encouragement, and how easily affected I am being discouraged. Although God knows we need it, encouragement ought to be a nice by-product of ministry, and should never be what we do ministry for. And we do need to find ways of dealing with the inevitable discouragements that come. But ultimately compassion fatigue comes through being drained of empathy.