One of my favourite quotes is by Naomi Rachel Remen.
“The expectation that we can be immersed in suffering and loss daily and not be touched by it, is as unrealistic as expecting to be able to walk through water without getting wet.”
Those who are in ministry are among the Caregivers who are impacted by the stories of suffering they see and hear on a daily basis.
Supporting people through suffering has an impact on how we see the world around us and our well-being. There is a cost to caring, and those in ministry are not immune.
I think we have all experienced the weight of hearing a tragic story whether it’s on the news or with someone we have supported and it sticking with you for a few days.
It doesn’t matter if it is something that is shocking or just part of your everyday work. There are cumulative impacts of being surrounded by problems and suffering.
The helping field has gradually begun to recognize that workers are profoundly affected by the work that they do.
Whether you are a police officer, firefighter or paramedic and have direct exposure to trauma. You see it with your own eyes.
If you are a counsellor, pastor or health care professional, you are indirectly (or secondarily) exposed to the trauma through hearing people’s stories of suffering, abuses and pain.
The experience of helping others has lasting impacts on us as supporters.
When we empathize and care for others, we are giving of ourselves.
In 2 Tim 4:6, Paul describes ministry like being poured out as a drink offering.
As we sit and hear of other people’s struggles and trauma it’s in the air, and it clings to us regardless of how hard we try to avoid it. Trauma is sticky whether it is our own or someone else’s. It sticks like smoke from a campfire..
Caregiver fatigue or Compassion Fatigue refers to the profound emotional and physical exhaustion that caregivers can develop over the course of their career as helpers. It is a gradual erosion of all the things that keep us connected to others in our caregiver role: our empathy, our hope, and our compassion – not only for others but also for ourselves.
As Christians we are not immune to the impacts of compassion fatigue.
When we are suffering from compassion fatigue we start to see changes in our personal and professional lives: we can become worn down and increasingly bitter or frustrated
How many can relate to this story:
A person stops you after service and asks to meet with you. They are going through a difficult time with a relationship and they want to talk to you about it.
Prior to meeting that person you spend some time in prayer asking God to lead you, give you wisdom and ask the Holy Spirit for guidance. You spend an hour listening, empathizing and encouraging them. You provide them with scriptures and offer strategies for them to resolve their issues. They thank you and part ways.
A couple of weeks later they return. The process happens again and you support, guide and advise. After another month it repeats but you notice that they never implement the counsel that you are giving them. You hear the “Ya, but” and they seem to continue the cycle over and over again. Do you notice how your response to them changes?
Compassion fatigue has been described as “the cost of caring” for others in emotional pain.
It is not a result of weakness, sin or failure. You’re not a bad person for getting worn out. It is an occupational hazard or known risk of providing empathy to others.
Only those who care can become fatigued. And just like our work changes day-to-day, levels of fatigue ebb and flow from one day to the next.
In ministry people often look to you to support them through challenges. You are witness to many people’s darkest seasons of life. Yet there is very little training on how to process the weight of all the tragedy that you see and hear.
The weight of people’s suffering grows and you can find yourself numb, cynical, and emotionally and physically exhausted.
As human you try to reason and discover the cause and naturally you tend to look inward. You feel blame, shame, and guilt. Eventually you find yourself questioning your calling, and if ministry is worth the cost as you look around at your broken relationships and compromised health.
Compassion fatigue can impact every area of your life.
It is an erosion of hope, empathy and compassion, both for yourself (seen by putting your own needs last) and for others (feeling numb and resentful).
But compassion fatigue isn’t the fault of the caregiver, but an occupational hazard. So ministry leaders need to learn the tools, strategies and resources that help overcome and prevent compassion fatigue.
You don’t have to retire or walk away from ministry to find freedom. There are strategies that you can do to help protect you from compassion fatigue.
Just like people who work on a construction site wear a helmet to protect them from known work hazards, those in support roles in ministry can protect themselves from the impacts of compassion fatigue.
I know this because I experienced compassion fatigue myself. After 10 years of working as a mental health social worker I found myself experiencing high levels of compassion fatigue.
I sought our support, and worked through a process to find freedom.
In my course Finding Hope in Helping I combine my clinical mental health training, lived experience, and compassion fatigue educator training and walk you through a step-by- step process to revive your life and renew your passion.
Some of the strategies within the course are given in my weekly videos, but in the course I go into them deeper and walk you through each step in detail with many more resources in the workbook. The course is designed specifically with the busy ministry leader in mind so as to not overwhelm or add be a burden.
If you interested in learning more about the course you can go to findinghopeinhelping.org. Or you can even email me. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
I realize not everyone is ready to dive into the course and so I will continue to offer weekly video content that will equip you to serve your community without wearing yourself out .