Reflections on spiritual themes (and a few other things).

Month: June 2023

Compassion Fatigue

The clinical term is secondary traumatic stress syndrome. A more euphemistic term is compassion fatigue. What most of us call it is burnout.

It’s when you feel like you have no more empathy to give. It’s a feeling of helplessness in the face of helping others who are suffering in some way. It’s the loss of joy when giving help.

It’s normally associated with people who are in the care-giving business: first-responders, healthcare workers, therapists, military personnel, social workers, and ministers. Experts have noted, however, that more and more the general public is experiencing it because of constant bombardment with appeals for charity and the pervasiveness of crime. When you’re tired of doing good and skeptical that it even matters, you’re suffering from compassion fatigue.

I think the apostle Paul was familiar with the concept. Although I doubt that he looked at it in a clinical way, he understood the tendency to get tired of doing good for others. In the book of Galatians, he said, “Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary. So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith” (Galatians 6.9-10).

He was writing to the churches of Galatia who had been fighting among themselves about their salvation. Were people justified before God by faith in Christ or by the Law of Moses? Their disagreements led to strife and disagreement. They were tired of fighting and Paul offered them a better way. 

In chapter five, he told them to walk by the Spirit and not by the flesh. Then in chapter six he follows this with practical exhortations about how to treat one another in Christ. It ends with the two verses we just read, where he told them to look for opportunities to do good. But he warns them that doing good can be a tiresome exercise, so he encourages them to not become weary in well doing, and not to lose heart about it. Negatively, don’t stop doing good. Positively, continue always in doing good.

By way of commentary, John Wesley (1703-1791) is credited with saying, “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.”

For today and every day, do some good.

Elimination or Adaptation?

Motivation is simple. You eliminate those who are not motivated.

Lou Holtz

That’s one possible solution. The coach may bench an unmotivated player or cut him from the team. The boss in the workplace may be able to fire an unproductive worker. 

But not always.

There are three reasons for this. First, you can’t always get rid of problematic people. The lazy athlete may be more popular than the coach. The athlete may be protected by a stubborn administrator or irate parents or an ironclad contract. Or maybe nobody better is available.

Second, there may be better ways of motivating others: Being patient with them; showing them a better way; offering further training or opportunities; making the workplace more internally competitive. All these tactics might be better motivators than the threat of punishment.

Third, this approach overlooks the fact that success sometimes emerges from situations we can’t change. We may not be able to control our coworkers’ attitudes, but we can change ours. We may not be able to change the work others do, but we can improve ours. And, when all else fails, we could learn to be content with the situation. Yikes!

When the apostle Paul wrote his letter to the church in Philippi, he was in jail at the time. Some of his fellow preachers took advantage of his imprisonment. They thought that since he was in jail, they could gain a competitive advantage over Paul. With him out of the way, they could advance their own ministries.

Paul’s response? “Some, to be sure, are preaching Christ even from envy and strife, but some also from good will; the latter do it out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel; the former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition rather than from pure motives, thinking to cause me distress in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in this I rejoice” (Philippians 1.15-18).

Paul couldn’t control his circumstances or theirs. He couldn’t change their motives or actions. So, he found the good in what they did, even if their motives were corrupt.

For us, maybe we can’t change someone else’s motivation, but we can change our own. Maybe we can’t change our circumstances, but we can certainly change our attitudes. Maybe we can’t get rid of our problems, but we can choose to thrive and grow anyway. 

It’s about doing whatever we can do, regardless of what others may or may not do.