Sights and Insights
Devotion for Sept. 7, 2021
Don’t be misled: No one makes a fool of God. What a person plants, he will harvest. The person who plants selfishness, ignoring the needs of others—ignoring God!—harvests a crop of weeds. All he’ll have to show for his life is weeds! But the one who plants in response to God, letting God’s Spirit do the growth work in him, harvests a crop of real life, eternal life. So let’s not allow ourselves to get fatigued doing good. At the right time we will harvest a good crop if we don’t give up, or quit. Right now, therefore, every time we get the chance, let us work for the benefit of all, starting with the people closest to us in the community of faith.- Galatians 6:8-10 (The Message)
This week brought so many different urgent appeals. My email inbox is full of requests to respond to real immediate needs. From the Haiti earthquake, to Hurricane Ida going through Louisiana and then continuing on into our own area, to refugees arriving from Afghanistan, through wildfire in the Western United States, there is certainly quite a bit going on. It can feel rather overwhelming. On the one hand, some of this is a matter of awareness. That is, the world is always full of humanitarian crises and natural disasters. The bulk of them are simply not ones that connect to our lives enough for us to be aware of them. On the other hand, these are real, significant, and large instances of human suffering. With so much happening, how do we compassionate about the needs of people who are suffering while not falling into despair about the depths of needs?
Compassion fatigue is a name given to a sense of exhaustion that comes from the stress of given prolonged attention to the needs and struggles in the world. Seeing the amount of need and caring about it can lead to a sense of being emotionally depleted and leave us ending up feeling numb to the needs of those around us. Some psychologists suspect it may be one of the leading causes of people feeling exhausted today. The internet and continual television news means that we are inundated with causes calling for our compassion, and so by the time we are faced with situations where we are capable of making a real impact we are already worn out. How do we continue to care deeply about the needs of the world while still protecting our hearts enough to not be drained of our energy to respond?
Practices of meditation, mindfulness, and directed focus can help. They can help us to not be overwhelmed by the enormity of the need of the world. More deeply behind this, though, is the way that such practices open us to the movement of the Holy Spirit, which opens to us the deep well of God’s compassion to flow through us. In Galatians, Paul continually reminds the church of Galatia that instead of trusting their own works and a righteousness that comes from their actions, their salvation comes through faith in God’s grace known in Christ Jesus. Using our own power to be compassionate not only places our trust in ourselves rather than in God, it also leaves us with compassion fatigue. Yet as he comes to the end of that letter, he then points to the indefatigable energy for caring for others that comes with turning one’s heart over to the love of the Holy Spirit. In Christ, we become the conduit of that love that then reaches out to others.
We are called, then, to channel God’s compassion for others. On our own, we will grow weary and feel burdened by the weight of the needs of the world. Christ, however, has already shouldered that great burden, and the Holy Spirit continues to emanate compassionate love for the world. In trusting in Christ, we have a source of infinite compassion flowing through us that allows us to continue to care for the needs of the suffering around us without falling into despair. Our trust is in God’s compassion, not our own.