Overcoming Compassion Fatigue

A Christian Response to EvilGalatians 6:9

This is the third in the series “A Christian’s Response to Evil.”  In this series we are looking at common responses in a season of terror and how we as believers need to be responding.  Last post I wrote that the common first reaction to evil is rage… but how our response needs to be Godly anger or resolve.

In this post I want to address the common response in the wake of tragedy of weariness or compassion fatigue.  The last 7 years in American history have shaken up all of us.  Clackamas Town Center, Oregon shooting (12/11/12)… Sikh temple shooting in Wisconsin (8/5/12)… Aurora, Colorado theatre shooting (7/20/12)… Cafe Racer Espresso shooting in Seattle, WA (5/29/12)… Oikos University shooting in Oakland, CA (4/2/12)… Chardon High School shooting in Chardon, OH (2/27/12)… IHOP restaurant shooting in Carson City, NV (9/6/12)… Safeway shooting in Tucson, AZ (Rep. Gabby Giffords shot in the head) (1/8/12)… Fort Hood Shooting (11/5/09)… Virginia Tech Shooting (4/16/07)… Amish Schoolhouse shooting in Lancaster, PA (10/2/06)….  that is just seven years back… and I didn’t include all of the mass killings in the list.

If you are like me when you heard about the Boston Marathon bombing last week your first thought was:  “Again?”  It is so easy to want to give up on caring… to get tired of helping.  Because the tragedies don’t end.

Last Monday in Boston someone literally blew up the finish line.  Weary runners that had been on the course for 4 hours… exhaustionwith the end in their sights watched as chaos ensued.  Have you ever felt that way about life?  You help and help and there seems to be no keeping the darkness back.  Then… there goes the finish line.  You want to sit on the track and cry.  You reach the point that your heart shrinks and you want to go back to caring for  “me and mine” and leave all that saving the world stuff for somebody else.

The Scriptures teach that as believers we are not to “… lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary.”

Jesus taught us to go an extra mile.  Some of the runners at the marathon crossed the finish line and didn’t stop running until they ran to the nearest hospital to offer blood.  Some dehydrated runners in medical tents with IV’s in their arms, ripped them out to clear the tent for the wounded.

Let me ask you, believer… “What extra mile are you running?”  For the hurting, the downtrodden, the exploited, the lost in this world.

Romans 12:17 & 21 teaches us: 17 Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. …21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.  The goodness that comes out of you thwarts the efforts of the “terrorists.”  So give, help, serve and love.

How can I help a city that is 1,100 miles away?  You can start by helping your neighbor across the street.  Don’t lose heart… instead offer  a compassionate “extra mile” kind of compassion.

Mark Buchanan in his book, The Holy Wild, shared an excerpt from a letter written by a missionary couple in Brazil:

“Driving through the Christmas traffic, fighting the drizzling rain, I chanced on a four-year-old little girl.  She was wet and cold and shaking.  Her clothes were ragged, her hair was matted, and her nose was running.  She walked between the cars at the stoplight, washing headlights because she was too short to wash windshields.  A few gave her coins, others honked at her to get away from their vehicles.

As I drove away only some fifty cents poorer, I raged at God for the injustice in the world that allowed the situation.  “God, how could you stand by, helpless?”  Later that evening, God came to me softly with that still small voice and responded not in like kind to my rage, but with tenderness, “I have done something.  I created you.”  (The Holy Wild, pp.  86-87.)

God hasn’t moved the finish line.  The finish line is Christ-like character.  And every crisis is another chance to grow in His grace.

Heated Debate

fightActs 15: 36-41

37 Barnabas wanted to take John, called Mark, along with them also. 38 But Paul kept insisting that they should not take him along who had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work. 39 And there occurred such a sharp disagreement that they separated from one another, and Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus.

I read a recent article on a Christian website titled:  “10 Honest Observations from a Former Church Insider.”  The author of the article had been a pastor for many years and then at a relatively young age (for reasons not cited) had to step down.  He mentioned what it was like to now be an “outsider” in church.  He listed 10 things that he saw were problems that perhaps someone so close to the heartbeat of a church might be blinded to.  I agreed with him on just about everything and appreciated his insights… and was about to move on.  Then I read the comments from pastors that read the article before me.  Many were not kind!  They didn’t like much of what the author had to say, but sometimes it bordered on people not liking him personally.  One critic wrote:  “I will gladly take advice from anyone willing to get in there and do the work. Not just leave when things are not going their own way.”  Another wrote:  “I became bored with hearing the same “complaints” from yet another disenchanted church goer.”   The idea of hearing ideas from a “quitter” was too much for some.

Just when I was completely discouraged… a number of Barnabas people stepped in and saved the day… offering encouragement and peace.   Some were among bloggers that I trust David I. Guinn and Joe McKeever.

I call these men Barnabas people because the comment page appeared to me at times to be a retelling of the sharp disagreement Paul and Barnabas had over Mark way back in the book of Acts.  It was a “sharp” disagreement… as the Greek will bear out.  Barnabas wanted to give his cousin another chance.  Paul wanted to show him the door.

The Bible does not tell us who was right or wrong,  just that the debate was heated and the result was a split of the Apostolic Missionary Super Team.   NT Scholar A.T. Robertson remarked:  “No one can rightly blame Barnabas for giving his cousin John Mark a second chance nor Paul for fearing to risk him again.  One’s judgment may go with Paul, but one’s heart goes with Barnabas.”

There is so much irony in this passage.  the second missionary journey began with the idea of checking up on people and churches from the first journey and seeing how they were doing spiritually .   Yet Paul is ready to give John Mark the boot before he even takes the young man’s spiritual temperature!  The second ironic thing is that Paul should have known by now the heart of his friend, Barnabas.  It wasn’t too long ago that Barnabas pulled a snot nosed kid out of the gutter and offered that young man a chance when no one else would even trust him… I refer, of course, to Paul himself.

My heart goes out to those who wrote out of concerned for this young man and his quest to find God… and to all Barnabas types that may face some rough criticism, but are still willing to extend a hand to “quitters” in an effort to help.

More on this… and a story too… later this week.

Dancing With the Porcupine

James 4:1-2

Vance Havner once remarked, “There are a lot of Christians like porcupines-they have a lot of good points, but you can’t get near them.”  How is it that God’s beloved children can become such a bristly bunch?  Is there a way we can get past our sharp edges? 

John Ortberg in his book Everybody’s Normal Till You Get to Know Them writes:  “As a general rule, porcupines have two methods for handling relationships:  withdrawl and attack.  They head for a tree or stick out their quills.  … Porcupines don’t want to be alone.  In the late autumn, a young porcupine’s thoughts turn to love.  But love turns out to be a risky business when you’re a porcupine.  Females are open to dinner and a movie only once a year; the window of opportunity closes quickly.  And a girl porcupine’s “No” is the most widely respected turndown in all the animal kingdom.  This is the porcupine’s dilemma:  How do you get close without getting hurt?”    That’s the question we ask ourselves sometimes when we attend church or when we date or try to strengthen our marriages or settle in to a new work place.  Dare I risk the quills of another’s self protection?  What we tend to forget is that we are always someone else’s porcupine.

James tackles relationships in today’s passage.  He seeks to get at the root of much of our relationship problems.  “What causes fights and quarrels among you?”  James says that the battles begin we we don’t feel we are getting our needs met.  We aren’t getting the necessary praise, admiration, attention or sympathy we feel we should… so we quarrel and fight to get it.  James feels there is a better way to get ones needs met:  Ask the Almighty!  Ask Him to supply your needs… your desire to be loved… your quest for significance.  Unplug yourself from getting your needs met solely through others.  Humans do not have the capacity to keep you charged up for very long… for they are plugged into you attempting to do the same thing!  I will share more about asking God for what you need later on in the week.

But for now, let’s get back to our poor porcupine.  Ortberg shares:  “Miracle of miracles: relationship does happen-even for porcupines.  On rare occasions, one porcupine will share space with another, and they become friends.  … Porcupines learn to keep their barbs to themselves.  Not only that, they figure out how to get together at least long enought to make sure that another generation will come along.  In an image too wonderful to be made up, naturalist David Costello writes, “Males and females may remain together for some days before mating.  They may touch paws and even walk on their hind feet in the so-called ‘dance of the porcupines.'”

Great picture!  Sometimes church is like that… pulling in our quills long enough to find a way to waltz.  When we each learn get our needs met in God – nobody gets hurt… and the dance goes on.