Overcoming compassion fatigue

A Christian Science perspective: What inspires compassion and kindness?

Many of us have often felt a deep surge of love and desire to help when we encounter someone in need or see a powerful image on the news. And yet, over time, we may find that we get so used to seeing such needs that we stop seeing them as opportunities to care for others.

Earlier this year, the Monitor posed the question, “How do you keep your sense of empathy in the face of compassion fatigue?” on one of its Take Action pages. This question resonated with me because I care about mankind, but at times I have struggled with compassion fatigue.

For instance, I particularly follow reports about the civil war in Syria. Although I have not been to Syria, I’ve become friends with Syrian refugees here in my hometown of Berlin. I care deeply about this situation. Recently, however, I read a report that was quite discouraging, and I began to feel a sense of hopelessness and resistance to doing what I could to help.

This feeling seemed unnatural, and I prayed for an idea, for some inspiration, to overcome it. For me, prayer is a way of acknowledging that we live in the presence of God, at one with God. The unselfishness this spiritual reality inspires can break through and remove the spell of compassion fatigue. As I prayed, Psalm 24 brought a deep insight into the nature of God, who is Life itself: “The earth is the Lord’s, and all its fullness, The world and those who dwell therein” (verse 1, New King James Version). I saw more clearly that God maintains His own spiritual creation, which includes each of us (see Genesis 1:26, 27).

Being sustained by God, who is divine Love, means that we each have an infinite capacity to love. We don’t need to expect our desire or ability to care for others to become numb. Divine Love itself is nourishing and nurturing us all.

As I looked again at the news with these ideas in mind, a powerful idea unfolded itself in my thought: “It is impossible for man, God’s child, each one of us, to be without God, anywhere, anytime.” We can never lack love. The founder of The Christian Science Monitor, Mary Baker Eddy, wrote in her primary work, “The scientific unity which exists between God and man must be wrought out in life-practice, and God’s will must be universally done” (“Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” p. 202).

It is so encouraging to know that this unity of God and man is the source of everyone’s true being, health, and joy. It is not a unity between material personalities and God, Spirit, but the spiritual relationship of divine Spirit to its idea, man, whose spiritual individuality is always secure in God. We are imbued with dignity, wholeness, relevance, value – everyone is worthy and loved. This fact stems from the nature of God as Spirit and the spirituality of the universe, in which all of us, as God’s ideas, matter equally to Him. God’s love never stagnates, and our ability to express that love never does, either.

So here’s what has helped me maintain my compassion with eagerness when I see a need: prayerfully siding with God, good, and seeing the oneness of God and man. Honoring divine Life as the ever-present source of health and progress. Accepting the unity of God and man as the powerful truth of our being. Knowing that no one is ever separated from Spirit, from divine Love, from Life. Praying to see that God is present everywhere. This has restored my sense of hope and the spirit to continue expressing kindness and care to others, even when things seem difficult. This approach is energizing, instead of fatiguing.

Since God never tires, and we are made in God’s image, expressing qualities such as love and joy actually cannot tire us. Divine Love is sustaining man and inspiring only good thoughts, motives, and deeds. Whether we’re in the trenches of a conflict aiding refugees or humbly supporting healing efforts in our prayers, we can always let God’s love invigorate and uplift our sense of charity, care, and compassion.

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Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.