Ministry, compassion fatigue, & quiet time

At the beginning of this blog, I promised to talk about my work as an outreach minister and a fire department chaplain. It just occurred to me that I have not really done that. My job is most focused on local outreach in the economically disadvantaged areas of our city. I form new partnerships with local service providers and maintain our current relationships. These places include homeless centers, community centers, parks, schools, prison ministries, etc. Some of our support is financial, and some are through volunteers.

I view my job as a partner is to become invested in the staff. What they do is hard, and it involves getting in the mud with people to help them see the way out. This is what Jesus did for people; he met them where they were. Jesus went to the well in the heat of the day to meet the Samaritan woman, and he ate dinner at Matthew’s house, Zacchaeus’s house, and Levi’s house with tax collectors and sinners, he touched a leper, and so on. We all know that Jesus said it was the sick who need a physician, and that’s what the staff is to those they help. It’s also who they are to those who volunteer for their organizations.

Meeting people where they are and offering long-term relationships is hard. Caring for people in trauma is hard. Ezekiel 36:26 says, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” Receiving that heart of flesh means that our hearts will be broken the same way that God’s is broken for us. When we allow our hearts to be touched by others or broken for others, it means that we are also carrying another’s trauma. Doing this for too long leads to compassion fatigue and burnout if no one is pouring back into you. This is where I come in. I pray for the organizations I’m a part of. I pray for their staff and their volunteers. I send them encouraging messages and the things that the spirit laid on my heart about them. I stop by to visit, sometimes with little goodies. In return, they often share their prayer requests with me. It is an honor when they feel they can share with me. It truly is, but it also means that I carry their trauma.

Compassion fatigue is real and something that I occasionally feel. It often happens when I’ve been carrying the trauma of others for a while and my own stress while also doing the tasks I have to complete in my job. I have learned to follow Jesus’ lead when I am feeling overwhelmed. I retreat to a quiet space and spend some time with God. Sometimes that means I talk about how I am feeling; sometimes, I just read Scripture, but it always ends up with a prayer of thanksgiving for what I get to do and for the people in my life.

We have all been in a season of holding and waiting during this pandemic. Figuring it how to do the things that need to be done with ever-changing restrictions and information has been exhausting. But for me personally, it has not been taxing. The pivots we’ve made have been relatively easy to navigate. This means that my fatigue hasn’t been compassion-related; it’s boredom-related. I am excited to face challenges and start new things. Sometimes those new things are just doing the same things but from a different viewpoint. I have been feeling hemmed in and restrained. It causes dissatisfaction in me. The feelings of frustration and dissatisfaction are not. The wish to do more for the Kingdom is from God. This is the place where my prayers for myself have been centered. I am praying for discernment for the direction God would have us go next. I hope that you are praying for that for yourself.

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