“Compassion fatigue” is a relatively new term. It was coined in the 1980s and is defined as: “indifference to charitable appeals on behalf of those suffering, experienced as a result of the frequency or number of such appeals.”
Keeping up with the news is a full-time job and many are walking away from the modern-day news cycle. According to journalist Amanda Ripley, writing for the Washington Post, over 42 percent of Americans say they actively avoid the news. She cites that, “part of the problem is today’s news is not designed for humans.” I think what she’s saying — and what we all feel — is that it is just too much to see and hear all the negativity, suffering, and injustices in our world.
I get it. It’s exhausting and can feel overwhelming. Think about what it is like for kids today. Teens in high school today have grown up in a time where school shootings have happened every single year they have been in school. This is normal for them.. but this is not normal. This is a result of the world’s brokenness.
In the past, the only poverty you knew about was the poverty you saw. The only natural disasters that affected you were local ones. The only divorces you knew about were the families you were in relationship with. Today, the quantity of negative news online and on tv can easily lead each of us to feel desensitized or helpless in solving the world’s problems. Rather than entering into the world’s injustices, I’ll admit it’s easier just to remove ourselves.
The problem with removing ourselves from the world’s injustices and pain is that we are Christians.
The Christian way is not to remove yourself from problems, but to enter into the world’s problems and bring the hope of Jesus.
How do we do this?
Sadly, for many, the answer is nothing more than to feel sorry for someone. Is that really compassion? The answer is no.
“Slacktivism” is a relatively new term that combines “slacker” and “activism.” It is the practice of supporting a political or social cause that involves very little effort or commitment. Studies show that those who engage in particular causes on social media by clicking, liking, or sharing actually end up being less likely to donate time or money to the very cause they supposedly support.
Kris Kristofferson, who led a study for the University of British Columbia, states, “Our research shows that if people are able to declare support for a charity publicly in social media it can actually make them less likely to donate to the cause later on.”
I wonder if this hasn’t crept into the Church as well. The danger in our social-media-crazed world is that we often attribute feeling compassionate to actually being compassionate. But is feeling compassion enough?
The danger in our social-media-crazed world is that we often attribute feeling compassionate to actually being compassionate.
The Compassion of Jesus
As we study Jesus, the most common emotion attributed to Him is compassion. His compassion drew others to Him. In his book, One at a Time: The Unexpected Way God Wants to Use You to Change the World, author Kyle Idleman points out something that shows up time and time again when you examine the stories of Jesus’ compassion. He says, “The conjunction ‘and’ almost always follows His feeling of compassion.” Idleman then points out several stories where this happens. Here are a few:
- Matthew 14:14: Jesus had compassion on the multitude and healed all their sick.
- Matthew 15:32: Jesus had compassion on the crowd of 5,000 and miraculously fed them.
- Matthew 18:27: In telling a parable about a master who represents God, the master was filled with compassion for his servant and forgave him of his debt.
- Matthew 20:34: Jesus had compassion on two blind men and touched their eyes.
- Mark 1:41: Jesus was moved with compassion for a leper and healed him.
- Mark 6:34: Jesus had compassion on the crowd and began to teach them many things.
- Luke 7:13-15: When Jesus saw a woman grieving her dead son, He had compassion on her and raised her son from the dead.
- Luke 15:20: In telling a parable about the love of a father who represents God, the father had compassion on his lost son and ran to him and welcomed him home and threw a party for him.
So, what do we see in the life of Jesus as a servant?
True compassion is more than a feeling. The Oxford Dictionary claims that the opposite of compassion is indifference. To practice compassion means whatever is happening on your inside must elicit a response on the outside.
Returning to Idleman’s words, “The test of compassion is in the and.”
True compassion is a feeling followed by an action.
If we are to embody the way of Jesus as a servant, it is not enough for us to feel compassion toward the world’s injustices. Rather, we must act on it, or we prove to be no different from the ordinary person in the very world in which we are called to stand out.
I believe that many of us genuinely want to help those in need. Why do we struggle with this? I want to offer three reasons from my own life:
1. I don’t feel like my actions will make a difference.
Compassion fatigue comes from a never-ending news cycle that highlights injustice and negativity. It’s easy to get overwhelmed and forces me to ask some intrinsic questions:
- Where would I even start with so many injustices in the world?
- How do I choose who and when to help? If I help someone, aren’t there others who are worse off that need my help?
- If I help someone a little today, does that mean I’ll need to do more in the future?\
When I start down this line of thinking, many times I never actually do anything except feel sorry on the inside.
2. I believe someone else is more equipped to help.
Even when there is an opportunity to help someone in front of me, I may shrug it off and think that someone else will be better equipped to help, so I may pass by and depend on others.
I’m a big believer in finding out how each of us is uniquely gifted to make our biggest difference in this world. However, I can get so caught up in my “strengths” or “gifts” that I miss out on an opportunity to be obedient and serve the person in front of me. I must not believe the lie that someone else is far more equipped to help serve that person.
3. I don’t plan to serve beyond having good intentions.
A lot of people with good intentions never do anything. Intention is a good thing, but intention without a plan is, honestly, quite worthless.
Intention without direction leads to confusion, but intention with direction leads to transformation.
Two things will help to go beyond intention:
- One is to plan and partner with a church or organization on a regular basis for serving opportunities. If I don’t do this, I will revert to comfort every time, rather than being accountable to a commitment to help.
- Second, I pray every day for God to show me opportunities to serve. When I keep serving at the forefront of my mind, it helps me see opportunities in front of me. I don’t have to go overseas to serve; there are tons of things I can do in my community.
So, what does this mean for you? Each of you will have to diagnose this. Examine one area where you have failed to practice compassion in the past. For myself, I have reflected and become convicted of the belief that I can do more in areas such as the Church’s fight against racism. My heart stirs against injustice, especially for those in the black community. However, as a white, 40-year-old, blue-eyed, blond-haired, middle-to-upper class, six-foot-tall male, I haven’t always felt equipped to act in this battle. Thankfully, I have friends and allies in the black community who help me see the role I can play.
It’s time for the disciples of Jesus to step into the “and.” Feel for people and do something. If we always wait on someone else to do the work, many injustices will continue to grow in front of our eyes. Take the time to examine where you can act out compassion against injustices in the world. It may be different for each of us, but we all have a special ability to make an impact through acts of true compassion.
Thankfully, God didn’t just feel sorry for us —He acted. God came down, died, and rose from the dead to rescue and redeem us. Now, He calls us to do the same. Let’s do this!
The blog for today was taken from a devotion from our upcoming Serving Challenge. King of Kings will launch this sermon series, accompanied by a 40-day challenge book, on October 1, 2023.