Compassion Fatigue

The caption on this photo reads:
Ronald and Helen Shewchuk sit down to a meal Wednesday at the Loaves and Fishes soup kitchen in Ithaca, N.Y. The Shewchuks have been eating many of their meals at the soup kitchen since losing most of their retirement savings during the economic downturn.

Stories like this are heartbreaking examples of how the economy is affecting so many people in unprecedented ways. Like the Shewchuks many people are experiencing the economic downturn in ways that they have never imagined possible. Unemployment has hit double digits and families are now really hurting.

On Thanksgiving night Ann and I watched a 30 minute TV show on the different ways that Kansas Citians are helping the poor and homeless people in our city. I have to admit that I was moved to tears as I heard a story about a family of four that lost their home and are living out of their car.. and the parents have jobs. My heart broke as I watched the different ways that homeless people are being cared for.

Sunday morning Rick Warren (pastor of Saddleback Church in California) used a phrase that I had never heard before - Compassion Fatigue. The term, used to describe the reaction that many have to enormity of problems such as these, seemed an appropriate to me. We can glaze over mentally when we think about things such as world poverty and hunger issues.. donations to charitable organizations seem to be just a drop in the proverbial ocean.. it is sometimes so hard to give when it is so difficult to imagine that our small donations would make a difference.

Back to that TV show.. I saw people who were making a difference one person and one family at a time. Whether they were delivering food to homeless people living under highway overpasses or volunteering at food panties, soup kitchens and shelters many people were responding to people's needs in such a compassionate way.

I think that the only way to combat compassion fatigue is to fully engage our compassion in the ways that many people have.. regularly and generously. As much as possible we should support local agencies with our time and finances as well as those that care for the poorest peoples in the world. Perhaps in this season where we celebrate God's gift of His Son we can engage our compassion and find ways to give to those who need it the most.


  1. Great reminder, Bob. I like what Rick said (we call him Rick around here, I don't mean it disrespectfully). I have felt that kind of overwhelming feeling myself. For now, I have one focus on my life and I don't have to go far to find it. But no matter what the issue is, homelessness, drug addiction, abuse...I think talking about it is helpful because it often inspires ACTION.

  2. Thousands, hundreds of thousands, of people bought homes they could not afford under government programs that they knew would mean they would need handouts indefinitely.

    So, what do you expect?

    It couldn't go on forever.

    Do you think a country that allows a million and a half innoncents to be butchered in the womb every year is not going to be judged?

  3. Rick did a great job on Meet the Press Barbara.

    Suspect you do not suffer from compassion fatigue Andrew.. but then again I may not be understanding what you are saying.. you must not have any friends out of work.

    And I think that we should engage our compassion for people whether God judges the USA or not.

  4. A good friend once commented when reflecting on the many unemployed, "were it not for luck, I could be one of them."

    Religions suffer from the self-righteous who when lifted up by their faith only look down on others.

  5. Ditto that comment for me about the self-righteous religious Joe. I think that so-called self-made men can also have that kind of an attitude.

    I think that Rick Warren did a good job on MtP demonstrating compassion which I think is the opposite of self-righteousness.

  6. Of course my comment about self-made men doesn't hold water when it comes to folks like Bill Gates who also was a guest on MtP. Generalization always gets me in trouble :)

  7. We are all guilty of generalizing. It's so easy to do.


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