Compassion Fatigue

Not long ago I came across the phrase Compassion Fatigue. It stood out because it’s a term that I had never heard before. Compassion Fatigue is an interesting concept. It’s caused by too many appeals for financial aid. The result is insensitivity to the suffering of people – we become indifferent to the plight of the poor and needy.

Those of us in America have probably experienced it on some level. What was your reaction the last time your phone rang and on the other end was someone from a charitable organization asking you to make another donation? For you readers from other countries this happens on a regular basis in my country. There are dozens, perhaps hundreds of groups that collect money for military veterans, local and national police associations, health organizations, drug and alcohol abuse, children and youth – and the list goes on.

We are also exposed on a daily basis through television news broadcasts (and commercials) to the poverty and suffering of people – especially children in Third World countries; to the ravages of war and the squalor of refugee camps; to the devastation and heartache of the victims of hurricanes, typhoons, and earthquakes even in the remotest corners of the world. If it happens, we know about it and it isn’t long before someone is asking us to give.

Add to that your local church that asks you to give each week for their ministries, to support missionaries, to send someone on a short-term missions trip, to help local para-church ministries and you begin to get an idea of what compassion fatigue might look like.

The majority of these organizations asking for money provide a legitimate service and each one has to raise its own funds – sometimes millions of dollars. And the only way to get those funds is to ask. All of that is good, but there are some who fear that America has reached a point of fatigue – compassion fatigue and we are moving from a culture of generosity to a culture of insensitivity. We have seen too much poverty, too much suffering, too many hungry children.

For the Church of Jesus Christ this is a real problem. We are taught to give (Luke 6:38); to remember the poor and needy (Proverbs 14:31, Galatians 2:10); to be generous (2 Corinthians 9:6) and to do it all cheerfully (2 Corinthians 9:7). But most Christians have limited resources. You cannot give to everyone who asks for help. You probably cannot even give to every organization that you would like to help.

So what’s the answer? How do you decide which appeal to respond too and which to ignore? That’s a difficult question and the response will probably be different for every Christian. The important issue for the child of God is not to allow Compassion Fatigue to set in and begin to dictate your giving. Once it does you have crossed the line between cheerful giving and giving that is driven by a sense of obligation and duty.

Next Week: Some thoughts on resisting Compassion Fatigue.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

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