Now more than ever, the world needs compassion. And it can come in many forms. But most often, truly life-giving compassion is displayed through tangible acts of kindness.
As we seek to show the heart of Jesus, this kind of compassion is a central facet of not only preaching the gospel, but living into the redemptive message of the gospel. Jesus tells us, “Whatever you did for the least of these, you do for me” (Matthew 25:40).
But the fact of that matter is that there’s so much genuine need out there. And it often feels like there are far too few people meaningfully involved in bringing about life-changing acts of compassion to those who need them–even within the Church.
If we let it, this can make us feel discouraged, overwhelmed, and can even engender a sense of hopelessness. This is what’s known as compassion fatigue or compassion burnout.
Compassion burnout is when you become so exhausted from your compassion efforts that you no longer have the capacity to continue. You can wind up feeling disillusioned and numb. And it can be incredibly difficult to come back from.
So the best way to fight against compassion burnout is to notice it early on and to take preventative measures to ensure that you have the capacity to make a positive impact for years to come.
Here are 3 ways you can avoid compassion fatigue and burnout.
1. Limit yourself to being meaningfully involved in only a handful of issues.
Part of the reason so many of us burnout is because we’re aware of far more needs than we have the personal capacity to fulfill. With the onset of the 24-hour news cycle and the ability to be continuously plugged into quite literally every important issue around the globe via the internet, the sheer depth and volume of physical, emotional, and spiritual needs that we can identify is nothing short of staggering.
This statement is fairly obvious, but we often need to be reminded: you do not have the capacity to meet every dire need you become aware of.
You can’t be at the forefront of providing clean water in Africa, stopping human trafficking in the Philippines, providing aid to refugees from the Middle East, fighting for prison reform in the United States, raising awareness and research funds for currently incurable diseases, and preaching the gospel to unreached people groups in South America. At least not all at the same time.
You might be able to be indirectly involved in one or all of these things through donations, raising general awareness, and championing the efforts of those who are at the forefront. But you, yourself, simply cannot be deeply and meaningfully involved in every issue that you know is important.
If you try, you’ll eventually reach a point of compassion burnout.
So you may want to limit yourself to the one or handful of issues that you’re most passionate about. Go hard after those few things, and leave the work on other important issues to others. What’s more is that you need to give yourself permission not to feel guilty about that.
It may feel coldhearted to decide that you aren’t going to work on this problem or that issue. But if you truly believe that God is in control, you can trust that he will burden the hearts of others to rise and show compassion in areas where you don’t have the capacity to do so.
2. Set reasonable expectations.
If you’re anything like me, you want to change the world. And you want it done, like, yesterday. And while zeal is a good thing, your overambitious expectations may be setting you up for compassion burnout.
Setting reasonable expectations for the scope and depth of your impact is an important emotional boundary that will keep you in it for the long haul. This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t dream big. Quite the contrary. When it comes to bringing about redemptive good for others, no one should be dreaming bigger than Christians.
I’ve often heard it said that we tend to overestimate what God can do through us in a year, but we vastly underestimate what he’s able to do through us in a decade–or a lifetime, for that matter. That’s the mentality you need to keep.
God truly does want to do miraculous things through you. His vision and timetable for how that happens just might be different than yours.
Oftentimes, our desire to make a big impact in a short period of time is borne out of a desire to not only be faithful, but to achieve greatness while doing it. Sometimes when God allows our efforts to be only incrementally more effective over a period of time (rather than exponentially more effective), it molds our character and burns away our selfish ambition.
Take time to allow for the possibility that God is purifying your vision. Don’t misplace your identity in the size of your results. If you do, you’ll burn yourself out in the process.
3. Be as committed to prayer as you are to helping.
A quick path to compassion burnout is when you fail to remember that it’s God’s power that works through you and not just the strength of your own efforts. If the weight of the world’s problems rests firmly on your shoulders, it will crush you.
Actively choose to offload that weight by taking it to God in prayer. Regardless of how much strength and determination you may have (and you might have a lot), it’s not nearly enough to sustain you. You need God to empower you.
Isaiah put it this way.
“Even youths shall faint and be weary,
and young men shall fall exhausted;
but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint.”
The only way to avoid compassion burnout is to wait on God to renew your strength. And the best way to invite God to renew your strength is to stay connected to him in prayer.
So ask God to give you the power to bless others through your acts of compassion. Ask boldly. It’s a request he is eager to answer.
You were never meant to be anyone’s savior.
Whenever you engage in the work of bringing about life-changing acts of compassion, always remember that you were never meant to be anyone’s Savior. Your whole purpose is to represent Jesus, his heart, and his redemptive power–not yours.
God doesn’t want to see you burnout. Allow him to fill you up so that you can be poured out on others. You will have nothing to give unless you are being poured into.
But as God is faithful to do abundantly and immeasurably more than you could ask and imagine, he will use you to show others the breadth, length, height, and depth of his love (Ephesians 3:20, 18).
Dive deeper into cultivating compassion in your life with our new book!
If you’d like to learn more about how you can effectively show compassion to others in your life, check out our new book!
Practicing Christian Compassion is a collection of 50 devotions to help you embody God’s grace in your daily life.
The book features:
- The five pillars of compassion―Learn how to be compassionate toward family, friends, colleagues, the local community, and the global community.
- Insightful scripture―Explore what being compassionate truly means for your faith as you learn to open your heart and love the way Jesus does.
- Helpful tips―Find ways to put your learnings into practice with helpful exercises and suggested action items that show you’re truly committed to compassionate living.
Become a more compassionate and faithful person with help from Practicing Christian Compassion.