Compassion Fatigue

Empty-handed I come to these healing waters. It’s been a long, strenuous journey. At first, familiar adrenaline energized my gait and disguised the exhaustion, but gradually, the pace began to sag till I arrived here in a slump.

Like oil leaks from a degraded engine, behind me puddles of caffeine-induced stamina mixed with discharges of drained compassion and a diminished capacity to listen leave a trail.

According to Golden Eagle, a company that specializes in producing car maintenance products, oil links in cars are a tricky business:

“A leak of any kind should be addressed immediately, but an engine oil leak even more so. Knowing what causes engine oil leaks will help you know where to look and how to start fixing it yourself. Don’t ignore it, or hope it fixes itself.“

Perhaps I have been ignoring it, hoping it would fix itself. The engine light signaling exhaustion has been blinking for a while:

  • Sensations of ants crawling under my skin when I go to bed
  • Throbbing headaches in the middle of the day
  • Disproportionately jolting by every notification on my phone
  • Anxiety over the too-packed calendar

Golden Oil exhorts us:

“Be proactive. Protect and preserve your vehicle’s performance so you can keep it on the road where it’s meant to be.” Yet it isn’t proaction on my part, but the sheer act of protective mercy of God, that pulls this vehicle off the road for a while.

I had heard His call to rest, but didn’t know how to heed it. For every margin I tried to establish, a dam broke somewhere else. I couldn’t take this Sabbath by force, so it was handed to me as a gift ― the way water to a parched marathon runner is a gift.

I don’t take it for granted.

I close my eyes and shut down all other senses while the life-restoring liquid slowly enters my internal desert. It’s hard to temper my breaths and pace the gulps, but I try to be present and just receive one drop at a time.

Gradually the overheated fumes cool down and the fog begins to clear.

And then He comes to me, the One my soul loves and has learned to recognize among a thousand voices. Though still on wobbly feet, I fall into cadence with Him as we begin to walk along the water’s edge.

He gives me space for the stream-of-consciousness questions that now spill out unedited and unashamed:

  • Why is it so hard for me to know when to say yes or no?
  • Why am I always torn between the principles of balance and the call to sacrifice?
  • What do we do when the needs continually overwhelm the resources?

Like hot tears, my frustrating dilemmas keep pouring out till their reservoir is drained. It’s a good emptying. Peace fills their place as we keep strolling wordlessly.

I feel like a child who has thrown a million puzzle pieces on the floor and now expects the adult to begin making sense of them.

It’s okay that He takes His time.

I’m not rushed inside anymore.

“I know it’s a lot,” He then says, adding, “In fact, it’s impossible for you. So I’m glad you came here. Let’s go off to a quiet place and rest awhile.”

When He shows me the place where I can lie down, I don’t resist. Inside His peace I feel even more just how tired I am. My head, my eyes, my legs; everything is so heavy.

I feel the shifting shadows and lights as hours and days pass over my sleep. A lighter air awaits me when I wake up, and He is still there.

Stroking my hair while I lay with my eyes closed, He gently explains,

“You will always have more needs around you than you can satisfy. You will always be torn between your own thirsts and those of others. That’s what keeps you so dependent on Me.

But I will teach you the unforced rhythms of grace. I will teach you to recognize the seasons of your soul. There’s a time to be flexible and a time to be firm, a time to give and a time to receive. This is where your leak is.”

And I realize that I have reversed the appropriate reactions to my engine lights. When I should have slowed down, instead I sped up, attempting to attend faster, and therefore more rushed, to the increasing cries for help.

But I can’t ignore them, though, right?

“No, but you can entrust them to Me. You are limited; I am not. Every human resource will run dry; that’s how I designed it to protect you from looking to each other for what only I can give.”

As Priscila Shirer states on page 69 in her book, Breathe, which talks about making space for Sabbath in your life:

“Believing that doing less can somehow produce more requires resilient faith. It takes an unshakable, concrete trust in God ― the kind that won’t topple in even an earthquake of doubt ― to maintain the confidence that allows you to stop, even when everything in you and around you says keep going. Keep pushing. Keep persisting.”

Compassion fatigue is so common in ministry, so accepted as a necessary battle scar. I can diagnose it in others and help coach toward gentler ways while somehow missing its flashing warnings in myself.

Listening to these healing waves’ faithful rhythm in tireless tides that approach and retract, back and forth, accepting the continual dance, I realize that my own rhythms of grace will be found in similar fluid motions.

Beth Moore affirms this in her Instagram story on September 19, 2020:

“Until we see Jesus face-to-face, our journeys won’t be straight lines nearly as often as they will be a series of loops rolling us forward by circling us back to faith.”

So we go back to our daily lives with our hands full of His gifts, only to return back to His ocean at a later moment to have them filled again. To my surprise, He dips His hands in the ocean and playfully splashes its salty drops on my face before He pulls me into His arms, laughing. Childlike.

“I’ll be with you, remember! Every day, every moment. Yes, you will need to mature in cultivating the principles that nourish your soul, for they are life to you. But when you lose your balance, when you hit rocky ground, I will be here to catch you. This is not a test to trip you up! This is the grand adventure you were made for!“

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