by Trevor Hudson
Christ-followers who take seriously the gospel’s challenge to compassion often neglect to care for themselves. Whatever the reasons for this neglect (ranging from fear of doing anything that looks selfish, always wanting to please others, and needing to be needed to a sincere desire to put others first) inadequately caring for ourselves sets us up as prime candidates for compassion fatigue. We can care overmuch. Accepting the fact that we can care for others only when we care for ourselves guards us against the dangers of overcaring. . . .
When we do not show compassion toward ourselves, our compassion for others becomes poisoned with harmful toxins. However, once we learn to love ourselves as God does, we become freer to pour out our lives in sacrificial self-giving and to do so without resentment and heaviness of spirit. Having a proper love for ourselves, we can then forget ourselves, reach out to others, and respond to their needs. Self-love and other-love are bound together. Perhaps for this reason Jesus reaffirmed the centuries-old levitical command given to the Hebrew people as binding upon his followers: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 22:39). How do we become compassionate neighbors to ourselves? Here is a menu of possibilities worth exploring:
In caring for others we use up a great deal of physical and mental energy. If we do not replenish these limited resources, we run the risk of compassion fatigue. We cannot fulfill our God-given callings to be compassionate human beings in bodies that are constantly neglected and overextended. How we feed, exercise, relax, listen to, and nourish our bodies are matters relevant to faithful discipleship. As Francis of Assisi lay dying, someone asked if he would have changed anything in his ministry. Significantly he responded, “I would have been more kind to my body.” . . .
Most people have a favorite spare-time activity. Whether it be working in the garden, walking in the countryside, playing sport, listening to music, reading for fun, developing a personal hobby, going to the movies, or simply enjoying a leisurely bath, these activities possess wonderful resourcing potential. When we omit activities like these from our lives—as those who care are prone to do—we end up living resentful, joyless, and frazzled lives.
On the other hand, taking time to enjoy them renews energy levels, recharges inner batteries, and fills our empty tanks. If we want to give ourselves in compassionate caring, few aspects are more important than finding out what we enjoy doing—and doing it. . . .
Each of us sits next to a pool of tears. [It was in a conversation with Gordon Cosby that I first heard the phrase “pool of tears.”] Some pools are deeper than others, but each of us has a pool of his or her own. These pools represent our grief about the experiences that have crushed our spirits, scarred our souls, and crippled our relationships. Trying to bring consolation and comfort to others in their pain without giving attention to these painful memories renders us vulnerable to compassion fatigue. However, finding a human wailing wall where we turn our pain into speech renews our capacities to live and love more deeply. Besides experiencing the loving presence of God in the care and counsel of those who listen to us, we also find out that processing our own pain helps us reach into the hearts of others who are in pain.
Permit me a brief word of testimony in this regard. Over the years numerous people have affirmed in my life the gift of listening. I spend large chunks of my daily time offering a listening presence to people in pain. The flipside of this listening gift was, however, that I seldom spoke about my own pain. Bottled-up feelings and emotions raged in my heart, longing for release. Some years ago I decided to find a safe place where I could share my heart. In the presence of a patient and skilled listener I found the courage to express my inner anguish—a liberating, healing, and humbling experience. This journey toward my own healing has not ended, but I know that without it I would be in no position to care for others.
From A Mile in My Shoes.
Rev. Trevor Hudson is a good friend of the Upper Room and the best-selling author of Questions God Asks Us, A Mile in My Shoes and The Way of Transforming Discipleship (Companions in Christ). Trevor is married to Debbie and serves the congregation of Northfield Methodist Church in Benoni, just outside Johannesburg, South Africa.