Beyond Compassion Fatigue

There’s a lot going on.  Sometimes we want to pull the covers over our head and stay in bed.  The news feed on our phone and TV brings a daily litany of rage and woe.

Yesterday an earthquake, the second in two weeks hit Mexico, with 242 dead and counting.  Today Hurricane Maria with record winds is ravaging Puerto Rico and soon to hit surrounding islands, already laid waste by last weeks Hurricane Irma. Its been only a few weeks since Hurricane Harvey visited the Gulf Coast and flooded the city of Houston.

What to do?

Some of us stop watching the news.  It’s just too much to absorb.

Others write checks, offer prayers and even grab supplies and head down to help as best we can. It’s cathartic to do something.

There is however a deeper opportunity at hand.  A spiritual opportunity.  An invitation to remain open to the stories of those in harm’s way.

To see oneself in the face of the mom striving to provide for her children.  To identify with the dad who grieves the loss of a home.  To hear the exhaustion in the voice of a first responder.

Taking time to be present to the stories we read and the voices we hear can touch us at a deep level.  As we remain open,  rather than deplete us, each person’s story can serve to both humble us and inspire.


What I’m saying is that between avoidance and action is a third way.  A way of becoming more human.   To see the humanity in the face of a Syrian refugee, to wonder at the tenacity of a Houstonian swamping out their house, to relate to the fear of a child who worries what tomorrow will bring.  To see oneself in each of their lives.

Such openness is a spiritual practice.  A way of becoming more fully human, more alive and ultimately more connected and committed to the well-being of others.

Opening ones story to the story of others is an invitation to transformation. No longer is there a them and us….there is simply an us.

My faith tradition calls this communion, deep communion.  The belief that as we relate more deeply to others we find our true self and are met by the God of many names. The One who is the ground of all being.


4 thoughts on “Beyond Compassion Fatigue

  1. Karen Ansara

    Kent, this is an extraordinary message I need to reread often when I am tempted to compartmentalize the world’s suffering. Thank you for staying radically open to each person’s story and pain. As we do, our deep listening can lead us to acts of both compassion and justice. My friend Sasha Chanoff has just written in today’s USA Today a searing op-ed about our government’s plan to slash refugee admissions from the typical 95,000 a year to 50,000, a travesty when there are 22.5 million refugees in the world!!!

    Our country is the only one poised to accept abandoned children without relatives. We cannot shut them out! Each one has an unimaginable story. Thank you for your incredible prophetic gifts and humble spirit. – Karen

    1. Thanks Karen for your encouragement and for your ongoing good work for the sake of those of us on the margins. Your friend Susan’s prophetic words to the Trump administration are particularly compelling and heartbreaking. Trump and his minions are advocates for a nativist nationalism that want to roll back the time line to a mythical time when the USA was more white and European in background. That nativism an racism go hand in hand must not be denied. The Good News within the Christian tradition is that for Jesus there is no ‘us’ and ‘them’, there is only ‘us’. It is truly a theological imperative to stand with our neighbors at risk around the world….for we are all children of God. I’m a child of God first and an American second. Our neighbors are not to be limited to national borders. Karen, you completely get this truth. Thanks for all you do.

  2. Ami Stockellburg

    In reading this, you have grounded me with the fact that God is always in control, no matter how out of control this world is and how out of control and overwhelmed I may feel. No matter how scared I may feel at all the worlds devastating happenings, or Trumps inflaming words that just seem to bring us closer to a volital world, You write and remind us that it goes beyond just ourselves, or even others- it goes all the way to God.

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