During his years on earth Jesus lived a life of compassion, and he clearly expected that his followers would be similarly concerned, in practical ways, about the poor, the needy, and the distraught. In the epistles, compassion is a theme that comes up repeatedly. “Bear one another’s burdens,” we read. “Do good to all men.… Visit orphans and widows in their distress.… Contribute to the needs of the saints.… Practice hospitality.… Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.… If your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink.… If a man is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one.… Love one another.” If our beliefs do not result in compassionate acts, James wrote, then our faith is dead.

But helping people can be a difficult task. It takes time, effort, and patience, and according to recent studies at the University of California in Berkeley, it is common for counselors and other dedicated helpers to “burn out,” exhausted by the demands of people in need (“Burned Out Samaritans,” Human Behavior, September, 1976). Psychologists, psychiatrists, nurses, social workers, and physicians were among the 200 people interviewed by Dr. Christina Maslach and the Berkeley research team, but the findings surely extend to pastoral counselors and other Christians who work intensively with people.

Burn-out occurs when we work closely with troubled human beings over long periods of time and with little opportunity to retreat. When a helper can leave his or her work at the office and return to a stable and relaxing home situation, burn-out is less likely to occur. But leaving the ...

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