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The Cost of Caring

How to avoid compassion fatigue as you care for others

Know Your Story

If I’m going to join people in their stories, I have to know my own—including my wounds. This means I actually have to know my own story, especially where there has been struggle and sorrow, because my wounds will be triggered by the similar wounds of others. When I don’t identify and tend to the places of pain in my own life, I’m basically leaving up metal rods on the roof of my home in a thunderstorm and inviting lightning to strike. When it does, it will short out my system, leaving me confused and scared in a cold, dark house.

To combat this, I must have compassion and empathy for my own story and regularly receive kindness and care for my wounds from others. It’s critically important to have friends who will join me in weeping over my scars and honoring where blood has been shed and the earth scorched and burned in the battle of my own life. This provides protection and provision for my heart as I step into the wounds of others.

Engage in Self-Care

It’s also been important for me to have regular rhythms of self-care. If you’re called to a ministry of compassion and empathy, you can’t put off caring for your heart and body until some future weekend retreat or getaway that may or may not ever come. You need daily rituals. It’s regular self-care that brings health and healing.

Every day I intentionally surround my body and spirit with nourishment and beauty. Sometimes that means eating homemade chicken soup from a pretty bowl and. Sometimes that means reading a poem by David Whyte or Mary Oliver. Sometimes that means wearing a colorful scarf and taking a walk in the woods. And sometimes it means standing in the shower until the hot water runs out.

At the end of the day, my body, heart, and mind are burdened by the suffering and struggles of others. The easy options are simply to absorb that weight day after day or escape for a little while into Candy Crush or a bag of Doritos.

Instead, I’ve been trying a bedtime practice of accounting, blessing, and releasing. I sit with both feet on the floor, close my eyes, and breathe deeply and slowly to invite release and rest. Then I think through my day, and write down two or three things that were blessings of goodness. I also name what the day has cost me in exhaustion, anger, sorrow, or pain. I ask Jesus to help me discern what is mine, and then I give back to him and others what is not. Finally, as I go to sleep, I open my heart to hear God singing Psalm 23 over me as a lullaby for my soul.

November05, 2015 at 8:00 AM

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