Posted by: smstrouse | May 14, 2011

Practicing Resurrection Amidst Compassion Fatigue

I don’t know why it’s been getting to me lately. Maybe it’s the daily begging breaks on my NPR station. And the nightly tearful pleas on TV from ChildFund International. Then today at a church gathering, a group of young people who went to Rwanda last year raising money to bring a delegation of Rwandan youth here. A well-meaning woman encouraged us to each give at least $50. “You know you can do it,” she declared.

I must admit that I’ve already been feeling guilty for not giving more money to disaster relief.  When Hurricane Katrina hit, I was on it immediately. Same for the earthquake in Haiti and the oil spill in the Gulf. But in each subsequent disaster (Pakistan, New Zealand, Japan, and now Alabama, Missouri, et al), my response has been less than enthusiastic.

I think they call it compassion fatigue. Which explains my feeling of resentment when urged to give $50 because “you know you can do it.”  I may indeed have been able to give $50 to a worthy cause today (and it was a worthy cause). But they are all worthy causes. How in the world can I respond faithfully to all of them?!  I do believe that I am a privileged member of the world community and that I do have a responsibility to give out of the abundance that I have received.

But doesn’t it seem like the natural disasters are coming much faster, one after another? Is this a result of climate change? I don’t know. But if it is, then we can expect more victims of floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, wildfires, mudslides, etc., etc.  Again – how do we respond faithfully?

I’m thinking that the first thing I need to do is make a plan (my usual anal response!). So, instead of being reactive to every caused that comes along and every young person with a clipboard who accosts me outside my favorite cafe with a request for a monthly donation (conveniently charged to my credit card), I need to designate a certain amount of my budget to disaster relief and charitable causes. And, yes, I can give a donation to the youth group for their Rwanda trip, but I don’t have to be bullied into giving an amount that I haven’t budgeted for.

Money is a funny thing. I can get so anxious about it when I think about paying my bills or the possibility of buying a house someday. But money is really, as a wise spiritual director once told me, financial chi.  And, like the life force within our bodies, we move our money around in order to allow it to bring life and health as effectively as possible. In other words, we have to practice financial tai chi and qigong. And for this follower of Jesus, that means also practicing resurrection – bringing hope and new possibilities into a hurting world.  It means hearing Jesus say, “You know you can do it” and being able to respond – without resentment – “Yes, I can!”


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