As an undergrad, I majored in Criminal (Juvenile) Justice. As I interned with the Kalamazoo Probate Court, I learned about compassion fatigue first hand. However, that experience was introductory compared to caring for our newly adopted child.
Having been raised in an Eastern European orphanage from birth to almost four years of age, little Sasha was a heart-broken, un-diagnosed (therefore untreated), bundle of unfocused energy.
Our first months together consisted of constant indulgence of his sensory deprivation and his inability to ever be away from me without his fear of separation making him extremely upset or even ill. I eventually got used to his watching me shower (or joining me while he was still fully clothed), or his sitting on my lap while I used the toilet. It was draining, exhausting and an unexpected addition to the already stressful situation I was in (read about our adoption journey in “Until We All Come Home: A Harrowing Journey, a Mother’s Courage, a Race to Freedom,” Faith Words, 2012). But I loved him. A mother’s dilemma.
Over the next few years, I found myself exhausted. I felt a strange sort of emptiness. His pain was my pain, yet whatever I did made little difference. Exhausted, empty, I cried out to God to fill me, to heal my son, and sometimes I just prayed, “Help!”
Compassion fatigue is described as “the overall experience due to chronic use of empathy when helping those who are suffering in some way” (my simplified version of Newell & MacNeil’s study definition, 2010). With any parenting, there can come fatigue. Special needs parenting raises fatigue to a higher level, and perhaps, an even greater need for attention. While not limited to adoptive parents, those involved in the foster care system or those ministering to orphan care needs, I have heard more such talk about compassion fatigue from these groups more than any other I know.
With all praise to God’s grace, I discovered three simple yet effective strategies that helped me the most while dealing with compassion fatigue, and they were found in God’s word.
1. LOVE GOD (Matthew 22:36-40)
When you love someone, you spend time with them. Yet recent studies reveal that many Christians are not in the word of God everyday. Start simple; a devotional constructed around at least one verse or verses. I chose, “Our Daily Bread” (mailed to our home monthly and free) and “Jesus Calling” (I actually bought it in two different formats–hard copy and a phone app, to ensure constant availability). The next decision is harder – Make a decision to read everyday. Some days I needed to read the devotional a couple of times (sleepy eyes blur easily and a multi-tasking mom’s mind often fails to catch everything the first time). Then, I discovered “31 Nuggets of Hope,” a devotional especially written for adoptive parents by Shelly Roberts. Only 30 days long, this power-packed devotional can be read and re-read over a span of months. Highly recommended for those searching for a more specific devotional versus a general one.
2. PRAY BOLDY (Ephesians 3:20)
After reading (and if time allowed, re-reading) the days devotion, follow-up with a short prayer. Mine usually went something like this:
“Dear Heavenly Father. Thank you for your word. I am seeking your will for my life. Help me to apply what I read. Re-fill me with your grace for anything I face today. No one knows what I will need more than you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.” Short prayers like this one, throughout the day, worked best for me. Be specific, bold, and keep asking. There is power in prayer.
3. PRAISE CONSTANTLY (Hebrews 13:15)
If fatigue (or worry or fear, for that matter) engulfs you, little will help more than praising God.
Praise him for what he has done, is doing, and will do. Praise him throughout your day. Praise him in song. Satan can’t get away fast enough. Praise is another under-utilized power source – tap it.
Those are the three simple strategies which help in my battle against compassion fatigue. Share yours in the comment section below.
* Photo courtesy of Cathy Cantu, blogger at 5 Minutes for the Frazzled Mom