How do you empathize, support and give Godly advice to people who are chronically ill without taking responsibility for their burden? Dr. B shares tips on how to avoid compassion fatigue when your compassion for others crosses over into bearing a burden that is not yours to carry.
Dear Dr B,
I have several family members and friends who have chronic illness and pain. I also work in ministry with many people who are going through a number of difficult struggles. It’s just my nature to want to do whatever I can to help. I pray for them, but I have to tell you that I also tend to carry their burdens with them and allow their struggles to really get me down. How can I empathize, support, and give Godly advice without suffering with them, feeling like I have to solve their problems, and having it negatively impact me?
First let me say that I love your compassionate nature. The body of Christ, and the church as a whole, needs more individuals like you who are not so concerned about having the right thing to say, but are willing to be a presence in someone’s storm. On behalf of all those you have ministered to, let me say thank you.
Are you experiencing compassion fatigue?
What is compassion fatigue?
Per WebMD, “compassion fatigue is a term that describes the physical, emotional, and psychological impact of helping others — often through experiences of stress or trauma.”
Is it compassion fatigue or false burden bearing?
As part of the body of Christ we are called to help carry each others’ burdens. To your question, however, we should guard against “false burden bearing” which is essentially taking responsibility for something that is not ours to carry. Or trying to fix or resolve a situation that isn’t ours to remedy. This can happen when we care deeply for someone.
Compassion for another’s suffering is not bad. Jesus was greatly moved with compassion. But when we, as you said, carry their burdens with them and begin to be more invested in solving their problems than they are, that may be a sign of having crossed from compassion to false burden bearing.
How do you fix compassion fatigue?
How do you help without bearing a burden that is not yours to carry?
My recommendation is that you first pray that God will protect your heart and mind. Even in my private practice, I cannot allow myself to get too deeply entrenched in the emotional suffering of each of my patients or I would not be effective in helping any of them.
Then pray about who and how to help. Even a good therapist cannot treat everyone who walks in their door. And a good mentor cannot mentor an unlimited number of individuals at one time. There just isn’t enough time or emotional bandwidth available. So seek God’s direction about who to help, while guarding against taking responsibility for their situation.
If the Lord wants you to help, pray about how. And ask for His timing. We often get in a hurry to help a person out of their situation, while God is actually using their trial to help teach them something.
The truth is that the only one who should be carrying our burdens for us is the Lord. The best way we can help others is to point them back to the Lord, while not carrying or assuming responsibility for their burdens.
Even when God lays someone on your heart to pray for or to come alongside in some way, ultimately the end result remains God’s responsibility. We just get the privilege of partnering with Him.
Because of Him,
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This was so helpful! I loved this: “The truth is that the only one who should be carrying our burdens for us is the Lord. The best way we can help others is to point them back to the Lord, while not carrying or assuming responsibility for their burdens.” Such truth! Thank you so much for sharing!
Glad you enjoyed the post. He wants us to have a heart of compassion, but not to assume responsibility for someone else’s outcome. Let’s love like Jesus but leave the result to Him! Because of Him, #HopePrevails!
You always weave beautiful wisdom in your posts, practical advice that leads us to love like He does. It is so difficult to see those we love suffer and struggle. Ultimately, it is about God and how we can love others through His Spirit.
Thank you for sharing such godly wisdom.
Your words are a blessing to my heart. Thank you for your encouragement. It’s always my desire to point people back to Him. HE is always our answer.
Yes, it is so difficult to see those we love suffer and struggle. But I imagine it’s even harder on our Heavenly Father because He longs for us to release it to Him.
Because of Him, #HopePrevails!
Very wise and helpful advice. Thanks for sharing.
Thank you Mary! I hope it helps someone where they are. Because of Him, #HopePrevails!
I love this Michelle. It sounds like the heart of the work I’ll get to do in field study in seminary next year. Being present in the storm – I will remember that. Great to connect again! Be well.
There is a treasured gift in being present in someone else’s storm. He’s a rewarder of that! Blessings on your field study next year–can’t wait to hear how it goes! Because of Him, #HopePrevails!
I agree that the best way to help people is to point them to the Lord. I enjoyed reading your post. I found it very encouraging.
Thank you Renee!
“The end result remains God’s responsibilty.” Oh, how very true! This was a much-needed and timely post, dear Dr. Michelle.
I am so grateful for the time you take to write these articles. I always leave here with much to ponder.
Thank you for sharing with Roses of Inspiration. Hugs and joy to you!
Right on with the message. As someone who is approached by parents with teens in crisis, you have to step back and pray about how to be effective in ministering without over extending yourself and actually causing more issues not just for them but for you too. Secondly, seek the leadership in your church for direction and wisdom. You can also offer help by referring to a counselor. They are more knowledgeable of how to minister and counsel and have a better support system. Lastly, you can still be supportive but on a different level. Either way, encouraging them to pray and reading the Word of God is the best way to start in answering their need.
This was perfect timing as I am struggling with this at this time in my life. Good sound advice Dr. B. The power of prayer is amazing.
Thank you for writing about this. I have felt it myself and now feel like others may feel it toward me.
As president of our state denominational minister’s wives auxiliary, I scheduled a speaker to do a seminar on Compassion Fatigue last week. She stated that Compassion Fatigue is the cost of caring. Our ladies were blessed, encouraged and equipped to combat this disorder and minimize it in the future. Thank you for addressing this topic today.
Michelle, your words resonated with me today. as someone with several chronic illnesses I feel this post. My post is about chronic illness and Jesus, your neighbor at Let’s Have Coffee #25
Wow, I had never heard of Compassion Fatigue but I have carried people’s burdens falsely trying to help but crossing the line because I do care so much. I never want to get in God’s way of what He is doing, teaching and encouraging others to do in their situation that is causing them pain and suffering. My heart hurts for those who cannot seem to ever get out from under their burden of pain, relationship issues, financial struggles and physical danger. I know my best help is prayer, love and being present in their storm. Thank you so much for sharing this. Father has opened my eyes.
Let us not grow tired of doing good….
Jan, that’s exactly right!
Amen, but I as a single, multiple chronic illness sufferer, having other major life issues happening, too, I’m just exhausted both mentally and physically, as a long term care-taker. It makes me so stressed and so depressed. I am weary. Lord help. \o/