Friday, May 20, 2011

Overcoming Compassion Exhaustion

"When I was a torn jacket hanging on the barbed wire
You cut me free and sewed me up and here I am

Isn't it hard to be the one whose phone rings all day everyday?
Isn't it hard to be the strong one?"
- Bruce Cockburn, The Strong One, Inner City Front, 1981

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * 
Compassion -
The word comes from Latin roots which mean "to suffer with" or "to bear with".

Compassion is an honorable trait and a true virtue.  The Scriptures urge us to
"bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ" (Galatians 6: 2).  
Indeed, God is portrayed in Scripture as having compassion (see Psalm 111:4;
86: 15 for example).  The compassion of Jesus is also a matter of record (See
Matthew 9: 36 for example).  As His followers, compassion should regularly
characterize our interactions with others: "Finally, all of you, live in harmony
with one another; love as brothers, be compassionate and humble" (I Peter
3: 8). 

The word also comes from a Latin root meaning to "draw (out)" as in to empty. 

Exhaustion for many people is a fact of life.  When in a state of exhaustion, a
person feels empty inside - spent, depleted and used up - with nothing left to
give.  This would appear to be the condition of the great Elijah who 
followed up a dramatic and victorious showdown with reprobate royalty and 
pagan prophets by running and hiding in the wilderness (see I Kings 19: 1-9).
Like Elijah, a person who is experiencing exhaustion wants to run away and
hide from anything and anyone who might want something from them. 

Compassion Exhaustion -
When paired together, these two words describe a state of being whereby a
person who is compassionate and, therefore, personally engaged with the 
suffering and needs of others, comes to a point of depletion, exhaustion and
interior emptiness.  It is a condition well known to those whose lives and/or 
careers are people-intensive and people-oriented.  Healthcare workers, 
therapists, spiritual care givers/church leaders/church workers, hospice care
providers, social workers and volunteers of many kinds are just some of those
who are at high risk for compassion exhaustion.

According to the Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project: 
(; people who are attracted to care giving enter
the field already compassion fatigued. 
"Simply put, these are people who were taught at an early age to care for the needs of others before caring for their own needs. Authentic, ongoing self-care practices are absent from their lives". Although they may well be motivated by a spiritual mission or a strong personal identification with others in need (as in: "I want to make a difference!"), a lack of insight into the reality of compassion exhaustion can be a set up for burnout, moral failure, physical problems, depression and other symptoms of compassion fatigue.  


After a lifetime in the ministry and as a counseling professional, I have experienced my own bouts with compassion exhaustion and witnessed the impact of this condition on others.  People in the throes of compassion exhaustion are almost always "good people" who mean well, serve diligently and care deeply but who arrive at a point where they feel utterly depleted.  By the time they have acknowledged their inability to keep on keeping on, they may display symptoms of secondary traumatic stress such as substance abuse, isolation, spiritual confusion, apathy and emotional disconnection. 

One of the more exciting new aspects of my own ministry has been to learn and to teach others specific methods and habits that nourish care providers - especially those who serve the Lord - and people - in ministry.  I have had the privilege of offering my services in settings such as my counseling office, in soaking prayer sessions, on Skype appointments, on extended "Pastoral Sabbath Retreats".  This fall, I am looking forward to joining a small team in providing Leader Care to church leaders in a South American nation.   

It has been said that it is better to build a guard rail at the top of the cliff than to merely run an ambulance service at the bottom!  And, indeed, my own experience with people in need of replenishing is that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.  Nevertheless, there are those who need help to find their way out of an already exhausted state of being.  Thankfully, God has given us resources (ways and means) which can revive the exhausted body, soul and spirit: "He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside quiet waters, He restores my soul...." (Psalm 23: 2, 3)

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

More Mud, More Power....

Thanks to Kristen Benson, I can now post many more photos of our neighborhood mud cleanup from earlier this year.  
The more complete story of the mudslide cleanup appears in an earlier blog post here.  And now for some mud....

Everyone could help, no matter who you were.  Sandbags needed moving, mud needed to be shoveled, the power sprayer needed to do its work.
It was a mud-a-thon!
jOne of our happy helpers: Paul Mills

As if out of nowhere - heavy equipment!  
What a blessing and a miracle!  
BTW: there is a swimming pool under there somewhere...

Young men, mud and insects - a perfect combo!

From back yard to dump truck out front 
courtesy of the handy Bobcat.

Eric Brown Versus Mud... Eric wins!

Organizing the youth brigade.

These females fear no mud!
The shoes tell the news.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

A Soul Surfer Finds Grace

I'm looking forward to seeing the Bethany Hamilton bio-pic "Soul Surfer" now in theaters.  One reason is that I wrote about her in my book How Healed Do You Want to Be?   I quote from the chapter below.  Enjoy! - and, thanks, Bethany for the gift of faith and steadfastness of spirit you share through your life.

* * * * * * * *

“But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when
you have turned back, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22: 32).

            Bethany Hamilton was thirteen years old when she lost her left arm during a Tiger Shark attack off of the North Shore of Kaui, Hawaii.  At that time, Bethany was already becoming known in the world of amateur surf competition as a true up-and-comer.  The road (or shall we say wave) ahead looked golden for the young woman whose parents, Tom and Cheri Hamilton, had her on surfboards from the time she could walk.  But on Halloween Day, 2003, the attack Bethany endured from an aggressive fourteen foot shark threatened to crush her dreams forever. 
            After multiple surgeries, the young surfer successfully recovered from the physical damage of the attack.  Next, she would have to face the question of whether she would, or even could, surf again.  Less than a month after her ordeal, Bethany was back in the water.  She was determined to develop a new technique for herself that would allow her to compete in the surfing world again.  It wouldn’t be easy, but Bethany was determined to get back in the game. 
            Throughout her childhood, the young surfer had nurtured a strong personal faith in Jesus Christ.  Her maturing faith inspired Bethany to treat the shark attack as something God allowed her to go through—something that could be turned for His glory.  Of course, news of her attack placed her in the worldwide media spotlight.  But somehow Bethany seemed ready.
As her story became known, her indomitable spirit and positive “can do” attitude began to inspire people everywhere.  "I don't pretend to have all the answers to why bad things happen to good people,” she later wrote.  “But I do know that God knows all those answers, and sometimes He lets you know in this life, and sometimes He asks you to wait so that you can have a face-to-face talk about it”Such characteristic honesty endeared Bethany to a host of people around the world who had become aware of her challenges.  Could a young person like her really make a comeback from such devastating circumstances?
            As it turned out, Bethany’s comeback was stunning.  After only a few months, she began to win and place in prestigious surfing competitions in spite of her lack of a left arm.  Over the next several years her amazing accomplishments and personal testimony opened doors for her to communicate her story to millions of people.  Along with newspapers and magazines, Bethany’s story was also being featured on television news segments and talk shows.  “I guess they see me as a symbol of courage and inspiration”, she said.  “One thing hasn’t changed—and that’s how I feel when I ‘m riding a wave.  It’s like, here I am.  I’m still here.  It’s still me and my board in God’s ocean.”
            Ever since the attack first took place, Bethany has continued to turn her tragedy into a triumph.  She was appointed chairwoman of Beating the Odds Foundation and has served as a spokesperson for the international compassion ministry of World Vision.  Her autobiography, Soul Surfer, was published as well as Christian devotional books for teens.  A film version of Bethany’s story is also in the works. Speaking of his daughter’s outstanding example of faith, Tom Hamilton observes: “Somehow God gave Bethany an amazing amount of grace in this.  I am in awe.  She never says, “Why me?”’  For Bethany, the “whys and wherefores” are simple: “This was God’s plan for my life and I’m going to go with it.”
Messes into Messages
            Bethany Hamilton’s story is a great illustration of redemption; the fourth component of our five-dimensional healing modelWhat is redemption?  One dictionary defines the word “redeem” as “to buy back, repurchase, to get or win back” (1).  This could mean many things.  For example, while Bethany will never get her arm back, her hopes, dreams and vision for living have returned—and then some!  In the long run, her losses have been mightily redeemed for higher purposes than competitive success.  They have provided Bethany with a way to bear witness to Christ and inspire others, having been “bought back” from disaster to bring blessing instead of despair.  This phenomenon is not new.  God has a long history of turning our messes into messages, our trials into triumphs and our tests into testimonies!  How does He do this?  By the power of something the Bible calls grace.  

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

(Is There) Shame on You?

"Do not be afraid; you will not suffer shame. Do not fear disgrace; you will not be humiliated. You will forget the shame of your youth and remember no more the reproach of your widowhood" (Isaiah 54: 4)

"Shame on you".  Few words pack such a sting.  To put shame on someone is to assign humiliation to them and utterly dismiss them.  In some cultures, "shame is worse than death" (that phrase, in fact, is a Russian proverb).  But what, exactly, is the nature of shame?  How does it affect us?  What is the remedy?

Although guilt and shame share some of the same moral and spiritual characteristics, some have drawn a distinction between the two.  Guilt, they say, is the conviction that something you have done is bad.  Shame, by contrast, is the conviction that you are bad.  The normal cure for guilt is to make ammends for what you have done beginning with an apology or a confession.  This can go a long way towards relieving guilt's persistent pangs.  But how do you apologize for what you are?  

Forgiven, But Still Ashamed?

It has been my experience that we can experience forgiveness from guilt - the guilt of our sinful actions, attitudes and behaviors - without experience total release from shame.  Many Christians know what I am talking about.  If you ask them if they believe or feel that God has forgiven them for what they have done, they will say: "yes!".  But if you ask them if they are at peace with who they are inside - if that mercy from above has penetrated to the way they see themselves within - they will struggle to answer in the affirmative for, although forgiven, they still feel their shame.  This is not only unnecessary but it diminishes what is available in the finished work of Christ as expressed in His gospel.

Transformed Through Worship

In the Bible, shame is connected with idolatry.  To worship false gods is to empower a shame-based life.  These gods may stand in for actual demonic principalities and powers or they may be projections of self-worship.  In either case idolatry is a degrading endeavor that sets us up to experience an ever-deepening sense of shame.  

By contrast, the Bible portrays the worship of the true and living God as ennobling, life-giving, and liberating.  God is not the one who changes as we worship Him "in Spirit and in truth" - it is we who are changed "with ever increasing glory":

"And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever‑increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit" (2 Corinthians 3: 18, NIV).

Therefore, one of the key ways to experience release from the grip of shame is to worship God from our hearts and, in so doing, allow Him to affirm our place at His table as fully-adopted sons and daughters.  

The Cure

The cure for shame is not only to accept forgiveness for sins, but to be renewed within by the grace of God.  It is to see ourselves the way He sees us.  It is to be transformed in our essential self-image by the gift of His holy acceptance of us through Christ.  

The passage in Isaiah 53 that describes the devastating humiliation of the Suffering Servant Messiah demonstrates that He not only took the punishment for our guilt upon Himself, but also the root of shame and rejection of the self that our fallen nature has produced.  From His humiliation comes our exaltation - not in vanity, but in saving grace!  

"For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich" (2 Corinthians 8: 9).  ng grace!  

As we approach Good Friday and Easter Sunday, let's make sure and praise God for not only the forgiveness of sins, but the release from shame His gift of Grace provides!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Pillow or the Porcupine?

From my "Open Letter to the Church" in How Healed Do You Want to Be?

"The best people I have ever known - the people I most want to be like and have most inspired me - are in my life because of you (the Church).

But it's also true that you have introduced me to the people who have brought me the most disappointment, the most heartache, and the most embarrassment.  

You have wounded me but you have also healed me. Clearly, Church, you are capable of both..."

These days there is a lot of talk about community.  People speak of how they crave it - how the world (and even the Church) has become so impersonal, commercial and dehumanizing.  It is said that the cure for this is something called "community". To be "in community" is to be in relationship with others - not just as passers-by but as true Brothers and Sisters.  

When you are in community, they say, you are family.  And when you are family, you really get to know one other and they really get to know you.  Community is about being real, feeling connected, and shedding masks. To be "in community" is to be accepted for who you really are - and to accept others in the same way. Who doesn't want that?  (Ummm, maybe you don't.  Not really.)

Why?  Because the
 ideal of community and the reality of community reside at two different addresses.  
Community - REAL community - BIBLICAL community - includes soaring moments of transcendent love, deep meaning and holy awe.  It also includes profound disappointment, frustrating conflict, and All even heart-rending pain.  This is what the record shows - including the record of the New Testament.  

There are times when getting to know me, the real me, can be like hugging a porcupine: the closer you get, the more it hurts.  But it can also be like hugging a soft satin pillow - ooooooohhhh.  The trouble is that you can't always know whether you are about to get the pillow or the porcupine.  Both experiences come with the territory called "community".
God knows that we need both the pillow and the porcupine.  Maybe that is why there are over 50 "one another" statements in the New Testament.  These include: "Love one another... Be devoted to one another in brotherly love... Live in harmony with one another... serve one another in love... forgive one another, just as, in Christ, God forgave you... bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have with each other... do not slander one another... clothe yourself with humility towards one another..."

You may notice how much ground those "one another" statements cover.  That's because taking one another seriously requires us to love, forgive and humble ourselves.  This is not only "not easy", it is humanly impossible - which is why we need the power of God's grace to equip us to do what we cannot do within ourselves.  This is how we truly grow.

In a day when so many churches emphasize crowds over community we might do well to go back to the Scriptures and compare those "one another" statements to our experiences.  After all, you won't find "park next to one another" in the New Testament, nor will you see an exhortation to "nod awkwardly at one another while passing the offering plate."  And just try to "greet one another with a holy kiss" and next Sunday's mixer and see where that gets you!  No, real community is the kind that leaves quill marks on your arms while also awakening you to the smoothness and softness of satin.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Making Your Contribution - The Secret to Happiness?

"O Divine Master, 
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love

For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life"

- Prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi

These days I think a lot about "making my contribution to the lives of others". It is on my mind when I wake up in the morning.  It is something that comes up in my prayers and is a regular topic in my conversations with friends and family.  This notion of "making my contribution" guides my thinking, helps meorganize my priorities, and shapes my perception of success.

"For it is in giving that we receive..."  

If there is a secret to happiness, this is it.  The happiest people I know are those who are actively engaged in discovering and delivering their unique contribution to the lives of others. Talk about people who are "switched on"!  It is amazing to behold.  

One young mother I know is developing a support network for young moms like her through personal contacts and social networking. It is fantastic to watch her blossom as she learns more about how to add value to her ever-expanding circle of mommies. Another friend is currently being trained to teach "Art For Healing" techniques which greatly help people process their feelings and their faith. Still another just said "yes" to coaching his daughter's softball team after the original coach was unable to continue.  Although he is new at coaching softball, his contribution to the team's well being is already being felt!
I have lived 5 1/2 decades and, for some reason, I have more people like this in my life than ever.  I feel like a rich man.  Hanging around with "givers" is endlessly inspiring.  My studies and experience tell me that contribution is the central task of the "second half" of life.  

Being a "second-halfer" myself and having so many peers in this category may account for some of why I seem to be surrounded by so many generous souls.  And yet, it is not all about age for I know some remarkable young people who value making their contribution to others at a high level as well.

The outstanding characteristics shared by the majority of "givers" I know - whether younger or older - is their vibrant relationship with God and their ongoing pursuit of spiritual maturity.  When an entire household is filled with the grace it is a glorious thing!  I think, for example, of the two host families that open their homes to us for our Sunday house church and our Friday night Bible study group. Week after week they share their trust, their living space, their resources and their time with us at an extraordinary level.  The children in these host families range in age from very young to mid and upper teens.   You should see how they join their parents in their generosity and servanthood towards us so that we don't feel so much like "guests" as "family".   

"O Divine Master, 
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love

It is getting clearer and clearer that contemporary society offers two competing world views.  One is the consumer mentality that frames life as a race to arrive at the finish line with the most "toys", the most applause and the most power over others.  Those possessed of this worldview are never satisfied.  Not only is their cup never full, it simply has no bottom.

The other is a 
contributor mentality that frames this lifetime as a gift that will soon enough come to conclusion.  Therefore, their goals are not about self-aggrandizement but generosity of hand and heart.  Their passion is to live with purpose - to do what they were made to do - whatever that may be. This, of course, is the biblical worldview so clearly annunciated by Jesus in His continuing call for us to be people who are  "rich towards God" (Luke 12:21).    

“For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and  it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life"

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Bye For Now

I'm taking a break from updating this blog, though I will leave past posts on file.  I am writing a weekly e-newsletter, "Gracelets", that is available to those who ask by emailing me at:

Thanks for stopping by!

Bill Faris