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Hidden Component of Compassion Fatigue?

Schoonover-Shoffner, Kathy

Journal of Christian Nursing: April/June 2015 - Volume 32 - Issue 2 - p 70
doi: 10.1097/CNJ.0000000000000173
Department: Think About It
Free

I discovered an unexpected cure for compassion fatigue.

Kathy Schoonover-Shoffner, PhD, RN, serves as editor of JCN and with Nurses Christian Fellowship USA, and works per diem as a staff nurse. She lives in Wichita, Kansas, with her family and is active in a local church.

The author declares no conflict of interest.

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In preparing this issue of JCN, I was surprised one afternoon to find myself choking up inside. I was editing Chelsia Harris and Mary Quinn Griffin's article, Nursing on Empty: Compassion Fatigue Signs, Symptoms, and System Interventions (pp. 80-87), and suddenly realized I was tired, my compassion dangerously low. I'm used to being a high-energy person who works hard. But I hadn't been feeling too zippy. This past year brought significant losses, including some related to my professional life, but I just kept going. I chalked my fatigue up to working too hard and recognized the need for change. So I cut back on hospital shifts and started exercising more. However, the dryness and fatigue continued. Harris and Griffin's article helped me admit I have compassion fatigue. They offer excellent suggestions for combatting compassion fatigue on a unit and organizational level. Recalling an earlier JCN article Rx for Compassion Fatigue (McHolm, 2006) focused on personal interventions, I went in search of more help. McHolm offers beautiful biblical prescriptions for compassion fatigue. I started filling those prescriptions that I hadn't already been working on in my life.

Recently I was introduced to the book, An Unhurried Life: Following Jesus' Rhythms of Work and Rest by Alan Fadling, published by InterVarsity in 2013. I thought it would be good to review for this issue and started reading (see Resources, p. 130). Quite unexpectedly, Fadling helped me diagnose a hidden component of compassion fatigue that I wasn't recognizing—my sense of drive, my belief that being productive is the most valuable thing about me. Work is good and more work is better! I like telling people I have too much to do, that my life is crazy, (fearing that if I say anything less I'm lazy?). Fadling reveals through Scripture that Jesus was an unhurried, relaxed Savior. In fact, he spent a fair amount of down time—in prayer and communion with his Father God (see Mark 1:35; Luke 5:15-16, 6:12), taking his disciples away for some rest (Mark 6:31-32), or reclining at a dinner given in his honor (John 12:2). Jesus followed the pace God set for him, rather than what people expected of him. He didn't send away the Canaanite woman asking for help (Matthew 15:21-28); didn't rush to heal Lazarus (John 11:6); and he stopped to help a sick woman when a centurion's daughter was dying (Mark 5:22-34). Yet at the end of his life, he had completed everything God had given him to do (John 17:4, 19:30).

Fadling calls this the “pace of grace” (p. 10), an unhurried, relaxed way of the heart that accepts what God thinks of us and follows Jesus's lead. This pace of grace lets God guide what I should and should not be doing: to work or to rest. Fadling asks,

Just as surely as God gives us ministry opportunities, he also gives us opportunities to rest with him and be restored. Are we open to both kinds of invitations? When we fail to open to the Lord's invitations to rest, we behave as though God were a slave driver and we, the helpless slaves. But we are, first and foremost, God's beloved sons and daughters (p. 102)

Part of me responds to this rest idea saying, “I don't have time to slow down. I'll do it when things aren't so hectic.” But I think the only way to cure my compassion fatigue is to try out this unhurried life. If I wait to be unhurried when there is less to do, what are the chances of it happening? Fadling points out that Jesus worked hard and rested deeply; he cared passionately for people and was passionately cared for by his Father (p. 179). Fadling suggests that living in this close regular Sabbath rest relationship with God is what eternal life is all about. Jesus said, “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent” (John 17:3, NIV).

I think I'm ready to try this resting deeply, down time with God, unhurried approach, and see what happens to my compassion fatigue.

McHolm F. (2006). Rx for compassion fatigue. Journal of Christian Nursing, 23(4), 12–19.
© 2015 by InterVarsity Christian Fellowship