Truth be told, this article actually began back in late September. While listening to talk radio as I drove into work, the topic of discussion was Disaster Fatigue. The talk show host was asking his listeners if they had ever heard of this and/or if they had ever ‘suffered’ from this. What he was referring to was the multiple natural disasters that we were seeing and hearing about everywhere we turned. It began (mostly) with Hurricane Harvey, then we found out about Hurricane Irma and her devastating blow, and then soon after Hurricane Maria seemed to steal the spotlight as she hammered down and absolutely demolished Puerto Rico. And more recently, devastating earthquakes seem to be coming one after another! In a world where news and information are literally at our finger tips, we have the amazing privilege of hearing about things happening across the globe almost immediately. And this is great, right? It makes us all feel a bit more connected, right? It helps raise awareness, right? It helps educate us on things outside of our little bubble, right? And these are all GOOD things, right? Well, yes!
And, no perhaps.
So what is “Disaster Fatigue”? Where did this phrase even come from? Did this small-town talk radio host come up with it? With a quick Google Search, I discovered that this local radio host may have been citing an article posted September 12, 2017 on the Center for Disaster Philanthropy’s website, written by Robert G. OttenhoffIt. Find the full article here.
Since then, our society has been bombarded with other urgent needs from around the globe. From the refugee crises to mass shootings to political strife, the hits just keep on coming! And along with these come the needs of our own family members, our neighbours and co-workers and our community. Your sister can’t pay her hydro bill and now her car just broke down. The boy down the street is selling you-name-it to help local kids play sports. The local food bank needs more peanut butter and men’s underwear, STAT!
And now they’ve come up with #GivingTuesday! Sheesh! So many important causes and so little funds/resources. Right? And who is in the centre of it all? YOU! Poor, little old you, trying to figure out which cause is greater, which need is more urgent and where my dollar can be stretched the furthest. So, perhaps, here is where we arrive at experiencing fatigue. Wrestling with the notion of ‘how can 1 person help every cause?!’! As Robert points out in his article, some of you may have heard this dilemma referred to as “Donor Fatigue”.
But let’s step back a bit and look at this from a broader perspective. What the local radio host was actually referring to was the level of empathy (or compassion) we, as everyday people, can have (or not have) when these ‘disasters’ strike, especially one after another. Do the hurricanes and mass shootings just become redundant news stories and yes, while we feel badly for the people who have gone through them, it doesn’t impact us tangibly (except those higher gas prices we had to endure; ouch!) so they are easily forgotten. Or do we blame the news for confusing our consciences as their focus continually turns to the latest, greatest ‘storm’ and tends not to follow up on the aftermath of the Harveys and Irmas when Maria just came to town! No one can do everything and the hits just keep on coming.
Another quick Google Search landed me upon the phrase “Compassion Fatigue”. Yikes! Another fatigue! I’m getting fatigued just reading about all the fatigues I can experience in this lifetime! Now while these articles dealt mostly with those who are caregivers and the struggles they can experience when they no longer take time for self-care, etc., I think it can apply to many of us, especially when thinking about the above. A phrase that jumped off one website’s homepage was: “Caring too much can hurt”. Hmmmm… chew on that for a minute. Have you or your fellow deacons ever experienced this?
What’s a Christ-follower to do?!
In all of this, how do we, as followers of Christ, hear those words: “Caring too much can hurt”? When we read the Bible, do we hear similar warnings being doled out? Are we cautioned as we take up the cause of mercy and justice to ‘be careful or you’ll get hurt!’? Are we told to “not get in too deep” with the woes of this world? To set clear boundaries in order to protect oneself!?
No, we don’t! Instead, as Christians, are we not called to pursue mercy and justice and have compassion on all those who are suffering? (Zechariah 7:9)
Giving our all should never hurt when done with the right motives. We should never have to experience any sort of “fatigue” if our sole reason to give is to reflect our loving and generous God who gave His Son, Jesus Christ, so that we would have the opportunity to be blessed and to bless others by giving. (“Don’t Give Until It Hurts”, posted on www.focusonthefamily.com, by Harvey Nowland). And God promises it will be returned to us (Luke 6:38). Something along the lines of ‘you reap what you sow’. Let us take heart and remember one thing: we simply can’t out-give God. Therefore, we needn’t worry about becoming spent or fatigued or getting hurt. Mr. Nowland rightfully reminds us that we simply can not go broke (emotionally, physically OR spiritually) by being generous with our time, energy or resources.
Our sole reason to give is to reflect our loving and generous God who gave His Son, Jesus Christ, so that we would have the opportunity to be blessed and to bless others by giving.
(For further study, take some time to work through 2 Corinthians 9; it’s a great passage on why AND how we are called to show generosity to others!)
No matter what you or your church or your diaconate have experienced thus far, may you never become weary in doing good because we know that at the proper time you will reap a harvest because you never gave up! (Gal. 6:9). Our prayer here at DMC is that as your diaconate seeks to promote mercy and justice, and wrestles with things like benevolence and offering schedules, and as you engage with your broader community, that you will never experience any sort of fatigue or lack of empathy towards the ones God is calling you to serve.
Need some help?
Visit our Resources Page on our website for more about making offering schedules, designing a Benevolence Fund Policy and related topics. You can also contact your local DMD or one of our DMC Staff – we’re here to help!
Help US help you!
This #GivingTuesday, consider an extra donation to Diaconal Ministries Canada, as we do our best to inspire, equip and empower deacons so that they can animate their own congregations to join in God’s transforming work! We offer countless resources and workshops and are available for one-on-one coaching and consultation through our Diaconal Ministry Developers and our Regional Ministry Developers. We exist to serve you as you engage in your communities, promote stewardship and pursue mercy and justice. May God bless each one of you as you participate in His Kingdom causes!