Compassion Fatigue

That’s been a big buzzword lately in the news. We’ve been bombarded with stories of mass tragedies in the past year: from tsunamis to hurricanes, it seems as if every time we turn on the news, there are hundreds of thousands of people who need our prayers and financial support.

But after awhile, we become desensitized to it. “Did you hear there was another earthquake last week? Isn’t that terrible?”. We shake our heads sadly and move on with our lives. Our school just raised money for the Katrina victims last months. It would be too much to try to help out the earthquake survivors in Pakistan, we think.

The same thing happens in our classrooms. The first time a particular child complains that someone pushed him, we empathetically calm him and help him problem-solve. The tenth time that child complains we stifle an eye-roll and tell him he needs to work it out on his own. We get tired of dealing with constant problems with our students- especially when it’s the same issue with the same kid, over and over.

I had been praying about my own compassion fatigue in terms of dealing with my students because I realized I had such a short rope with certain children: it only took one misbehavior from them for my blood to start boiling. I was tired of trying to take into account their home situations or disabilities or other factors that had begun to feel like excuses and just wanted them to follow the rules like all the other kids.

This attitude was unrealistic, unhealthy, and ungodly. The Lord never runs out of compassion for us, and He meets each one of us in the place we are at in our walk with Him. He doesn’t require us to be ‘better behaved’ or follow all of His rules before working with us.

Inwardly I knew this, but I couldn’t figure out how it translated practically into my actions in the classroom. Sure, God can be compassionate all the time because He’s God, but what am I supposed to do? I asked the Lord this and I got an answer from Him in the form of a very distinct mental image of a well and the thought, ‘Draw from My endless well’.

That's certainly not a new revelation from God, but for me, it was life changing! I knew who I needed to be but couldn’t figure out what I needed to do- but now I understood that I need to be conscious of God’s compassion in my life, all of the ways He has blessed me, and the things He has spared me from on a daily basis. I need to remember how He has taken me- in baby steps, over time- from the lost person I was to being grounded in Christ. Then, when I feel tested by one of the kids, I don’t have to draw from my own strength, which is pretty much zapped at this point. I can draw on His compassion, which is never-ending.

I haven’t had many opportunities yet to put this new understanding into practice- we’ve missed eight days of school because of Hurricane Wilma. But when we return to class, I know there will be plenty of situations in which God will demonstrate His endless love and compassion to me and through me, and that will make those trials much easier to bear.

VERSE TO REMEMBER: “But you, O Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness. Turn to me and have mercy on me; grant your strength to your servant". (
Psalm 86:16-18, NIV).

Psalm 25

PRAY: Lord, I’m out of patience right now. I don’t feel like meeting this student where she (he) is at or taking the time to give her what she needs because I’m exhausted. Father, You placed me in this classroom, with these particular children, and only You can give me the wisdom to know what they need and the strength to provide it for them. Show me what this child needs from me right now, teach me to be as sensitive to her unique situation as You have been to mine. Give me the right words and fill me up with Your love when I feel like I don’t have any more to give- I need You Lord. Thank you for being my rock and fortress. This I call to mind, and for this I have hope: because of Your great love, I will not be consumed, for Your compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. Amen.

CHALLENGE: Ask the Lord to help you come up with a short phrase you can just whisper to Him when You need to draw from His compassion. You can write it in the front of your planner as a reminder, but make it something easy to remember that can become an automatic response in times of stress. Mine is, “Lord, I need You. Show me what to do.” When one of your students has just done something that makes you want to lose it, let that phrase run quickly through your mind, take a deep breath, and let God’s words flow through you. Envision yourself drawing from His endless well of compassion and wisdom and letting it wash over you or fill you up when you can’t do it on your own.


Anonymous said...

Angela, those of us who read your devotionals are so blessed that you are obedient to God's using you in such a profound way. Everytime I read one of your devotionals, I feel as though it were written for me! On my overhead is a verse from Psalm that reminds me that to respond harshly to a child will only cause him to be angry with me, but a soft, measured response will get me a soft reaction. I can remember it verbatim, but it helped to get me through last year with a particularly difficult child.
I've been blessed so far this year to have a really "good" class, but the verse remains on my overhead, nevertheless, because I can always use that reminder.

Thank you for your obedience to God!

Katy Moffitt said...

Hi Angela, As always God speaks through you to me at a perfect time. Just today i was getting rather short with someone in my class. He constantly complains about someone picking on him. I am in a special scool with kids that have behavior and emotional problems so we are forever having nick picky problems that turn into major mountains. This devotion particularly spoke to me.

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Anonymous said...

Thank you for your great devotions. I needed some devotions for our teacher morning meeting this week. I found your website and your devotions. I plan on reading them to our staff next week. I know they will be a blessing!

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much. We do daily devotionals at my school for our teachers. Tomorrow is my turn and i was looking for a devotional that would speak to us. As the school year churns to an end a lot of us suffer from compassion fatigue. I will read this to our group tomorrow and hope it may re-inspire us.

Anonymous said...

While reading Psalm 119 recently, I was struck by how many times the words "Teach me", and "that I may understand" were mentioned. This is one of the newest rainbow cards that I keep on my desk. While it reminds me how many times the Lord teaches me until I understand, it also reminds me what He put me in the classroom for. (Rainbow cards, by the way, are colored index cards on which I write pertinent verses over time. Whenever I feel especially in need of a word from God, I pull out one of my rainbow cards & feast on His Word.)

Anonymous said...

This is literally what I needed. I have been having the hardest time being compassionate towards a student despite knowing the rough time she has had. I will continue to pray for compassion.