There’s a lot to care about in the world. As Christians, we’re concerned about the salvation of our loved ones and, as citizens of the world, we care about maintaining the earth for generations to come.
But with so many awful things happening every day in our sinful world, and seeing so much that breaks our hearts… how can we care equally for everything and take any sort of action that will make a measurable difference? Often, we’re defeated before we start.
As many of us have found, it’s impossible to care about it all. We can’t bear the weight of the world on our shoulders in a healthy way. We can’t save everyone. Trying to often leads to despair, discouragement and burnout.
And even worse? It can lead to giving up entirely. Whether that’s quitting advocacy or leaving the church altogether, the overwhelmingness of the problems in the world get us down and we’re turning inward instead of finding our strength and purpose from the only One who can save the world, God.
Emotional reaction vs taking action
What do you do when you witness injustice? How do you respond when something unfair happens? For many of us, our first instinct is to react emotionally and take to social media.
We share our story, voice our outrage, state our position and wait for our network to join us, sending it viral.
But then what? Often, the situation runs its course. Or trolls get involved and rip your momentum (and you) to shreds. And your team of supporters? They’ll stick around until the next panic sweeps them away to advocate for the next thing.
It’s a fast-moving cycle, which whips up moralizing and tokenism and leaves those at the centre of the storm left to pick up the pieces on their own once their 15-minutes is up.
Granted, this is a cynical take, but the trend to jump from one cause and outrage to the next is causing little more than broken relationships, emotional burnout and exhaustion. While some people may enjoy the drama, many more are backing away from social media, preferring instead to separate from each other so they can live in peace… and apathy.
There’s a clinical term for this: compassion fatigue
When we’re passionate about a cause, it’s easy to give all of ourselves to it. We pour our empathy and efforts into helping, and prioritize it over everything else, including self-care.
As a consequence, we risk becoming overwhelmed and discouraged, and in an effort to protect our mental health, we are tempted to disengage completely from issues, situations and people we care deeply about.
“Compassion fatigue” is a type of stress people experience when they want to help, or are actually helping, others who are enduring trauma or significant duress. It happens when they overextend their energy on caring for others. Yes, you can care too much. And when you’re fatigued, you no longer have the capacity to help.
Some of the common signs of compassion fatigue include anxiety, trouble sleeping, irritability, withdrawal, focus or concentration issues, headaches and more.
The key to combating compassion fatigue is finding balance and setting healthy boundaries. For many of us, this means setting emotional boundaries. The goal is to protect ourselves so we can continue being compassionate, empathetic and supportive people without burning out, quitting or being anxious, worried and afraid all the time.
How to live without worry
Doomscrolling on social media can often drive us to emotional distress and make us feel like if we DON’T express outrage online then we’re failing. What we need to realize is these impulses are calls to emotion rather than calls to action, and they often result in pitting us against others and distracting us from the real issues.
Staying in states of heightened anxiety, worry, anger or vigilance isn’t healthy and it’s not the way Jesus calls us to live.
Then, turning to his disciples, Jesus said, “That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life…. Can all your worries add a single moment to your life? And if worry can’t accomplish a little thing like that, what’s the use of worrying over bigger things?… Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and he will give you everything you need. So don’t be afraid, little flock. For it gives your Father great happiness to give you the Kingdom.”Luke 12:22, 25-26, 31-32
Jesus says, don’t worry. I’ve got things under control.
So where does that leave us? Worrying makes us feel like we’re doing something, and it gives us a sense of control. The truth is, worrying helps nothing and we’re just as out of control as we’ve always been. If the pandemic taught us nothing else, it has become abundantly clear our sense of comfort and stability is manufactured and things can change in an instant. The only constant we have is our faith in God to keep His promises and to provide everything we need.
It’s time to act by starting small
Jesus calls us to live differently than the rest of the world, and this extends to activism as well.
It begins by looking at our own hearts and asking the Lord to show us what He wants us to spend our energy on. What is He calling you to do, personally?
By starting here, we let go of our saviour complex and ask our actual Saviour what small part He’d like us to play in His plan. It reminds us to be humble. It takes our gaze off of judgement and onto seeing needs and participating in Kingdom work.
The work might be small, unrecognized and seemingly insignificant. It often is, much to our ego’s dismay. But the work is no less valid.
If you’re committed to making a difference, then be willing to start small. Take a deep look at your circle of influence and figure out the best way you can contribute to making the world a better place through your gifts, talents and—most of all—capacity. This way you’re channelling your concern into manageable action. Maybe you can’t save the world, but you can do something.
Remember, if you’re up in arms about EVERYTHING, then people stop listening to you. They’ll get compassion fatigue. And so will you.