As if we hadn’t had enough bad news with the shooting and murder of one of our own in Bluffton, then the murders in Atlanta, less than a week after that was the mass shooting in Colorado.
When I heard about it, my thoughts were “Here we go again” and “Will it ever stop?”
I felt a sense of resignation, but, far worse, I felt numb. Starting with Columbine 22 years ago, the level of shock and horror has lessened with each subsequent, senseless loss of life. It’s not good. I suspect I am not alone.
Add to that the experience of suffering, and more senseless deaths from COVID-19, increasing acts of bigotry and aggression against minorities, and political divisiveness that has fractured relationships and our nation, and we’ve become overwhelmed and increasingly less empathetic towards others.
A phrase with which I have resonated is helpful here: “compassion fatigue.” Webster says it is “characterized by emotional and physical exhaustion leading to a diminished ability to feel compassion for others.”
Information on the internet connects it to what is felt by first responders, which makes sense, but perhaps to some degree, we’ve all felt more on the front lines this year.
But we in the church who seek to follow Jesus, who calls us to love our neighbors, to pray for our enemies, to welcome the stranger, to do justice, how can we, if we have compassion fatigue?
Well, first (and I am preaching to myself), we recognize that under our own steam, we can’t do anything; only as we depend on God and open our lives to God’s life-giving presence, can our weary souls be healed and empowered to be, what Julian of Norwich once said, “the hands and feet of Christ.”
We just celebrated Easter. In celebrating Christ’s resurrection, we are reminded that God’s love is more powerful than death (and certainly more powerful than compassion fatigue). Henri Nouwen, priest and theologian wrote, “Forming community, building a body of love, shaping a new people of the resurrection: all of this is not just so that we can live a life protected from the dark forces that dominate our world; it is, rather, to enable us to proclaim together to all people, young and old, white and black, poor and rich, that death does not have the last word, that hope is real and God is alive.”
If this weren’t true, how would the church still exist? How would we explain the faith that is within us? Because of the resurrection we can live in hope, expectant to see how God, in the midst of suffering, is at work through us and others; healing and restoring, relentless in His desire to give abundance and wholeness to all.
Hope propels us to take actions, even small ones, to share God’s love with others. As we call an isolated neighbor, tutor a child in school, advocate for those whose voices haven’t been heard, over time, and by God’s grace, God can restore in us the ability to have empathy. Such is my prayer and my hope for us all.
Rev. Christine Herrin is the senior pastor at Lowcountry Presbyterian Church in Bluffton.