compassion fatigue and the power of prayer
This week, news outlets and social media feeds have been flooded with images, videos and stories from Turkiye and Syria. Newborn babies have been pulled from rubble without their parents, voice notes from those still trapped have been sent to loved ones and the images of mourning have been broadcast throughout the world.
No wonder many disengage when they see images of pain and suffering like these. Engaging our emotions with everything we see or hear in an age of digital media can leave us feeling exhausted and hopeless. When faced with images of suffering, we can be overwhelmed with feelings of helplessness and powerlessness. No wonder so many of us simply choose to turn off the news and hunker down until the crisis passes.
It is wise to guard against this compassion fatigue.
We are only one small part of the world, and we cannot expect to carry the weight of so much suffering.
But for those who believe in Jesus, we do not have to give in to feelings of hopelessness and powerlessness, or sit as passive observers. We do not need to squash or suppress or hide from our compassion, because we know that we serve a powerful God who is in control. God is not powerless and hopeless. He can and does perform miracles.
When Jesus saw Lazarus’ friends weeping at his tomb, He wept too (John 11). Time and time again, Jesus met people with compassion, healing them and loving them. In the Old Testament, God has compassion on his people who are in slavery in Egypt, and again when they are in exile in Babylon. He delivers them. Our compassion is God-given, and feeling it is part of our being made in the image of God.
To avoid compassion fatigue then, we let our compassion naturally move us to action. Many have been told that simply sending ‘thoughts and prayers’ is not enough – that it is trite and performative. But whilst sending practical aid during a crisis is valuable and important, as those who love Jesus we should not be discouraged from praying. Our prayers are powerful.
Paul tells the church in Ephesus, “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.” (Ephesians 6:18).
Through the power of the Holy Spirit, we can enter the presence of God and intercede, praying for those still trapped in the rubble. We can ask him to comfort those who are grieving, and give strength and energy to those who are working on the rescue efforts. We can pray for wisdom and insight for those coordinating aid responses, and for leaders who are making decisions about sending resources and help.
Prayer should not be despised, especially in a time of crisis. It is the appropriate and natural consequence of our compassion, and the Holy Spirit gives us the strength to feel the compassion that draws us into the presence of God, rather than suppress it.
Chloe Benson works as a press officer in Reading, UK and together with her husband, is part of Reading Family Church there. Chloe has a degree in Theology with a focus on the Old Testament. She is interested in biblical literacy and a Jesus-focussed response to news and current affairs.