I thought the Disaster Alert Phone App would be good for my prayer life.
Just one click and I’d have access to all kinds of prayer-worthy crises from floods to earthquakes to tropic storms to fires. As I write this, there are three earthquake watches, five tropical storm alerts and two hurricane warnings in The Top Ten Disaster Alerts.
Actually, this App stresses me out instead of moving me to prayer. I already have enough disasters on my prayer list. In fact, I am a magnet for disaster news . . .
which is why I’m at this Conference on Compassion Fatigue Prevention & Resiliency – for personal as well as professional reasons. We hope to upgrade the Pastoral Care to Pastors in our Presbytery. But I also need to learn these skills personally.
Before I left my last congregation in Virginia to join HH, who’d been called to serve a church in Chicagoland, a parishioner asked me what I’d be doing next and these words almost burst out of my mouth:
“I am exhausted. I just need a break.”
I didn’t mean to shock her but she appeared a little shocked as if she was thinking, “What does she have to be so exhausted about?” It’s not like I was a pastor in Katrina-ravaged New Orleans or earthquake-destroyed Port Au Prince.
The truth is that the unrelenting nature of professional ministry is what makes the profession hard. It’s like being the pinball in a spiritual arcade, and even we pastors are disciplined in taking a Sabbath, it’s just one day off with a different set of demands. Compassion fatigue is a real issue for pastors – and others – especially when we are not inoculated against it.
Pastors are among the most isolated people in the world, according to the Presbyterian Disaster Relief trainers meeting with us this week. In the 1950s, professional ministry was considered the healthiest profession in the U.S. and now it’s considered among the least healthy. Clergy have an extremely high incidence of obesity, depression, alcoholism, and high blood pressure. All empathetic people – whether we are teachers, doctors, social workers, or fire fighters – tend to be good at pastoral care, but we are also more at risk for Compassion Fatigue which – if left unattended – can lead to all manner of inappropriate behavior.
A friend of mine tells me that her family has a motto: Don’t put your hand in the crazy. Clergy people have intentionally chosen to put our whole selves in the crazy. It’s called incarnational ministry.
But if we don’t build resilience or strengthen our refueling tools, we will feel like toast.