How to Avoid Compassion Overload

Stress-overload-smallIn the last week alone, 57 people have died in four violent events as reported by major news outlets.

Every week, people in your church lose a job or a loved one or have a health incident. Every month, families are torn apart by anger, misunderstandings and rebellion (not just teens; adults rebel too).

The pain from all this is hard to keep in perspective without tuning out. There comes a point when we are tempted to hand out pamphlets instead of dealing with more stress:

  • Five points to survive a health incident
  • What to do when your teen hates you
  • Pray yourself to a great marriage

Thankfully, Jesus gave us an example of how to avoid compassion overload. Matthew 14 tells us that Jesus was on overload. His cousin (and possible childhood friend) John the Baptist had been beheaded. Jesus needed some time away, but first 5,000 men and their families needed his attention.

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How do you give when you’re running on empty?

1. Plan time away. Jesus planned a time of solitude and rest. He even put His travel plans in place.

2. Do what only you can do. Jesus delegated to His team. He didn’t try to find all the answers. He let His disciples work through the problem of how to feed the people, and then He did what only He could do.

3. Don’t create more stress. Can you imagine the stress of informing 5,000 families they had to leave and forage for food on their own? Not only would the crowd be angry, but the surrounding towns would have been overrun. Instead, Jesus used His abilities to reduce the stress of the event. By dealing with the issues at hand instead of trying to avoid them, Jesus and the disciples were able to get away easier without adding more stress.

4. Clean up. Ever notice how messy your office or bedroom get when you are under stress? Jesus took the time to have the disciples pick up the leftovers. When you keep clutter down, you will actually reduce your stress.

5. Go away! It would have been easy for Jesus to get in the boat with the disciples and try for a retreat later. Instead, He took the time He needed—immediately.

Next week, people in your community will encounter new crises. Jesus is not surprised, and He is ready to walk with them—and in fact is already preparing the way. What can you do to help people find Jesus in the midst of pain without losing yourself in the process?

Kim Martinez is an ordained Assemblies of God pastor with a master's degree in theology from Fuller Seminary. She is a ministry and life development coach and can be found online at She writes a weekly column for

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