Explorations in Theology

The series explores a theology that is human friendly! Jesus as the true human shows us who God is, and because of his consideration for us ('who are we, that God should make note of us?') defines who humanity was created to be. The nature of sin is to fall short of the glory of God. The glory of God as revealed in the truly human one - 'we beheld his glory full of grace and truth'. This volume is a foundation for the other volumes. And there are ZOOM groups available...
Volume 2 Significant Other now also available!
El libro electrónico (en Español) también ya está disponible
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Letting People In

Compassion Fatigue

A new post by Gaz


As a self proclaimed introvert, I have had to learn to find the sweet fruits that are within relationships and social environments. There is much written about such animals as myself and our need for ebb and flow, to flow out and to retreat back to the place of nurture. It is a necessary but also most bizarre dance to have to learn and navigate lest we become isolated, limited and over domesticated by our chosen cave, because the wild, the unscheduled happenings, the joyous being acted upon by others, is beyond our door.

I remember doing mainstream counselling against the advice of my sectarian Christian counter parts, since it was insufficiently sanctified (controlled and safe). 

I chose to be stretched on many fronts, my openness, my vulnerabilities and imposed limitations of the culture of my chosen faith. In year two we had to choose a working partner for the year and submit to the lecturers why we were making such a selection. Mine was that I wanted to be paired with a female, since such things were not permitted in my world (having been told as a youth pastor that you meet a female co worker with the door open and if you have to be in the same car, she sits in the back). 

I was very Southern in my cultural trappings and she was exceptionally Northern, it was awesome to spend time with her and bare our souls in the context of our work objectives. We needed to attend a long weekend away twice a year to get the sufficient number or course hours in and on this one occasion my co-worker did not show up. In the sessions I was feeling withdrawn and unable to engage, and at one moment I was triggered by the session and needed to go sit outside and simply cry. After a while the lecturer came and sat with me and said to me “you don’t really ‘do’ people do you, but your trying to let them in. Is there anything different about this time away which has gotten under your skin, reached into your insides?”

I had no idea really, as I was experiencing something deep in my being which was outside my rational minds ability to control, supress or articulate. “ I am aware that your co-worker of several months isn’t here… could it be that you have let someone in, that you are feeling the loss of them in this part of our journey together”? The snot and tears that ensued suggested that she was on the money, on target and correct.  

What she said next was transformative for me. “ I feel that the kind of person you are, but also your journey so far, has made you able to get by and survive without allowing too many people to get into your insides. What you don’t realise is that you have found a way to survive but to truly live, you have need of people, and what you are experiencing is loss, and even in this moment, grief because they are not here. To be complete, you have to let others in, and perhaps at times, carry one another”.

These days I work helping those who are burning out working with refugees who are serving them through legal support or even the provision of food. Almost without exception it is because they are letting people, and their stories in.

What they are experiencing is called secondary trauma, where an aspect of what you hear from another, becomes your own and you have to process, heal and recover from what you have let in. Keeping people out comes at a price, and so does letting them in.

Perhaps, aside from my created personality type, there was a fear of letting people in for me, perhaps somewhere I had allowed this and it cost me too much, perhaps I didn’t know how deep within us this sits, where ‘letting people’ and their stories in actually resides within us. So my need to self manage had created what became too much distance. It is, after all, a dance of ebb and flow and frequent imbalance.

For a Christian this is problematic since if we are alive, at all on our insides, we are driven by a God given compassion. Compassion is deeply profound and we need to learn to manage it and walk with it with an understanding of where compassion begins and where compassion resides. I have personally had to learn the dance of compassion, the dance of proximity to others, the dance of like, love and loss, which were once kept in a box under lock and key. Today I am learning how to truly live.

So what does it mean to let people in, in a way that is productive, life giving at a mutual level and does not tip the balance towards destructive?

The Hebrew word for Compassion is Rachamim, it is derived from the word Rechem, which is the word for Womb … and there you have it. 

There is nothing shallow about allowing our compassion and love for others to creep into our insides, because in reality this is the place that the feeling began, in the most intimate place of carrying another life through aspects of need and growth. Does it cost, absolutely, but rewards also. Does it cause us pain and need of recovery yes, but life in equal measure.

3 thoughts on “Letting People In

  1. I have to admit…just reading your perspective on this makes me squirm.
    I can accept, my reclusive behavior, is a mechanism I function with.
    Growing up in isolation from neighboring kids and dealing with the hurt from toxic relationships, has given me these mechanisms. I am not sure what I would do with a relationship that allows people to take up space in my life.

  2. That speaks to so much of what I’m going through right now. I do research on what makes communities work better in the landscapes in which they live. I’m passionate about those communities and how they could work better and want to work out what the pressures are on those communities. The problem is that the more I research, the less contact I have in the busyness of it all. How to balance all of that and the needs of family is definitely a dance.

  3. I think one of the things working in humanitarian contexts is that its easy to become organisational and ad’ministrative’ eventually being distanced from the people and the faces. I learned it needs personal connection with someone somewhere from time to time for a sense of actual journey with real people. Im not sure what that says about us if that becomes only a concept. people, not causes or issues x

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