why you’re headed toward harvey helper burnout (and what to do about it)

I’m a muddy mix of post-Harvey feelings. I bet you are, too.

I’m grateful my neighborhood was spared the worst so we can be out there helping our city. I’m heartbroken over other’s losses. I’m also worried about my friends facing down Hurricane Irma, but I’m not sure how to help them. I want to know how long it’s going to take for us to recover, to feel normal again.

Longer than I’d like, I’m sure.

It’s not just the physical recovery either. I had two recent experiences that showed me the emotional toll of a disaster, even for people who didn’t lose their homes. Sunday night I awoke from a disturbing nightmare about flooding. I won’t recount the details. Too many people around me lived the real thing while our family stayed high and dry. Then, 2AM Wednesday, a short-lived thunderstorm rolled into Houston. I bolted up, crying out, “What’s happening?!” I’ve heard from other friends who reacted similarly, some taking shelter in closets in case of more tornadoes, and all of us worrying about other people.

And we are the ones who lost nothing in the physical sense. I can’t fathom the trauma of people who lost homes, cars, jobs, or family. What is abundantly clear, however, is that all of us need grace and time to heal.

That includes those of us who don’t think we need or deserve such things, that think we shouldn’t have any grief, anger, or fear because others have suffered more. I’ve talked to you grateful but guilt-ridden friends this week. I AM you.

Last week there was nothing for it but to jump into the urgent doing/giving/helping the best we knew how. Lives depended on it.

It was right. Holy. Beautiful.

This week, though, we’ve got to figure out a sustainable pace for helping that includes time to rest, reflect, and deal with our own muddy mix of feelings. Otherwise, we’re headed toward bitterness and burnout. We risk becoming less compassionate in the weeks ahead, while our friends who ARE in the painful, exhausting process of restoration need us to hang in there with them for the long haul. We need hearts that are kind and courageous.

I’m finding the best way to set that sustainable pace is for me to focus on one need at a time, one organization at a time, in ways that take into account family commitments and physical limitations. I’m a fibromyalgia sufferer which means I manage physical pain, sleep abnormalities, and low energy even on the good days. I don’t talk about it much because it’s well-managed and I’m much better than I was five or six years ago. But I do have to be wise. I don’t need to mud-out or demo a house.

That being said, I still got completely overwhelmed with the flurry of social media posts as we all tried to connect people in need to people with resources. I forgot for a bit that it’s not a competition between church groups or individuals, and I found myself overwhelmed with a sense of failure that I couldn’t help with the more physically demanding tasks. But there are so many other things I can help with like raising money, gathering supplies, working behind-the-scenes to help the helpers, being available as an encourager and prayer partner. What I learned is that I can and should cheer for my friends doing other things, but I’ve got to pay the most attention to what’s in front of me.

That also means I’ve got to cultivate spiritual sensitivity so I’m aware of those needs. I’ve been praying something simple like, “Father, show me who I need to move toward today. What is today’s need?” Sometimes it’s a specific person or activity, but sometimes the need is my own or my family’s. I have to be obedient to take care of those just like anything else.

Earlier in the week, for instance, I discovered I was almost afraid to take significant time out to read my Bible and write in my journal. Maybe I was hiding from my conflicted feelings, not ready to bring my doubts and fears before God. I’m not exactly sure. Probably I was just completely overwhelmed like everyone else. Whatever the reason, that fear of taking time out to read, reflect, pray and worship was something that needed to be addressed. That was the need of the day. I found Christ still there waiting for me and more than willing to restore my soul.

So what is the need today? I’m not sure yet, but I know Who to ask. Then, I can rest in His wisdom as He builds something beautiful out of this disaster. I can take joy in whatever part I get to play in His plan.

2 responses to “why you’re headed toward harvey helper burnout (and what to do about it)”

  1. What a comfort Cassia’s words are in this blog. One thing I think Cassia and I have alike is the Love and compassion for God’s people. I know He can and will meet all their needs according to his riches and glory in Christ Jesus. We need to take God at His word so we can feel it in our hearts and feel happiness and joy for all those who lost their love ones and possessions. Thank you for writing this blog and bless you and your family.0

  2. […] few weeks ago, in the midst of Houston’s great flood I commented on the soul-level impact of tragedy even when we are on the outskirts. I think it bears […]

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