The Antidote to Compassion Fatigue

Changing a child's life is easier than you think.
The Antidote to Compassion Fatigue

Though an optimistic sort, I’m appropriately wary of anyone who claims that “One Simple Step!” can create any sort of meaningful, lasting change.

Despite the insistence of the rudely targeted sidebar ads on my Facebook page, losing belly fat doesn’t work that way.

Making $10,000 a month working from home doesn’t work that way.

Juggling rubber balls doesn’t work that way.

So when a friend sent me a book whose premise is that a moment (not even a more respectable hour, just a moment) could change the entire trajectory of a child’s life, I was cautious. The fact that the author was Compassion International’s President Emeritus, Wess Stafford, made me curious enough to crack the cover. That guy’s got the chops.

In his book Just a Minute, Stafford shares story after story in which a single encounter changed the course of a child’s life. A sponsor’s letter convinces a girl living in poverty in Manila that her life matters. A compliment at just the right moment buoys and blesses a child’s spirit. A well-timed smile and wave comforts a grieving family.

As I lapped up story after story I was reminded that this is exactly what I believe.

Specifically, I believe in the power of a single face to change everything.

What Makes the Difference?

In her work among adults who’d endured abuse or neglect as children, German psychologist Alice Miller noticed that those who experienced mistreatment as children would most often grow up to repeat the pattern of violence that they experienced. Even when these people “knew better,” their early experiences were so deeply formative that they naturally repeated the nasty cycle they’d endured.

However, this isn’t true for all children. Some, in adulthood, end the pattern of abuse or neglect they experienced as children. Miller wondered, What made the difference?

Miller’s research showed that all of the subjects in the group who grew up to thrive shared one thing in common: the presence of someone Miller called an “enlightened helper.” This person—a neighbor, a coach, a teacher, an aunt—reflected for the child that he didn’t deserve the treatment being received. Even when the adult helper wasn’t able to change a child’s circumstances (and I want to say that very cautiously, as the job of any adult who’s aware of abuse or neglect is to do just that), the helper still communicated value and worth that allowed the child to survive and thrive. The helper reflected that the child was worth protecting, worth respecting, and worth loving, making a lasting impact on the child’s life.

Margot Starbuck

Margot Starbuck, award-winning writer and speaker, is a graduate of Westmont College and Princeton Theological Seminary. A TCW regular contributor and columnist, Margot speaks regularly on discipleship, justice, and living love in the world God loves. Connect with Margot on Facebook, Twitter, or at MargotStarbuck.com.

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Children; Compassion; Encouragement; Grace; Love
Today's Christian Woman, July 8, 2015
Posted July 8, 2015

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