Boundaries, Compassion Fatigue & Facing What You Can’t Fix.
Editor’s Note: This post was written by Christina Bacino about boundaries while working in ministry with victims of human trafficking and exploitation. She works in South Africa and originally posted this on a blog: It Was For Freedom. Thank you, Saskia, for sending it to us. – Lauren
It’s amazing how quickly life can change. Just a few weeks ago I took pride in my “failure is not an option” mentality. Now, I can’t believe how silly and prideful that is. This idea of not wanting to fail has gotten me into a lot of trouble recently. I probably still don’t have full self-awareness on this, but I am in the middle of redefining what failure is- particularly in relation to counter-human trafficking work.
My job involves a lot of running around, phone calls, and speaking on behalf of those who can’t speak for themselves. When dealing with broken people in a broken system, it is very easy to take responsibility for all of the gaps. I mean, people’s lives are on the line, after all. Someone has to fight for them, right? For example, a trafficking victim has escaped her trafficker, she wants help, but is heavily addicted to drugs. There is no available rehab for those without money. Safe houses won’t take victims who are addicts. The only free rehabs have waiting lists of up to a year. What do you do? What do you tell her as she sits across from you willing to go to rehab in an instant, but the doors are all closed? You have tried. Do you walk away knowing you did what you could, but the system has failed her, or do you take matters into your own hands? Do you take on the “failure is not an option” mentality, or do you say, “I am sorry, I cannot help you any further.”
Not long ago I would have taken on the responsibility instantly, without a thought. But I have had to learn the hard way that this is not necessarily always what God has called us to. Now I know, I may not be the most popular freedom fighter after this, and I am happy to hear different experiences. And I also want to clarify that sometimes God leads us by his spirit to be persistent. But I am not talking about that. I am talking about the times when need and injustice are staring us in the face and our sense of urgency and responsibility take over – leaving us to function in desperation and in our own strength. And God takes His blessing and hand off of what we are doing, because we have left Him out of it. We have taken matters into our own hands.
Those of you who have experienced this before know how painfully exhausting it is to work from your own strength. You work, and work, and work, and work only to see little to nothing happen. Why do we fall into this trap? I think there are many reasons: We like to feel needed. We like the feeling of helping people. We think that if we don’t do it, no one else will. You can fill in the blanks….
How long do we bang our head against that wall until we realize that God is not in that? He said His yoke is easy and His burden is light. I cannot take responsibility for the freedom of every trafficking victim in Africa. If I did, I wouldn’t last past this year of work. I would literally go crazy. I would make bad decisions, because I was lead by my emotions rather than by His spirit. I would make promises I couldn’t keep. I would work from a sense of urgency and desperation that would exhaust me to my core.
I am learning that relinquishing this responsibility may mean saying things like, “I am sorry, but I cannot help you any further.” Saying this won’t seem like failure anymore, because my hope is in Him and His ability to set the captives free, not my own.
I am thankful for this realization. God has been gracious, gentle and loving to show me this early in life. I pray that His spirit will always nudge me when I have taken on responsibility for things that I shouldn’t. I pray that I always trust Him enough to lay something/someone back down before Him. I pray that failure is taken out of the equation, because the battle is ultimately His.
I will leave you with this thought and prayer from my devotional this morning as it was so timely: “If we are honest, we will admit that we never have misgivings about ourselves, because we know exactly what we are capable or incapable of doing. But we do have misgivings about Jesus. And our pride is hurt even at the thought that He can do what we can’t. My misgivings arise from the fact that I search within to find how He will do what He says. My doubts spring from the depths of my own inferiority. If I detect these misgivings in myself, I should bring them into the light and confess them openly- Lord, I have had misgivings about you. I have not believed in your abilities, but only my own. And I have not believed in your almighty power apart from my finite understanding of it.”
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