Righteous Mind with Rev. Cynthia T. Turner
  • Righteous Mind with Rev. Cynthia T. Turner
  • Righteous Mind with Rev. Cynthia T. Turner
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    Soul Rythem

    Righteous Mind with Rev. Cynthia T. Turner

    I knew I’d end up feeling this way. One shameful, thoughtless incident can do that to you.  Such episodes linger and the accompanying regret builds in octane with each passing hour. A couple of evenings ago, I was having a nice meal after a movie at a quaint new restaurant when an obviously troubled homeless woman entered the establishment. Clutching her belongings in two stretched CVS plastic bags, she boldly announced her presence by demanding the hostess point her to the ladies room. Her nappy hair crept out from beneath the rag it was wrapped in and her two-sizes-too-large bright red pants were spotted. Her mouth foamed with white goo all around her lips. I had seen this sight a thousand times before in this area. The invisible homeless who needed a safe, clean place to clean up. Usually, they avoid drawing attention and hope to sneak into a bathroom unnoticed. Since this spot was new, I suspect she knew she could enter before a policy or practice was instituted to keep her out.

    That’s not what haunts me. It’s when she came out of the bathroom, approached my table, looked directly at me, ignoring my table partner, and said plainly and clearly: “Will you buy me a soda?” Startled, but without missing a beat, I firmly gathered up my fear, locked eyes tightly on her foamed mouth and said: “No.” She paused, shrugged her shoulders, mumbled “well then!” and walked out of the door. I then commented to my table mate that I knew I would pay for that with overwhelming guilt. And I was right.

    What haunts me is how out of character my role in the whole scene was for me. The tone, the quickness, and the I’ll-show-you-two-can-play-that-game attitude. Here I am out minding my business, away from the nonstop demands of ministry with dinner and a movie, and somebody has the audacity to need something from me. Where’d that stuff come from? That’s not me.

    After reflection, I think I know why. I’m just tired. Tired of folks asking me for stuff. Tired of saving everybody (not that I do that, but for drama’s sake I write it). Tired of being the one who listens all the time to everybody’s mess.  Tired of being asked to deal with stuff that folks can deal with on their own without me. Tired of giving when I don’t have anything left to give. Just tired. But the inner voice whispers in protest: I cannot afford to be tired. I’m a pastor. A minister.  A caregiver. And others are depending on me to be there when their crisis occurs despite any weariness and (God-forbid) personal crisis of my own.  (Don’t worry; I know the place from which that voice emanates and it’s not the Lord.)

    Rev. Dr. Gina Stewart coined the phrase that gives clarity to my condition when she preached at the Hampton Ministers Conference a few years ago. It’s called charity fatigue. No explanation needed.  The person carrying the disease is bad enough, but the real danger occurs when folks who really need help can’t get it because the folks who don’t really need help have used up all the equity in us caregivers. It’s why we must be discerning earlier and not simply allow ourselves to reach the limit where whatever else comes along we say no.

    Back to the situation. So my response really had nothing to do with this lady. She just picked the wrong person on the wrong day to need something from. It’s not her fault. It’s mine. None of us is without repentance. We should be there for each other, especially those really in need. And we should respond with compassion and grace.

    I have continually prayed, repented and asked forgiveness and even asked God to send other chances my way to prove that I am willing to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty and clothe the naked.  My heart is true in that regard, but my actions spoke otherwise. And I know enough not to wallow in my shame but to go ahead and receive the grace of forgiveness that God promises when we ask.  

    Perhaps had the woman asked my dinner mate she would have gotten more empathy.  Perhaps not.  But I do know this situation is a wake-up call for me to not become so empty that when true need shows up at the table, even if I don’t ask them to sit down, I can get up and buy a soda. Because, surely, there but for the grace of God go I.


    The Rev. Dr. Cynthia T. Turner, pastor of the Dayspring Community Church in Lanham, MD, writes occasionally about the “Righteous Mind” on the Soul Rhythms blog.

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    1. Amen, Sista! Sometimes known as, “Compassion Fatigue.” I suffer from it myself. It can truly be overwhelming loving others as yourself.

    2. Thanks Therese. There’s so much more to this story that I did not include because I cannot explain them. Also, I think you’re right. The term Dr. Stewart probably used was “compassion fatigue” and I misremembered. Now if I could only do a better job of averting it. Blessings to you (birthday girl!).