I find myself taken aback by the September, 1996 article in The Interim pertaining to stress and “burn-out” with the struggle to defend preborn children. The one in question concerns a survey examining compassion fatigue. “Burn-out,” according to popular usage, means fatigue, discouragement and dismay. But in more literal definition, “burn-out” actually means a heightened form of mental fatigue and distress just prior to what is called a “breakdown.” According to the law of psychological principles, the more we focus on anything, the more it will be realized in our lives. The experience of “burn-out” has, as genesis, many contributing factors. Generally, its root influence is environmental. Our bodies are exposed to all kinds of abuse, insults and stressors due to air, water and food pollution. Traffic pollution with the release of hydrocarbons, nitrogen dioxide and other toxic chemicals into the atmosphere, causes changes in the body and is linked to disease. Neurological symptoms of toxic insult and/or allergic reactions (pollution obstructs our immune system) are the biggest factors in bringing on the feelings of being “burnt-out” particularly in front-line activists since they are exposed more frequently to the effects of traffic pollution than those who work in an office setting. We can sometimes mistake these feelings for “psychological fears.” This, in turn creates a mild panic or anxiety which ushers in the “burn-out” experience.

Need for exceptional grace

In a healthy person whose homeostasis has not been interfered with, all kinds of external stresses can be endured and absorbed without much upset. But with homeostasis has been interfered with by the effects of pollution in our lives, then the stress factor increases as the body’s health gradually becomes impaired. Then we’d have to rely on an exceptional grace to function properly.

Theologically, “burn-out” is where we, due to an uncentered spiritual life, get away from God, and the Lord leaves us to our own resources. Self-will and pride take root in our works and, unprotected by the necessary graces, we begin to “burn-out” as we attempt to maintain our work performance.

There are enough treasures in the pro-life literary world, such as “The Gospel of Life,” to help nourish the soul and inspire it to greater action and devotion. Pro-lifers need this spiritual food in order to keep their spiritual “homeostasis” intact and as a means to resist “burn-out”. The constant pull of the spirit of the world and the flesh attracts us to abandon much of our enthusiasm and resolutions; to become increasingly lukewarm. This develops into an uncaring and unconcerned response to pro-life work and can make us either lazy or ripe for “burn-out.”

I believe that pro-life publications shouldn’t get wrapped up in psychological issues such as “work burn-out” and “compassion fatigue,” an issue which many people would find bordering on the ridiculous. We know we are really being effective when we “rock the boat” with our witnessing rather than bring objects of amusement. There is so much work that needs to be done in the vast terrain of the culture of life that we can’t afford to be navel-gazing ourselves into any burn-out. Nothing that a little gusto can’t solve. I suggest that we stay focused on the positive aspects of pro-life work, especially in our writings. And pray much for humility so as to keep self-will at bay and to enable us to derive the proper fruit from spiritual reading for ploughing ahead.