On Future Art and Compassion Resilience by Hannah Campbell Gustafson

written by Hannah Campbell Gustafson

Last week, I went to an information session on a curriculum for organizations or schools on “compassion resilience”. I was there to think about ways in which this toolkit, or some of the pieces in it, might be used in the organization of which I’m director, and I’m looking forward to using some of the exercises and tools with my volunteers.  

But while I was sitting there, what struck me the hardest was the reminder that in order for us to care well for others (in our work, as well as in our other relationships), we need to have some sense of compassion resiliency.  We need to take care of ourselves in order to care for others.

We’ve all been told about the importance of self-care, over and over again.  Still, as I listened to statistics and research in that information session, and thought of other research I’ve read, I thought about how my husband (a pastor) and I (a social worker, someday maybe a pastor as well) are in professions that are known for high burnout rates.  And for some reason this hit me harder than it has in the past.

On New Year’s Eve, we sat in my parents’ house by candlelight, while our almost-six-month-old daughter slept in the other room, and our two-year-old pup napped on the couch, and we sketched out what some friends of mine call “future art”.  With oil pastels, we both drew images and symbols of what we want from our next year.  And, surprise, surprise, when I looked at what we both drew, so much of it could be tied to things that feel like self-care.  

The beginning of a new year can’t be the only time that I intentionally think about what makes me feel fulfilled and happy and wholly myself.  It can’t be the only time I think about self-care and how to do my best to set myself up for good mental health.  But, it sure is one great time to do this work!   

How do you find time to intentionally reflect on self-care, and on setting yourself up for good mental health (as much as is possible, of course!)?  How do you support your own compassion resiliency, so you can care for others?
Hannah Campbell Gustafson is director of Family Promise of Grant County, a nonprofit that uses a network of volunteers and faith communities to serve families experiencing homelessness.  She teaches one class a semester at University of Wisconsin-Platteville in social work, and chairs the Lafayette County Homeless Coalition.  Hannah is treasurer of the UCC Mental Health Network board of directors, and is a Member in Discernment with the Southwest Association of the Wisconsin Conference of the UCC.  She lives in the beautiful Driftless region of Southwest Wisconsin with her husband (an ELCA Lutheran pastor), their young child, and their standard poodle puppy, Óscar Romero.