Save The Children, Lose My Soul?—How I've Failed The Children I'm Working To Serve

A photo of Israa getting her pre-op echo in Tikrit General Hospital.

Today I met a little girl named Israa.

That’s her up there with that soul-perceiving, Mona Lisa-gaze. You might be surprised to hear I wasn’t initially affected by her cute intensity (cutensity?). In retrospect, this was not the first time I’d simply snapped a photo of a child and moved on, emotion-free. Children that would have previously melted me on the inside had become… dare I say it—objects of charity.

Of course, I still want them to get well—I work for it every day—but the thrust of my compassion has taken a serious hit.

Attending six Remedy Missions, seeing waves of sick children held by desperate parents, and a dispiriting amount of post-operative death has taken a toll on my soul.

Our teams are now helping save more children then ever. But with every death, my emotional kevlar got a little thicker, and even the cutest kids like Israa couldn’t pierce it.

A photo of Israa getting an echo screening.

Is that really what we are aiming for?

Hundreds of children whose lives are being saved by people who are barely affected as they serve? And, on a practical level, how can I do my job and connect you with these children if I’m not even connecting with them?

This is not the preemptive love we talk about, and, thankfully—while we do struggle at times—it isn’t a typical characteristic of our team.

But that’s just it—it’s a struggle. It has to be. Preemptive love takes risks for the sake of another. It stays vulnerable in the face of inevitable pain; it keeps compassion personal. And this applies to a lot more than just Iraqi children. Whether it’s your marriage, a friend struggling with addiction, or a tribe in the African bush, keeping compassion vulnerable takes work.

So back to my question: how do you continue to be vulnerable, emotionally present, and affected by those you’re seeking to love?

For my part, I’m committing to a few things: spending more time at the bedside of kids (without my camera), learning more kid-friendly Arabic phrases, and stuffing my bag with more play-things, like bubbles, Angry Birds and coloring books—and I want you to hold me to it!

A photo of Israa after her echo, surrounded by busy nurses and doctors.

And you? How do you keep from going numb, activating the defense mechanisms, or just giving up? What measures do you take?

Either comment below or email me—I'd love to hear from you!

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About Matthew Willingham

Matt Willingham is Preemptive Love's Senior Field Editor and writes primarily on politics, history, general updates and visual peacemaking through photography and film.

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Save The Children, Lose My Soul?—How I've Failed The Children I'm Working To Serve
Save The Children, Lose My Soul?—How I've Failed The Children I'm Working To Serve
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