I have had some people approach me after last Sunday's "Less Than" talk about empathy. Their question was a good one: "Can I have too much empathy?"
They are people who are prone to feel for everyone. They have a personality that "feels" for others very easily.
My simple answer is, "Yes. You can have empathy for too many people."
Jesus was God and He was here, walking around and interacting with people. He didn't heal everyone. He didn't feel everyone's pain. He often got away from the demanding crowds to be alone.
We are not Jesus. It's safe to say our capacity to empathize and "get in the water with people" is less than Jesus'. Jesus seemed to know there was a line. Call it "capacity." Whatever we want to call it, Jesus withdrew even when people were looking for Him.
We all have a capacity to care for others. If we go over that capacity and "get in the water" with too many people we will in essence, drown. Get bogged down and be ineffective for the Kingdom.
To know your capacity, you'll have to discern what that is for you. It could also be healthy to discuss some questions about yourself with a trusted friend:
1. Do I feel a need to care for everyone because I don't think God cares or will save the day? Do I have a minor "god" complex?
2. Do I sometimes resent all my caring because no one really does it for me?
3. Do I care for others to cover an unmet need in myself?
As a person in ministry I have to wrestle with the reality that there are many more people than I have time for. So one of the things I've done in the last eight months is increase my prayer list. I have people on there that I have concern for, but don't feel called to "get in the water" with. So I am taking their concerns to the Father each day.
Remember, if we get in the water with too many people, we'll be grossly ineffective. God gave you limits--a capacity for care. Ask Him to guide you to stay within your God-given capacity so you can serve well for a long, long time.
Hope that helps.