One – the Task of Caring
In this first session, we begin to discover something about the situations each of us is in, how our faith helps us and what this group might offer.
A Song to listen to (download here or use YouTube)
When you’re weary, feeling small
When tears are in your eyes I will dry them all
I’m on your side when times get rough and friends just can’t be found
Like a bridge over troubled water I will lay me down
When you’re down and out, when you’re on the street
When evening falls so hard I’ll comfort you
I’ll take your part when darkness comes and pain is all around
Like a bridge over troubled water I will lay me down
Like a bridge over troubled water I will ease your mind
A Prayer to say together
You’ve given us people to care for
And we need your support and each others’ to do it well.
Be with us in these times together
That they might give us new strength and wisdom.
Grant that our caring may echo yours.
In the name of your Son, Jesus. Amen
Each person takes a few minutes to introduce themselves with their name, some basic information about themselves and a brief outline of their situation.
The value of a group like this will be greatly enhanced if you know you can speak openly without fear that what you say will be repeated outside the group. If you are to speak freely about the pressures you are under, you may, for example, need reassurance no one will relay what you’ve said to the one you are caring for. You must also decide whether it is appropriate to discuss outside the group something said in the group even with one of the group’s members. On the whole this too is not helpful, though there may be times when to be too strict about this would prevent mutual support.
A common formula is that matters that arise in the group can be discussed in a general way but never such as to link any point to any particular person. In this way insights and issues of general relevance can be discussed without any individual’s privacy being compromised. Discuss the issues around confidentiality and agree together the boundaries you feel are appropriate.
Does anyone wish to suggest any other ground rules for the group? (Some are suggested on the website www.caring-together.com )
Jim Cotter describes himself as a wordsmith. His prayers and other writings seek to reshape Christian tradition in a way that connects faith and contemporary life. In May 1994, he experienced a sudden breakdown, followed by six months in and out of hospital with severe reactive depression. In his book Brainsquall, he shares the experience. In this passage he describes how he was cared for. The ‘you’ referred to is not a specific person but a generic friend, colleague or professional carer.
It has taken me years to realize how much I like to be in control, exercising power. So when the controller collapsed, there was an immediate power vacuum. There was no one person to take charge, and people ‘out there’ reacted in a confusing variety of ways – all of course unbeknown to me at that time. You asked yourself many times, Who owns Jim? Who is claiming what? Who is organizing house and business, therapy and sanctuary? Who is meeting personal needs? I now know that in the external squall there were a lot of people talking about me, with both benign intent and unconscious motive. Who kept information to themselves, enjoying the privileged access? Who leaked confidential information? And what in any case were the boundaries between public and relatively private knowledge? Temptations and opportunities for gossip were legion. Again, this does not necessarily imply ill will, but the reality was a complex web of social relationships and interactions, with myself prone in the middle. Gradually, the picture became clear, but there was considerable confusion and embarrassment in the process. Again, who was exercising what kind of power, and what kind of love?
There were some who were concerned to protect me from intrusion, not only medical staff in hospital. They were the hasty builders of scaffolding around the storm-damaged house of my being. In shock themselves, often bewildered and disturbed, they found courage to act.
Were others tempted to take over? It is the perennial temptation of carers and rescuers in the dangerous work of coming close to the vulnerable person who has neither strength nor ability to deny access. At last! A way into the life of someone who, when well, is perceived to have the power of money, sexual attractiveness, charisma. For months there was the possibility of hangers-on and movers-in, ever so well-meaning mafias …
Is there anything in this account which rings bells?
Jim suggests carers have difficulty knowing what it’s appropriate to say in public about the person they care for. Do you have difficulty knowing what it’s appropriate to share whilst protecting the privacy of the person you care for? Is this going to be a problem in this group?
Jim suggests too many people tried to help in the initial stages of his illness. Has this been or is this an issue for you? Or are there too few?
Jim writes of those who protected him from intrusion, “built a scaffold around him”. Do you have to protect the person you care for from anyone? How do you do it?
Jim describes the carer’s role as one with power. What kind of power do you feel you have over the person you care for? Are you ever tempted to “take over”?
Reflecting: The Source of our Loving (John 13 verses 3-5,12-15)
Someone reads from John’s Gospel, Chapter 13 verses 3-5, 12-15.
Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him….When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me `Teacher’ and `Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.
The group then listens to the talk either here or read out by a member of the group.
Most of you, if not all, will be here because you are foot-washers, perhaps literally but certainly metaphorically. You give time end energy to meeting those needs that someone you care about can’t meet for themselves. I’m in a similar position. My wife’s spinal condition and her rheumatoid arthritis combine to cause her constant pain and to be unable to do many of the things I take for granted. It was as I reflected on the effect of this on our relationship and on me as her carer that the idea came of offering material for a group like this. The task of caring can be so demanding, particularly when it’s part of a life that’s busy in other ways too, that we never step back and reflect on what we can learn from the situation. But doing so can bring us a new self-awareness which can make us more effective in our caring.
In the discussion you’ve just had, you may have been thinking together about the amount of power a carer exercises over the person they are caring for. There are many ways in which we can take advantage of their dependence on us. In the incident we’ve just read about, Jesus recognises his power and where it comes from – he’d come from God and was going back to him – and chooses to use it, not at all for his own advantage but for others’. So here he does what was often the job of a servant and washed the disciples’ travel-worn feet. As in so much else that he does, we see in this action of Jesus an expression of God’s character. That’s how God uses his power, not for himself but for us.
I think the power we have over those we care for has the same source. It’s God who gives us the lives we have, our personalities and our potential for loving. And we choose to use that power in the same way by becoming servants. Our lives and our gifts are a treasure God has placed into our hands – we want to use them gently and purposefully for the benefit of others. And in so doing, we too are conveying something of God.
But I think this phrase Jesus uses about coming from God and going back to him doesn’t only tell us that Jesus was empowered by God; it also points to mutual love and care, to a profound intimacy between Jesus and his Father. In his giving of himself to others, Jesus knew the security and encouragement of knowing he was being held in God’s constant care and strength. We too are offered that same promise that God will hold and support us in our serving of others. His intimate knowledge of us means that he knows just what support we need. He enters the deepest recesses of our lives, shares our deepest secrets and does so with gentleness, courtesy, understanding and respect. Particularly when it feels difficult, that can be very encouraging.
Our caring too can often take us into a close intimacy with those we’re caring for. Indeed to care properly in the kind of situations we’re in can sometimes feel as though we are invading their privacy in a way that feels uncomfortable. When Jesus says to the disciples: “I have set you an example”, he’s encouraging us to do our caring his way. This includes sharing other people’s privacy with the same respect and gentleness he showed his disciples when he washed their feet and that he shows us.
One final point from this passage. “You ought to wash one another’s feet,” he says. This is not just about serving; it’s also about being served. It’s a reciprocal caring. Most of us will feel that that is true of the caring we offer. What we get back from those we care for is different in kind from what we offer them but it has a value all its own. We treasure it and this group is partly a chance to celebrate that.
But the group’s also a chance to “wash each other’s feet”; to be here for each other, to learn from each other and to discover the joy of letting ourselves receive as well as give. Allegedly, one of the besetting sins of carers is that they are poor at taking help for themselves. They feel more comfortable in a giving than a receiving role. We’ll discover if this is true of members of this group! But you wouldn’t be here if you didn’t feel these meetings could be helpful to you and it’s important not to be afraid to ask if there are specific ways in which you feel you could be supported by the group. That’s the kind of washing each others’ feet Jesus recommended to his disciples. Done with gentleness and respect for privacy, such support can be a practical experience of God’s all-embracing care for each of us.
Do you see your ability to care as God’s gift and your doing of it as expressing God’s love? If so, does that way of looking at it change anything?
In this story Jesus shows particular gentleness and respect towards his disciples. Which qualities of caring shown by Jesus here and in other things he did would you most like to emulate?
Jesus encouraged his disciples to care for each other. Is there any particular kind of support you’d like from this group?
Preparing for the next session
In the next session, we shall be exploring Carl Rogers’ theory about how our attitude to other people can help them grow. See elsewhere in this website or try googling “Unconditional Positive Regard”.
The leader introduces a time when members of the group may mention anything going on in their lives which is difficult. When there has been time for everyone who wishes to speak, a silence follows during which we quietly pray for the members of the group who have just spoken. Anyone who wishes to say a prayer out loud can also do so. The Leader then says:
Jesus said: Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens
and I will give you rest.
As we pray for each other, you meet us in our need.
Grant us the resources we need for our caring
and surround us with your love.
God says: Do not fear, I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
When you walk through the fire you shall not be burned.
We pray for those we care for…….
During this time, going round the circle of the group in order, each person mentions the name of someone they are caring for; this is followed by a long enough silence for that person to be prayed for silently by the group before the next person speaks.
When all have had a chance to offer a name, the Leader invites all to join in saying:
You promise to sustain all whose lives are hard.
Grant those for whom we care your strength and your peace.
And may God bless us all till we meet again. Amen
Quotation to take away:
“Well, now that we have seen each other, if you believe in me, I’ll believe in you. Is that a bargain?”
The Unicorn in Through the Looking Glass