Session 10: The struggle and the joy
In this last session, we will look at some of the challenges and some of the rewards of our caring.
A prayer to say together:
thank you for those who accompany us in the journey of our lives,
for their support during the stormy times.
Your care for us is expressed through them.
But sometimes we still feel very alone.
Thank you for the confidence we get
from knowing that, however strong the wind and rain,
You will never leave us.
Through your Son, Jesus.
Each person should take a minute to give their name and says something about themselves the rest of the group may not yet have discovered.
In the last of the extracts from books and articles written by carers, here’s a poem written anonymously for an anthology compiled by the Manchester Carers Centre from material written during a Creative Writing Workshop for Carers.
‘You and Me’
not very often,
I get encouragement
and that makes me feel good
and keeps me going.
I feel sad,
taken for granted,
at no life
to call my own.
and I look at you.
It’s hard to say
it’s not worth it
because you are.
Even if it means
I merely exist.
Some possibilities for discussion:
Is there anything in this poem that rings bells with you?
Do you ever feel your caring is taken for granted? Where do you look for, or find, encouragement when that happens?
The poet says that s/he ‘merely’ exists, implying perhaps that s/he is missing out on a full experience of living. Is that true of your experience of caring?
This poem emerged from a group of carers that met to share their experiences and express them creatively. In what ways has this group been valuable for you?
Looking and loving:
Someone reads from Luke 10:38-42
Now as [Jesus and his disciples] went on their way, he entered a certain village where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me!’ But the Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.’
Either listen tothe author read his reflection here or invite a member of the group to read it out.
It’s not difficult to leap to Martha’s defence. Someone has to prepare the meals, do the housework, keep the show on the road. We can’t all just drop everything because something we’d prefer to be doing comes along. And her resentment may ring bells too. There she is, struggling away, and not a finger is being lifted to help her. We might want to suggest to Martha that if she’d been on this course, learned to take care of herself as well as others, searched out appropriate support, found ways of turning her frustration into creative energy, she’d have kept much calmer! But even we who have had the chance to discuss all that, still occasionally identify with her feeling of being taken for granted and dumped on.
The anonymous writer of the poem you’ve just been discussing certainly felt that. But then the person they are caring for smiles and suddenly it’s all worth it. Of course there might have been gratitude and appreciation in the smile. That would certainly dissipate the sense of being taken for granted. But it doesn’t read as though that’s what’s contributed to the change of attitude. It is more that the author really sees the person they are caring for and their unique, extraordinary humanity, a beauty which is being enhanced by the relationship between them, and then the struggle becomes a joy.
We don’t know the situation of the person the writer is caring for. It may be that they are not physically capable of much at all. It may not be possible to have any verbal communication with them, as is the case for some people with Alzheimer’s or autism for example. But that makes no difference to the sense the writer has of the wonder of their existence and the beauty of who they are. In that profound moment of really seeing, what is being experienced is a profound respect, a dignified acceptance and an enchanted delight.
Martin Buber, whose ideas we’ll be looking at later, suggested that we look for this kind of moment of insight in all our relationships. And he went on to say that in such interactions between human beings, there is insight into the true nature of our relationship with God. That too is characterised by respect, acceptance and delight in each other. But such relationships don’t just bring insight into our relationship with God, they are part of it. As we look at another with warmth, appreciation and reverence because of who they are, we are looking at something of God. Mother Teresa tells how outside the convent in Calcutta, the feeble cries coming from a rubbish bin turned out to be those of a very frail, elderly, sick old man. ‘No one is trash’, she said and went on to speak not only of the humanity of each person but of the divine that is also in them. Every human being is made in God’s likeness. As George Fox, founder of the Quakers, put it, ‘Walk cheerfully over the earth answering that of God in everyone.’
I think that’s what we’re doing in our caring. Each of the people we care for is God’s gift to us. In them there is something of God. In our cherishing of them, we are answering that of God that is in them. And strangely, the more we treasure their individuality, their particularity, the more we open ourselves to a wider, more general awareness of God’s presence in everything. When we sit at the feet of the ones we care for as Mary sat at the feet of Jesus, as we look at the ones we care for with the same expectancy and delight as she looked at Jesus, we find Jesus looking back at us.
Martha’s problem may well have been that she had lost sight of why she was doing all that work. Like some of us, she may have felt she had no choice; like us, she may have felt wearied by the relentless organising and physical hard work involved in caring for Jesus; she may justifiably have felt put upon. But if she had taken a moment to stop as Jesus seems to be suggesting and do the one thing needed; if she’d done what Mary was doing and really, really, for however short a time, looked at the one she was rushing about caring for, her whole feeling about it might have been quite different.
I hope you have found these sessions valuable. Thank you for using this material. I hope it has encouraged you. I hope it will give you renewed energy for the task, in Fox’s words, of walking cheerfully, answering that of God in the people you care for.
Some possibilities for discussion:
- Are there times when busy-ness gets on top of you? What are the symptoms? And the cure?
In the poem we looked at, it’s a smile that helps the carer really to look at the one s/he’s caring for. Share moments when you’ve been able really to see the one you care for. How can you make it happen more often?
What difference does it make to think of the person you care for as ‘made in the likeness of God’?
The philosopher Martin Buber distinguishes between two types of human relationship. The first is functional – for example, someone we interact with at work or as we shop or travel, usually with the sole purpose of achieving a task. This kind of relationship he describes as I-It. The other kind are I-Thou relationships. In these, the relationship with the other is more personal; the meeting of the two people is at a much deeper level, person to person. Whereas in an I-It relationship the other person may be seen simply as an object that is useful in achieving a particular purpose, in an I-Thou relationship, there may be no particular purpose for the relationship but through it each is affirmed and valued.
Buber is not criticising I-It relationships – they are a necessary part of life – nor is the character of a relationship fixed. An I-It relationship with the person checking-out our shopping, for example, can become an I-Thou one if we have a conversation with them; conversely, if we start taking a friendship for granted, riding roughshod over a friend’s wishes, or using them to meet our needs without taking theirs seriously, an I-Thou relationship can become an I-It one.
The distinction is particularly important to Buber because he believes our relationship with God is an I-Thou relationship. It’s not there to achieve any particular function, either for God or us, except that in the meeting of two persons both are affirmed.
Some possibilities for discussion:
Do you find the distinction between I-Thou and I-It relationships helpful?
When might a relationship between carer and cared for become an I-It relationship?
What would be the hall marks of an I-Thou relationship between carer and cared for?
- Is your relationship with the person you care for teaching you anything about God and your relationship with God?
The next step
Take these final moments of the group to share ideas about whether any kind of follow-up would be helpful. Would members of this group like to go on meeting? If so, in what way? Are there other ways members of the group can continue to support each other? Are there other members of your congregation(s) who might find the course helpful? How could this be organised for them?
Now is the time for anyone in the group to mention anything going on in their lives that they are finding difficult. When there has been time for everyone who wishes to speak, a silence follows, during which each quietly prays for the members of the group who have just spoken. Anyone who wishes to say a prayer out loud can also do so.
Leader: ‘Those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with
wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint’ (Isaiah 40:31).
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.
‘To you O LORD, I lift up my soul. O my God, in you I trust’ (Psalm 25:1-2a).
Now go round the group in turn and each person mention the name of someone they are caring for. Follow each mention by a long enough silence for that person to be prayed for silently by the group before the next person speaks. Then all pray together:
you promise to sustain all whose lives are hard.
Grant those for whom we care your strength and your peace.
May God bless us all till we meet again.
To take away
I sought my soul, but my soul I could not see,
I sought my God, but he eluded me,
I sought my brother, and I found all three.
Theodore K. Lawless (1892–1971), medical researcher and philanthropist.