Session 2 – Caring for yourself

Session Two – Looking after yourself

In this second session, we look at some of the motives that inspire our caring.

Opening Reflection

Listen to ‘One day at a time, sweet Jesus’ (use YouTube or download here)

A prayer to say together:

Generous God,

Jesus experienced directly how fragile and frail human beings are.

But he also showed us what we can become.

Help us find ways to develop our potential,

to enhance our capacity to receive as well as give,

to find delight as well as challenge in life.

And, sweet Jesus, give us the strength to do this today.

In the name of your Son, Jesus.

Amen.

Gathering

Each person should take about a minute to give their name and to describe one of their strategies for coping and how it helps.

Then take time to review the experience of the first session and decide on any changes the group may want to make to the structure of the meeting.

Exploring

Sheila Cassidy ran a hospice caring for the dying.

More than anything I have learned that we are all frail people, vulnerable and wounded: it is just that some of us are more clever at concealing it than others! And of course the great joke is that it is OK to be frail and wounded because that is the way the Almighty transcendent God made people. The world is not divided into the strong who care and the weak who are cared for. We must each in turn care and be cared for, not just because it is good for us, but because that is the way things are. The hardest thing for those of us who are professional carers is to admit that we are in need, peel off our sweaty socks and let someone else wash our dirty blistered feet. And when at last we have given in and have allowed someone to care for us, perhaps there is a certain inertia which makes us want to cling to the role of patient, reluctant to take up the task of serving once more. It is easy to forget that so much caring, so much serving is done by people who are weary and in some way not quite whole. Because we want our carers to be strong and invulnerable, we project onto them qualities which in fact they do not have. But again, perhaps that is the way things are because that is the way people are and we must learn to be strong for those who need us most urgently and relax and lower our guard with those who are able to accept our weakness and to cherish us.

Some possibilities for discussion:

  • Is there anything in this account that rings bells with you?

  • Is Sheila Cassidy right that we tend to hide our vulnerability? If so, why?
  • Is the person you care for able to care for you? If so, in what ways do they do that?
  • Does the person you care for expect you to be ‘strong and invulnerable’? Are there times, as Sheila Cassidy suggests, when you need to pretend to a strength that isn’t actually there?

Reflecting

Loving begins with yourself – Mark 12:28-34.

Someone reads the pasage:

One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that [Jesus] answered them well, he asked him, ‘Which commandment is the first of all?’ Jesus answered, ‘The first is: “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” The second is this, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” There is no other commandment greater than these.’ Then the scribe said to him, ‘You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that “he is one and beside him there is no other”; and “to love him with all the heart, with all the understanding, and with all the strength”, and “to love one’s neighbour as oneself,” – this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.’ When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, ‘You are not far from the kingdom of God.’ After that on no one dared ask him any question.

Biblical Reflection

Either listen to the author reading the reflection here or someone in the group reads it out.

The way some words sound backs up their meaning. For me the word weary is such a one. Its sound communicates that sense of heaviness and effort that is part of profound tiredness. Drained is another one – it somehow suggests a delving into the depths to draw out the final dregs of energy and then finding nothing there. Of course there are many different kinds of tiredness – physical exhaustion doesn’t infiltrate our whole being as emotional weariness does and it tends to make sleep easier rather than harder. Pressure and stress on the other hand tend not only to tire us in a way that affects our souls as well as our bodies but to keep us awake and so deny us nature’s recuperation. That’s the kind of tiredness that is not only not good for us, it makes our care much less effective.

Ogden Nash in his poem, Prayer at the End of a Rope, describes well this kind of stress:

One little moment thy servant craves

of being his own master.

One placid vale beneath the waves

of duty and disaster.

Let me not bite more off the cob

than I have teeth to chew;

please let me finish just one job

before the next is due.

Nash in his characteristically humorous way has put his finger on one of the prime causes of this kind of pressure – the feeling of constantly having to react to events rather than being in control of them. Sometimes of course we do have to respond to crises but there are also times when because we are already too tired to take charge of events, they threaten to overwhelm us. What we need to do of course is to spot the moment before it all gets too much and do something about our tiredness – once we’re on the downward slope, it’s very hard to stop.

But what can we do? How can we take time to look after ourselves if life’s demands and the needs of the person we’re caring for seem to consume every minute of the day? One technique is to practice stopping, or rather to use times when we’re forced to stop, creatively. There are many moments in the course of even the busiest day when there’s a natural pause – a traffic jam, waiting for the kettle, microwave or bus, even going to the loo – and these can be used to take a breath, consciously calm ourselves, make contact with our deeper selves and with the source of our energy. This is one way of giving ourselves that little moment that we, like Ogden Nash, crave of being our own master.

We also need longer times of stopping, time that is genuinely ours to do with as we wish and time when we are not too weary to use it creatively. You can help each other in the discussion in a moment by talking about how each of you ensures you have sufficient time for yourselves. Doing so will improve our caring. Because when Jesus says we should love our neighbours as ourselves, he’s recognising that if we don’t look after ourselves, we won’t be able effectively to care for others.

But why wouldn’t we look after ourselves? Most of us were taught to believe that human nature is basically selfish and that we should always be on our guard against giving in to that selfishness. This is what drives us into overdoing it. We are so determined not to put ourselves first that we go on giving to others to the point where it’s bad for us and undermines the effectiveness of our caring. Such a notion damages us – it’s a major cause of overwork and of pushing ourselves too hard. That’s why Jesus was so wise to say we need to love others as ourselves. The assumption many of us have inherited that it’s good to be self-sacrificial needs to be balanced by the need for self-care. We should put the same detailed, practical thoughtfulness into working out how best to look after ourselves as we do into caring for others.

But first we need somehow to be convinced that to love ourselves in that way is okay. That belief comes from faith. The central element of the Christian gospel is the belief that God loves each one of us regardless of our behaviour. Good, bad, lazy, energetic, compassionate, selfish, whatever kind of person we are, God loves us. That’s the truth the Bible says sets us free, and it does, it liberates us from any sense that to really look after our own needs, as well as others’, is somehow wrong. If God loves us without us having to do anything to deserve it, that’s how we should love ourselves.

So, though an important part of caring for ourselves involves the practicalities of making space for ourselves, an even more fundamental need is to make time for God, time when we can be reminded of God’s unconditional love for us, time just to let God love us as we are and to be conscious that God is doing so. That habit can lead to the creation of all sorts of other valuable ones because it’ll set us free to really take our own need to be cared for seriously.

Some possibilities for discussion:

  • Do you find it difficult to ask for what you need or take time for yourself? If so, why?

  • Share ideas about how much time each of us needs ‘for ourselves’ and how best to organise that.

  • The comments suggest we need the nourishment that comes from spending time with God. Where do we find spiritual nourishment?

Learning

The fourth-century monk Pelagius believed that a newborn child was essentially good and reflected the image of God. Evil could imprison and disable that essential self but with God’s help it could be liberated. His contemporary, St Augustine of Hippo, on the other hand, asserted that a baby was innately tainted by the sin of Adam, that he or she inherited Adam’s ‘original sin’. The image of God in a child needed to be restored in the sacrament of baptism. Augustine’s view became orthodox partly because it was thought that Pelagius played down the need for Christ’s help in reflecting his image in our later lives.

Perhaps humans do feel innately unworthy and this was the truth that Augustine latched onto. But, for whatever reason, down the ages Christianity’s view of human nature as deficient has been more influential than the gospel’s claim that God loves and treasures each of us. As was mentioned in the comments section, many people more readily see themselves as unworthy and undeserving than regard themselves as to be treasured and cared for. One way people try to become worthy and deserving is by pushing themselves to achieve, sometimes with considerable self-sacrifice.

Some possibilities for discussion:

  • Share your individual reactions to these theories.
  • How do you see yourself – essentially good and lovable as Pelagius did, or tainted and undeserving of love as Augustine did? Does this affect your willingness to care for yourself?
  • Is there any level at which you feel you must keep going because your self-respect and/or God’s love for you depend on it?

Preparing for the next session

At the start of the next session, each person will be sharing a photo they want to show the group. You’ll need to remember to bring yours with you! It may be of the person(s) you care for or of something quite different.

In the next session, we shall be talking about Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. More information can be found here, by googling Cognitive Behavioural Therapy or by looking on the NHS site.

Prayers

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: ‘Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you, Lord, are

with me’ (Psalm 23:4).

Generous God,

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.

Amen.

Jesus said: ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me’ (John 14:1).

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:

Loving God,

you promise to sustain all whose lives are hard.

Grant those for whom we care your strength and your peace.

Amen.

May God bless us all till we meet again.

Amen.

To take away

Only what is really oneself has the power to heal.

Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961).