Session 8: Getting support
In this session, we will share together the need to find support in our caring and where we might look for it.
Listen to ‘What a wonderful world’ (use Youtube or download here)
A prayer to say together:
the world you created and the people in it
inspire us by their beauty.
Thank you for all the support we receive in our lives.
Give us the wisdom to welcome it
when friends reach out their hands to us in love
and to be open to others’ encouragement and kindness.
In the name of your Son, Jesus.
Each person should take about a minute to remind the group of their name and describe a particular friend and why they are special.
Grace Sheppard, wife of the former Bishop of Liverpool and England cricketer David Sheppard, has written in Living with Dying about her husband’s final illness.
Around this time in David’s journey with cancer, when we knew that the end was in sight, I decided to look for [someone to be a soul friend]. After some time, I found one. I chose to consult a priest slightly removed from my own church who knew and respected David. He agreed to see me on a regular basis. I asked him to help me to let David go. It was essential to my spiritual health and general well-being to be able to give account and to unburden systematically to someone who could listen and observe from a more detached position, and who could discern whether or not I was being authentic or whether I was putting on an act. There is a place for putting on a brave face in public, but not at the expense of facing reality in the private place. I fancy that having this safe place also saved me from the neurosis of spraying my concerns around and becoming exhausted with repeating myself, or boring people, or confused by varied advice … The hour I spent with him each week became a place where I could confess things I was ashamed of and where I could weep without fear of being overwhelmed with a suffocating sympathy or religiosity, or be told to pull myself together. Here I could laugh at myself and we could laugh together. These sessions continue. It has become a place of accountability on earth without judgement; a place of encouragement and insight without sentimentality; a place where I feel respected as a human being and never patronised. It is a place full of wisdom and common sense, where I can rebalance myself after particular traumas. I am helped to do my own growing up. Overall it is a safe place, a place in which God’s pure love and mercy are being channelled. It is a hallowed friendship that has been a lynchpin in helping me to take each new step in the adventure of life.
Some possibilities for discussion:
Is there anything in this account that rings bells with you?
Grace Sheppard writes of the need to unburden. Where have you found the best such support – friends, family, fellow carers, fellow-sufferers, soul friends? Share examples of really helpful support you have received.
She says she was afraid of boring people with her concerns. Is that, in your experience, something to beware of or are carers more likely to err on the side of not sharing what’s going on for them?
With her soul friend, Grace Sheppard found opportunity for confession, weeping, laughter, encouragement, wisdom and safety. Which of these do you feel the need of and where could you get them?
Someone reads from Mark 14.32-42, 51-52
They went to a place called Gethsemane; and [Jesus] said to his disciples, ‘Sit here while I pray’. He took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be distressed and agitated. And he said to them, ‘I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here and keep awake.’ And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. He said, ‘Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet not what I want, but what you want.’ He came and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, ‘Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep awake one hour? Keep awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.’ And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words. And once more he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy; and they did not know what to say to him. He came a third time and said to them, ‘Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? Enough! The hour has come. The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand.’
A certain young man was following him, wearing nothing but a linen cloth. They caught hold of him, but he left the linen cloth and ran off naked.
Either listen to the author read his reflection here or invite a member of the group to read it out.
Grace Sheppard chose a fairly particular form of support for herself while she was caring for her dying husband. As you’ve no doubt been saying to each other – hers is not everyone’s cup of tea. But I would guess there has been no dispute in the group that what she got from that relationship is something we’d all find very supportive.
When Jesus chose his 12 disciples he was looking partly for people who would share with him in what lay ahead, to support him through it. In some cases, we might question his judgement. James and John were ambitious, Peter impetuous, Judas disloyal, Thomas stubborn. But each of them, in spite of their particular peccadilloes, had something to offer him. Among the friends we’ve chosen, none are going to be perfect but each of them is capable of offering us something of value.
In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus chose three of his friends to share in his final grief. They weren’t expected to say or do anything. He just wanted them there – ‘remain here and keep awake’. One of the values of friends is simply that they are there; we don’t necessarily need conversations or contact to know that they’re thinking of us and would be there for us if we needed them.
Sometimes though, we need more than that. We need practical help or advice and we decide that one or more of our friends could provide it. It may have taken a struggle to get to that point. In the process we’ve put aside all sorts of reasons for not asking for help. Probably we’ve also assessed the risks. One is that they’ll say No. There’ll be some awkwardness about this, both at the time and for a while into the future. But better they do that than say yes when they are not really willing to offer the requested support. Perhaps they once said: ‘if I can do anything to help don’t hesitate to ask’, but didn’t mean it and didn’t seriously expect you to think that they did.
Another risk is that though they really do want to help and try their best to do so, they don’t get it right. Their spirit is willing but their flesh is weak. This was the situation that confronted Jesus in Gethsemane. All he asked of his three followers was to keep alert but they couldn’t even manage that. Their failure must simply have compounded his sense of loneliness and isolation.
A feeling of being let down is always a possibility, particularly when we try to talk through our situation with someone. There’s value and release when we can share what we’re going through but if our attempt to describe what we’re experiencing doesn’t seem to be understood (and it’s asking a lot of someone to empathise with us if they’ve never been through anything similar themselves), or they make a comment which gives away their inability really to appreciate how we’re feeling, the whole process can leave us feeling more on our own than if we’d never tried to explain it in the first place.
Part of the problem is that people who may well be sympathetic don’t necessarily know what to say that will be really helpful. The disciples had this problem. The passage says they didn’t know what to say to him. It’s true also that people who want to help us often don’t know how to do it. They may well be inhibited by not wanting to be intrusive. In situations like this, we may need to have the courage not just to ask for help but to be precise about what kind of help would be useful. We’re often afraid to do that, for fear of being thought demanding, but it’s often really helpful for the person offering.
So seeking help may not be easy but it can be extremely rewarding. Many carers continue to feel they’re struggling along on their own but others describe with a sense of wonder the way, often quietly and unobtrusively, help arrives when it’s needed. Not just from family and friends either. It sometimes comes from people we don’t even know. The young man who fled naked stayed with Jesus longer than the others. He had done what Jesus wanted without even being asked and had watched with him. Perhaps as we work out how best to seek support from our friends and families, people we don’t even know will be to us like angels sent from God.
That’s how a different version of the story we’re looking at describes the support Jesus experienced in Gethsemane. St Luke’s account says that as he prayed, angels came and strengthened him. Jesus had gone there to pray – his praying was not full of words but it came out of his deep grief and fear. He didn’t get the release from what lay ahead that he pleaded for. But, as the angels symbolise, God gave him the support he needed. However it comes, support is what carers need in what can be otherwise a lonely task.
Some possibilities for discussion:
Share good tips about how to ask for help.
How do you deal with offers that aren’t quite what you need?
Do you share your situation with God? Jesus prayed to be released from the situation he was in. What do you pray for? Does it change anything?
Brother Lawrence was a lay brother in a Carmelite Monastery during the seventeenth century. After his death, some of his conversations and letters were gathered into a book entitled The Practice of the Presence of God.
He suggests that religion has been made too complicated. It’s really very simple – if we do everything, including the most insignificant and mundane daily tasks, out of love for God, we shall eventually begin to experience his presence. Simple, he says, but not easy. It requires discipline, constantly recalling God’s presence to mind when it seems to be wandering away.
Today’s theme has been a reminder to seek human support in our caring. Brother Lawrence’s writing reminds us that God is also there for us in caring’s joys and rewards and also in its most humdrum and tedious moments. Brother Lawrence suggests that God’s presence is with us always, what we need to do is become aware of it.
Some possibilities for discussion:
There are different ways of reminding ourselves of God’s presence during a busy day – strategic placing of an appropriate picture, placing an object with religious associations in your pocket or handbag, listening to religious music or radio. What ways have you found helpful? How could you help yourself to practice the presence of God?
Is it appropriate to include the person you care for in this process? If so, how might you do that?
Preparing for the next session
In the next session, we shall be talking about a story by Margery Williams called The Velveteen Rabbit. You can read the story in its entirety or find summaries of it if you google ‘Velveteen Rabbit’ or by following the links on http://www.caring-together.com.
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: ‘Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God
is with you wherever you go’ (Joshua 1:9).
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.
Jesus said: ‘Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid’ (John 14:27).
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
And the one throwing the lifebelt,
Even he needs help at times
Stranded on the beach
Terrified of the waves.
‘Waves’, Brian Patten.