To care for another person is to meet them in their pain and suffering in such a way that, together, we encounter Christ more deeply. As we meet others in their vulnerability, we become learners of the soul and of Christ.
I’m learning that we all need face-to-face. Our brain is wired in such a way that we grow, change, and develop as we are mirrored by others. This mirroring helps us monitor our behavior, thoughts, and emotions and be challenged when we get stuck in unhealthy patterns of living. This means that when we isolate ourselves and seclude from relationships, we are stunting our own growth and development into maturity. And no matter what age, we are built to be learning, growing, developing, and becoming.
I firmly believe that we are all called to care. Whether it’s caring for a disabled spouse, parent, sibling, or child, discipling or mentoring a friend, or simply being a parent, spouse, or friend, we all care for someone.
And if we find ourselves alone with no one to care for, we need to take a hard look at ourselves. What’s keeping me from caring? Why have I isolated myself? Who is it that cares for me? While we will encounter times of loneliness in life from circumstances within or beyond our control, there’s something to say about finding yourself in a position where you care for no one and aren’t cared for by anyone. Is it difficult for me to receive love from others? Do I keep people at a distance because I’m afraid of being hurt? Why is it that I don’t have anyone in my life to care for? How can I be more involved and intentional to build relationships with other people? These are important questions to ask. And important things to pray about.
We were not built to be alone.
The very first thing we receive in life is presence. Being in relationship with others is a constant reminder of who we are. It challenges us in ways that we can’t challenge ourselves. It pushes us outside of ourselves.
“One of the most tragic things about our time is that we know more than ever before about the pains and sufferings of the world and yet are less and less able to respond to them.” – Henri Nouwen
Not only do we constantly hear of horrific situations happening all over the world through the news, we also have more information available to us through the Internet. When someone we know is in pain, grief, or trial, this is an easy resource to turn to, for better or worse. In many ways, I see our culture turn to this resource as an escape for truly caring about the person experiencing pain. Instead of sitting with the person, we try to help them diagnose their disorders. Instead of visiting, bringing meals, or providing help with housework, we might post about it through social media instead to ask for prayer or to tell that person we are thinking about him/her.
We have become detached.
Deep down, I see us all grasping for authenticity and vulnerability, and yet we squelch it and are afraid when we encounter it face-to-face. This is especially true in care-giving situations, when a person needs genuine support, empathy, and love, and all of the surface-level, fluffy aspects of life and relationships are naturally pushed aside. What’s left is, simply, realness.
People in pain and in need of care draw us into the reciprocal need for realness. Too often we avoid or distract from this raw meeting place. We do this because:
- We become preoccupied with parts of life that seem more important. We want people to view us as put together: well-behaved, clean, efficient, productive, and successful. Without those, we feel anxious.
- It is not “normal.” It is a rare treasure when we meet someone who is their full, authentic self, and even further, in which relationship we are fully free to be our true self without judgment, guilt, or condemnation from ourselves or other people.
How can we, as a culture, grow in intimacy, vulnerability, and authenticity with each other? Vulnerability is necessary. It is the starting place for joy, love, happiness, as well as grief, sorrow, pain, and sadness. When we suppress sadness, hurt, or grief, we also suppress our positive emotions and simply become numb.
I think the slow solution begins with an individual, with me. As I have grown in being more vulnerable with other people, I have seen them grow in vulnerability too, in sort of a “me too!” way.
The truth is that we all have pain, and instead of suppressing or avoiding it, when we embrace our story and willingly share it with others, we invite them into the necessary space for healing, true friendship, and genuine love.
True love for other people comes in the form of vulnerability and authenticity. Instead of seeking to fix or diagnose each other’s problems, how much sweeter and powerful is it to simply be with each other. In silence, anger, sadness, joy, happiness, and in everything, as we meet each other and honestly care for each other, we allow space for Christ to work in our lives and heal our pain. He alone is the healer and redeemer of the brokenness of this world.
As caregivers, we can shine this hope and light into others lives. And when we allow others to care for us, we are giving ourselves and others a great gift. A gift that can continually wash our souls and minds to shine shine Christ more deeply and integratively in our life.
We can’t fix each other, but we can love with Christ’s love. We have been given a great purpose and reason to love each other well.
*This post was written as a reflection on “Spirituality of Caregiving” by Henri Nouwen.