In his book Don't Sing Songs To A Heavy Heart, Dr. Kenneth Haugk shares important insight into how to relate to those who are suffering. Chapter 4 is entitled "Who you bring to the relationship." There he says, "You are the tool God has prepared for caring for others, and you carry that tool with you wherever you go."
As a caregiver you bring two of the most high and holy gifts to the one you care for, but don't try to guess what they are. You need to know who they are. You bring Jesus and yourself. Jesus incarnates himself in you, and when you bring yourself you bring your feelings, wounds and presence, which gain power because you have Jesus in you.
Incarnating the Compassion of Christ
- Caregiving is not just a two-person relationship, but a three-person one. There's the one you care for, there's you, and there's Jesus.
- Nothing in you makes it possible for you worthy of this honor. It is Jesus working in and through you to communicate in ways others can understand.
- Relating deeply with one who is suffering is a tremendous spiritual act. You meet the other person in a deep place and you both meet God.
- The love you bring to a suffering person is more than a reflection of God's love. It is God's love. "If we love one another God lives in us and his love is made complete in us." 1 John 4:12
- When people go through prolonged suffering they feel abandoned by God. If they sense God's presence and love through you they can know God is near.
You and Your Feelings
- Jesus is the greatest resource as you relate to a hurting person.
- You yourself are the second greatest resource.
- Whatever you learn, whatever skills and techniques you develop is all filtered through you, your experience, your person, yourself.
Feelings: An Asset or a Liability?
Your feelings that you bring into a caregiving relationship can be an asset and a liability. Your feelings can help you to empathize with the one you care for. Your feelings can also be an obstacle. When the other person's situation hits close to home for you your feelings may become mixed up with theirs and caregiving boundaries may blur.
Feelings of anxiety and helplessness are common to people who care for suffering people, and they might seem more like liabilities than assets. On the one hand anxiety can be a helpful impetus to action. On the other hand when we feel overly anxious and try to fix the other person so that we feel better we end up caring for the wrong person.
There will be more to come on who you bring to the relationship in a later post.