In Chapter 4 of his book Don't Sing Songs To A Heavy Heart, Dr. Kenneth Haughk says it is important to know who you bring to the relationship when caring for a suffering person. He says you bring Jesus and yourself. Jesus incarnates himself in you. When you bring your self you bring your feelings, wounds and presence, which gain power when Jesus is in you. In a previous blog we looked at Incarnating the Compassion of Christ; You and Your Feelings; and Feelings: An asset or a Liability? Other insights follow.
- People fear saying the wrong thing and making matters worse.
- People fear getting too close so that they hurt too.
- People fear coming face-to- face with their own mortality.
Actually, it's all right to feel anxious and be afraid. In fact, you can use your anxieties and fears to help you. They can help you know you need help. They help you to know you need God, so the first thing to do is pray. The second thing to do is to admit that you don't have any answers to help, so just listen. Listen to the person you are caring for, and while you listen, ask God to use you despite your fears, concerns and anxieties. He will.
The Wounded Caregiver
Who is the wounded caregiver? It's you. In his book The Wounded Healer, Henri Nouwen says that the wounded caregiver is one who embraces his own brokenness as he relates to one who is suffering. In this book, Nouwen says the caring relationship is one where:
- A person puts his own faith and doubt, his own hope and despair, his own light and darkness at the disposal of others to help them through the confusion of life.
- Compassion is the core element of care giving. Compassion knows that both the craving for love and the cruelty of the world are rooted in our own impulses. For the compassionate person nothing human is alien: no joy, no sorrow, and no way of living or dying.
- While compassion can bring you to the depths of loneliness, fear, doubt and pain so that you can care for another person in their suffering, it can also be a trap so that you end up focusing on your own pain so much that you end up caring more for yourself than caring for the other.
The Power Of Presence
This brings us back to Jesus, which is where we started. When caring for a suffering person, it's not the words you say that will be remembered or feels helpful. It's your presence. Your presence alone communicates love, compassion and acceptance. The human presence of caring and relating is incarnation, because Jesus is still there in you reaching out. Nouwen says that if there is a posture that disturbs a suffering person, it is aloofness.
Your presence communicates more than words. Your presence brings not only the gift of yourself into the relationship but also, in and through you, the gift of God.