On Unglamorous Care
I was reading an entry by Foxmouser and was struck by some of the quotes which he posted.
From John Vanier quoting a Franciscan warning us all: “If we do not care for our bodies, and if we do not find a rhythm of life we can sustain in the years to come,” he said, ” it is not worth us being here. Our job is to stay. It is too easy to come and live among the poor for the experience, to exploit them for our own spiritual ends and then to leave. What we have to do is stay.”
Dorothy Day quoting a nun: “We run the risk of thinking we’re God’s gift to the humanity, those of us who struggle in our soup kitchens and hospitality houses to be loyal to Him. It is a message I hope none of us forgets, though we do; all the time we do.”
Our church has a friend that was recently admitted into a long-term care facility because his schizophrenia suddenly worsened to the point where he completely shutdown. Not too long ago, he had been suffering from debilitating depression–for 2 years.
I gathered a group of members to go up to visit him the other day and I was plagued by the thought that we were going up to do some “charity” work. I admit it, I think that visiting people like our friend can be a tremendous faith-building experience. And I think it should be–our faith must contend with the reality of mental illness. But I fear that to perceive our friend as a catalyst, an activity–anything less than a bearer of God’s own image, is to fall short of Christian love.
I am have been deeply influenced by a Catholic priest name Henry Nouwen. During his last years, he entered into a community for the mentally disabled and took over care for a man name Adam, who was in a near vegetable state. Philip Yancey was following him that day, interviewing him for an article and openly wondered: Was there was someone else who could clean, feed, or carry around Adam other than this distinguished holy man? Nouwen was taken aback by Yancey’s concern and insisted that he, not Adam, received the most benefit. And for the rest of Yancey’s visit, Nouwen kept coming back to this point–Nouwen was the beneficiary and Adam the benefactor.
Jesus, in his parable of the sheep and the goats, says: 31“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. 32All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
34“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
37“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
40“The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’
What Nouwen experienced and I think what we experience in visiting people like our friend, is that, if we will be humble enough, quiet enough, and make enough room, we will be visitors to an unexpected host. It is cursed when a wolf hides in sheep’s clothing, but it is blessed when a king hides in pauper’s garb.
I fear constantly that visiting our friend will become just an activity that we attend to when it seems convenient or whenever he pops up in our mind. But as the Franciscan said: Our job is to stay.
I sincerely hope that we will not have to stay. I do not wish that our friend has to stay in the facility one minute longer than necessary. But if God, in his goodness, has ordained to delay full healing our our friend until the resurrection, then I hope that we will have the sort of courage, faith, and love to stay with him.
This is my prayer.