Sunday, April 27, 2014
Toward a Theology of Caregiving - Compassion
As Tim continues to recover from his unexpected surgery, I have been trying to reflect on the experience for myself. I admit that I didn’t have, or perhaps allow, a lot of space for reflection during these past four weeks. I was focused, consumed, afraid.
After an unsatisfying internet search for someone else's take on caregiving, I realized that I needed to develop my own theology of caregiving. What do I believe God does in the midst of caregiving? I am not discussing the professional caregiving of a chaplain, but the physical, emotional, and spiritual caring of a wife. Sorting out my emotions and where I believed I saw and continue to see God, soon had me writing way too much for one blog.
Today is the first installment of Toward a Theology of Caregiving. This is not a fully developed, systematic theology, but the one from which I am emerging at this time.
Mark 6:34 (CEB)When Jesus arrived and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd. Then he began to teach them many things.
Compassion and Empathy are two different yet related things. Compassion is sympathizing with the suffering of others. Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of others. I found both necessary as the caregiver, but will first share my thoughts on compassion.
Seeing your beloved in a hospital bed can tighten your chest and make you feel dizzy, while, strangely, providing a calm. As my son can attest, I was very “tense” waiting during the surgery. I only relaxed a little when could see Tim with my own eyes after surgery. It was hard seeing him so vulnerable and in pain, but I could see and feel that it was my Tim.
The moments, hours, and days that followed provided me with deep lessons in compassion as I sat by that hospital bed. . . . to sympathize with the suffering of others . . . Watching Tim’s every movement cause excruciating pain was difficult. Compassion flowed from nurses who worked to control his pain and who shared words of encouragement. But as the wife, it was just hard watching him suffer. I wondered at the times when our roles were reversed and how that must have been for him. I, however, with all my illness, herniated disks, and accidents, had anything that rivaled what Tim was experiencing.
Hand holding and touch were important for both of us. I witnessed his reaction to pain medicines that provided short term relief, horrible side affects, and amplified his feelings of loss of control and vulnerability. A physical connection was one way I could show my compassion, and a way in which I received comfort. Jesus touched people. Through his touch, he conveyed not only physical healing, forgiveness, and love, but also his compassion for people who were suffering. I pictured Jesus touching Tim with me.
Jesus showed compassion throughout his ministry. He had compassion for those who suffered emotionally and physically and acted to mitigate people’s suffering. He had compassion for those who were spiritually suffering as the above text attests. I know body, mind, and spirit are all needed for healing, but being present with the person I love most in the world in his suffering, has shown me again how one affects the other. As long as any part of the body-mind-spirit is out-of-whack, the person suffers. I am convinced that we only become whole again through the love of God and God's people.
I believe that scripture holds story after story of God’s compassion for us. God’s commitment to love us through it all, helps me. I know that God’s compassion, God’s love,will support me as I support Tim. God was with the doctors in the OR as they practiced compassion during the surgery. God was with every nurse who showed compassion for Tim's suffering. God was with our children who sat by their father, filled with compassion and probably a little fear. God was with me as I struggled to act and be compassionate, even in my sleepy fog in the middle of the night. I believe that God is compassion.