It has never been more important for us all to take good care of ourselves and others. All around us is division and fatigue, even as the pandemic worsens and we are called to hunker down as best we can. Within the world of our communal bubbles, we are also called to patience and grace. Let us all focus on what we can do and bring our very best selves to provide care to one another. As we do that, here are a few tips to help us all experience the life-giving nature of mutual support. When we reach out with kindness, the positive effects are immediately felt.
Could, Should and Just. How many times do you hear those words spoken? How often do you hear yourself speaking those words aloud, or hear those words in your thoughts? In 20 years of pastoral ministry, those three words caused the most difficulty amongst those both receiving and offering care. Each of those three little words carries assumption and judgement which gives them great power. I heard them often, though only once did I experience the gut-punch of hearing them in reference to my husband who was palliative at the time. I have seen the hurt on many faces and witnessed the betrayal of trust formed by those words. I’m sure you’ve heard yourself or others exclaim “He would be fine if he just got off the couch more often.” “She should just push away from the table more often”. We cannot know the challenges another person faces; we can only know that we sit across the table from someone who needs our love and care. If we are privileged to be invited into a conversation of mutual care and support, we are called to honour that trust by not demeaning or diminishing the experience of the one who needs our care. I challenge you to listen for those three words, to remove them from your vocabulary, and encourage others to do the same.
No fixing allowed! This is often tied in with the previous three words and is reflective of more of your needs than the needs of the person being “fixed.” It could be driven by a deep compassion to alleviate suffering, or it could be driven by your own need to be right and feel powerful. Either way, it causes more harm than helps. If you find yourself trying to fix someone, remind yourself that we each contain the answer to our own suffering and help people to find that answer within themselves. Perhaps someone has tried to help you by telling you all the things you “should” be doing and remember how that felt. Tune in to your gut instincts, your intuition and encourage others to do the same, and then perhaps the opportunity will present itself to work together.
Your diagnosis does not define you. How many times have you heard someone say, “I am diabetic.” Or “he is autistic.” How about focussing on the attributes which do define who we are, to say “he is one of the most honest people I know”, “her care and compassion for others knows no bounds.” It is our values that define who we are as individuals and as a community. It is the care we offer freely and without judgement to the most vulnerable amongst us which speaks to who we are, not our health care diagnosis! If you are aware of someone’s health concerns or needs, how about offering healthy sugar-free snacks or a gluten-free dish to help someone feel welcome and comfortable sharing their space with you.
Be aware of your own suffering. We all suffer in some way, we all have unmet needs and we all need to feel heard and cared for. If you are feeling alone – reach out to another. If you feel you need more exercise – invite someone to walk with you. If you are feeling disconnected – connect with a group or organization you can volunteer your time for. In other words, identify what it is you feel you need to receive, and then offer that to someone else because that is how we all become more fully the human beings we were created to be.
The bottom line is that it is easy to judge and it is much more difficult to strive for understanding. When we judge another, we isolate them and rob them of their humanity. Understanding requires active listening, compassion and patience and brings us closer together. Be kind to yourself first and apply all these strategies with your own self, and then apply them to those with whom we are in a relationship. And then watch a miraculous thing happen as those relationships deepen and grow, and you find yourself seeing not the differences between yourself and another but your common humanity. Watch yourself begin to notice not the things which stand between you in division and contract, but the things which stand before you that you can work towards together.
Blessed be all those for whom we offer care.