I have made the mistake of agreeing to make contributions of various kinds at a time when I have major work pressure. My day job requires me to grade the exams of a 360 freshman chemistry students, submit a major grant proposal, submit a draft paper for a collaborative project, and give a paper at a theology winter school. In addition I have had to give a quiet day in my parish, submit two guest blog posts, write a post for my own blog, and see various people for spiritual direction. All of this has happened in the space of six days at the end of a taxing semester. Not only have I done the bulk of my teaching for the year this semester, but the husband of one of my closest friends passed away in the middle of it.
To say I am wrung out is something of an understatement. So my own blog post this week was a brief reflection on an overreaction I had to something trivial. Fortunately, I had been sufficiently self-aware to be able to pause and notice that my reaction was off-key and had been able to defuse my internal outrage before the other person was even aware that I was upset. It was all I had to give to my blog. I decided to share it rather than not simply because I like keeping a regular posting schedule, and I really had nothing else. I ended sharing the story with a reflection on the importance of pausing before we respond. Do we need to give the other person the benefit of the doubt? Maybe his or her intent was not quite as sinister as we first thought.
Just a few hours later a Facebook friend commented how much she needed this particular reminder on this day, as she grappled with finding a way to respond to a person with whom she had a difference of opinion.
I was so tired and so aware of my own terrible limitations on this day that discovering that what I had offered from what felt like the dregs of my soul could actually be the exact message this friend needed to hear was grace indeed. God works even with my poorest offerings.
Today’s 31 Days with St. Ignatius link is The Committee Rattling in My Mind.
I was received into the RC church in 1969 at St Mary-on-the-Quay church, Bristol, when the Jesuits were still running it. That was my first encounter with St Ignatius. I soon found that his emphasis on being out and about in the â€˜worldâ€™ fitted well with the Evangelical Christian view of â€˜being in the world but not of itâ€™ which had been part of my upbringing.
As I explored deeper, and experienced Ignatian retreats, mainly at St Beunoâ€™s in Wales in the days when it was just opening up to lay people, attitudes and practices were deeply implanted in me. I still find these deeply helpful, all these years later.
I want to focus on just 3 points, with particular reference to the caring activities, rather than the overtly apostolic activities (if I may make that rather crude division).
The first point comes in the Principle and Foundation and it is the point of indifference, or impartiality, which resonates throughout the Exercises. It is raised again in the 3 ways of Love, in preparation for the Election.
As a carer, there is no way of avoiding the â€˜detachmentâ€™ which this implies. You are constantly being asked to choose between your comfort and wishes, and the comfort and wishes of the person for whom you are caring. I want to go to a concert – my â€˜careeâ€™ does not want the upheaval of a respite carer. There is always a risk when leaving them alone. No friends are available to sit with them on this occasion. Do you go or not? The room may have to be arranged differently for practical reasons – it no longer is the way you really want it. Do you cook two different meals, or do you eat the same as they do, maybe with the same restrictions on diet?
In a hundred smaller or bigger ways, your life is adapted to meet theirs. The holidays you are able to take are dictated by their physical or mental needs. The district where you live may have to be within convenient distance of medical facilities. Etc etc
You may be just going out of the door to do some essential shopping, and a jug of fruit juice is knocked over. You have to stop and clear it all up – your day is disrupted.
Of course most of these things are trivial and are common to family life, but children grow up and their needs change. They (usually) become more responsible. But carees with long-term problems donâ€™t.
It helps enormously if you know that this constant adaptability is a feature of a recognised path to spiritual maturity.
The second point that is permanently relevant to me are the insults which St Ignatius recommends.
A very dependent person is in a frightening position. He or she simply cannot manage without the good will and help of others – often, many others. It can be that human nature unconsciously devises ways of ensuring that that help is always available. This may be by always being charming to others. (And very often this is genuine, anyway). But if there is a backlash, or if they are feeling tired or grumpy, it means that the only person they can fall back on and let it out to is the permanent carer. All the frustration of their particular circumstances may fall on the unfortunate person closest to hand.
Insults may abound! The carer is trusted as a permanent fixture and the caree uses him or her as a safe outlet.
By being able to put this phenomenon in a spiritual (Ignatian) context, it is far easier to take no notice of the insults. It is even possible to laugh inside at yet another opportunity to grow in humility, or even to correct what has been accurately spotted, even if the truth is unkindly presented.
Finally, letâ€™s talk of the Will of God. Itâ€™s so easy to misuse this phrase to justify or ignore a great range of behaviour. But if the path of caring has been freely accepted and decided upon in proper Ignatian fashion (eg on retreat) then any deep personal opposition and resentment to what can appear to be oneâ€™s impoverished and unfair life can melt away, and the real blessings of it can be experienced.
These can include a deep intimacy and love for the person one is caring for; a growing understanding of the upside-down and back-to-front nature of Christian life (losing oneâ€™s life to find it; selling all for the pearl of great price; denying oneself; taking up the cross etc.); a deeper reliance on the strength which comes from Christ or the Spirit or the Father or all three, which rescues you from and overcomes exhaustion, pain and other literally overwhelming circumstances.
When the chips are down, knowing that in spite of hiccups, failures, lapses, or even successes, one is deeply within the will of God, then joy, rest and peace can at last take over.
It is of course important for the carer to have their own life as well. It is surprising how much can be fitted in within the constraints of being a carer. There may not be time and opportunity for many social occasions, but the number of small meetings with anyone or everyone you meet is limitless. Being a carer can make you more sensitive to the needs or joys of people you encounter, and more able to share with them. In the end, there is no loss. â€˜Anyone who has given up house or familyâ€¦for my sake, shall receive a hundredfold in this life, and in the world to come, life everlasting.â€™ â€˜Inasmuch as you have done this for the least of my brethren, you do it to Me.â€™
I am writing at a Benedictine Abbey this week, and the monks take a long pause at the end of each strophe — reminding me over and over again to not speak in haste! Thank you for both the original post, and another reminder…
Thank you for saying that you are tired! And thanks for sharing the graces received during a tricky time.
Mags, I also bit my tongue and waited and am so glad I did. It could have damaged a long-term relationship had I been too hasty. You are spot on! Ann
You are a grace to everyone of us, your blog is, your presence is.
You have me grinning ear to ear as I write this to you.
You’re wonderful. Your authenticity…
Thank you 🙂
Exactly. His strength is made perfect in weakness. I, as have others including the Apostle Paul, mourn the limitations of my own mind and body, thinking it makes me less of a soldier. A spiritual giant that I know listened to me lament in this, and told me how his father was led to faith in Christ by a young anorexic girl in the hospital. God doesn’t need my strength and wholeness to use me as His conduit. Praise Him.