After four weeks of helping take care of my Dad, I spent a week at home catching up on visits, meetings and planning for some summer programs. Dad’s has actually stabilized, we’re getting good care from some overnight companions, and we are retooling our hearts, minds and schedules for some long term care.
Those visits I made last week? They humbled me and got me thinking about our capacity for compassion. I thought I was dealing with a lot. I thought I had a servant’s heart. I’m playing “A” ball compared to these major league caregivers.
One widow I visited had taken care of her husband for five years as his condition gradually declined. She balanced her work, taking care of their house and property and managing his care entirely on her own. Since he was mostly non-cooperative and non-compliant along the way, every day was a battle. She not only survived, but kept her sense of humor, stayed involved at church, and came out of the experience even stronger than when she began.
A second couple was homebound because the husband had suffered a stroke and his wife required constant care at home, which his wife has provided for three years, with no end in sight. The physical demands of his care alone are overwhelming or his family since he lost the use of an entire side of his body.
A third friend, around my age, has been taking care of her parents at home for as long as I have known her. Unable, or sometimes unwilling, to do much on their own, she’s sacrificed so much of her own life to watch over them.
I could go on and on. A friend taking care of her ex-husband’s father because none of his family could or would step up. Another took care of her mom at home for fourteen years. Yet another adopted a young boy who is dealing with all kinds of challenges. Yet she is committed to being the parent he would never otherwise have.
So what in the world am I complaing about? My journey has been a mere inconvenience compared to these who take the time to ask me, “How’s your Dad? And how are you doing?” After giving so much of themselves, they were still concerned about me. (That’s one of the ironic things about pastoral ministry. I think I’m out there to take care of them. Actualy, they’re ministering to moi.)
This morning I started thinking about the capacity for compassion. I know many who have so much of it. I know myself and how little I have. And of course, I know Jesus, who had an unlimited capacity for compassion. When confronted by yet another crowd of sick people, Jesus has compassion. As he’s being crucified, Jesus is concerned about his executors, his mom and the criminal beside him.
Can I increase my capacity for compassion? If so, how does that work? If I go out and run a lot, I increase my VO2 max. I can twork out to be able to do more pullups and pushups. Is there a workout that will increase my “compassion fitness?” Is that even a thing?
I’m tempted to say yes. But I know where that temptation comes from. And I know the answer is no. Christ-likeness isn’t something I attain by my own efforts. I know. I’ve tried. I get impatient and out of sorts just taking care of a single request for an immediate need. Long term care? I’ve got a long way to go.
Jesus said that if we try to hold onto our lives, we lose them. If we lose our lives, we gain them. My friends, my “compassion heroes,” gave up some parts of their lives caring for someone else. What did they gain? Apparntly, they increased their capacity for compassion. As mentioned above, I admire that trait in them.
I’ve already taken a baby step, from “I could never do that” to “Yes, I can come up and take care of Dad for a week.” I didn’t plan to do that. I didn’t consciouly change my mind. I had plenty of other things to do. But it happened anyway. And as we all know, every journey begins with just one step. This was my first step into the world of long term care. One step into the classroom of compassion.
I would like to see the syllabus for this course. So far, no one has been able to provide me with one. I guess I’ll just have to show up for class each day.