Friendship, listening, and empathy: A Prayer GuideTwo Hands: Grief and Gratitude in the Christian LifeSabbath Keeping FastingA Renewed SpiritualityNurturing Hope: Christian Pastoral Care in the Twenty-First CenturyThe Power of ListeningJoy Together: Spiritual Practices for Your CongregationPersonality Type in CongregationsPrayers of the Old TestamentPrayers of the New TestamentSabbathFriendingA Garden of Living Water: Stories of Self-Discovery and Spiritual GrowthDeath in Dunedin: A NovelDead Sea: A NovelDeadly Murmurs: A NovelBeating Burnout in CongregationsReaching Out in a Networked WorldEmbracing MidlifeAdvent DevotionalDraw Near: Lenten Devotional by Lynne Baab, illustrated by Dave Baab

Holy Spirit disruptions: Care not cure

Lynne Baab • Saturday October 23 2021

Holy Spirit disruptions: Care not cure

“Care is being with, crying out with, suffering with, feeling with. Care is compassion. It is claiming the truth that the other person is my brother or sister, human, mortal, vulnerable, like I am. . . . Often we are not able to cure, but we are always able to care.”
Henri Nouwen, Bread for the Journey

I have experienced two Holy Spirit disruptions related to Henri Nouwen’s idea that we can always care, even when we can’t cure. The first disruption happened slowly, over my midlife years, as I began to become aware of my deeply rooted desire to fix things – in my own life and in other people’s lives. Of course, this fixing doesn’t always happen, even if the right thing to do is clear. We are such complex beings, and so many forces are at work within us, so we may not succeed in doing the right thing even when we know what it is. In addition, in many instances, I really don’t know what the wisest thing is for me or for others. Boy, it was humiliating to learn how limited my wisdom is.

I wrote last week about my love of giving advice and my dislike of receiving it. Becoming aware of that incongruity is closely related to this cure/care issue. I really like it when people come alongside me, acknowledging the depth of what I am experiencing, “crying out with, suffering with” me, as Nouwen says. I really like compassion and a sense of comradeship in facing life’s challenges, since of course we are all “human, mortal, vulnerable.” I really don’t like it when people try to fix me, but I persisted for many years in trying to fix others.

In my midlife years, the Holy Spirit began to impress on me the significance of caring rather than trying to cure. I got on board with that sometime in the last ten or fifteen years. Great! Some growth in Christ! However, in those same midlife years, I began to realize that sometimes we try to care, and it doesn’t come across as caring. There’s nothing like having teenagers in the home to make this truth come alive. Even as our sons got into their twenties and thirties, I was sometimes bewildered about how to convey care to them.

The same thing happened in other relationships. Sometimes I complimented people and they seemed irritated. Sometimes I bought a gift that appeared to be more of a burden than a blessing. We can learn people’s “love languages” and try to show them love in their language, and still do it awkwardly. I’m saddened by this realization that some of my actions over my lifetime – related to compliments and gifts, but encompassing so many other areas of life – haven’t felt loving to the people I was trying to care for.

This second Holy Spirit disruption in the area of care/cure is a call to humility. I won’t get everything right when I try to care. It may be better in some instances to feel the empathy I have for others without saying anything. It may be better to wait, listen, and try to hear what forms of care would be meaningful to that person. Slow down, the Holy Spirit has been telling me, when words are ready to pop out of your mouth, even if your motivation with those words is caring and even if your words are complimentary or enthusiastic.

We can always care for people by praying for them. That combination of empathy and prayer, I am hoping, will usually come across as love, in some unknown way, to the people we interact with.

I really, really wish it could be easier for me to stop trying to cure people by giving them advice. And I really, really wish that my good intentions toward people could always come across as caring. As with everything else, our best strategy is asking God and trusting God: asking for God’s help in showing love, while we attempt to trust God to help us express our care in relationships with friends, family members, acquaintances, and strangers standing in line at the grocery story.

(Next week: a helpful definition of sin. Illustration by Dave Baab: one of the fabulous murals in Dunedin, New Zealand. I love to get new subscribers. Sign up below to receive an email when I post on this blog.)

Some resources about care:

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