As some of you closer to me already know, my wife and I have begun a rather interesting journey together. And by “interesting” I mean the same sort of “interesting” that is implied in the ancient apocryphal Chinese curse “May you live in interesting times”. You see, my wife was diagnosed in July 2012 with (to use the medical techno-geeky terminology) Type II invasive ductal carcinoma. For those of you less involved in the whole process, this is breast cancer.
This has put me in a role in which I don’t think I really have ever excelled at. I’m the big strong Daddy, the strong and determined husband. I’m the intellectual, the rational, the factual person. I’m the one who thrives on logic and reasonable, predictable progression. Emotions need to be subject to the mind. Me, give compassionate, loving, gentle care to someone dealing with a serious illness? Don’t make me laugh.
And yet, that is where I am. My choice is reduced, then, to not whether or not I’ll be a caregiver, but more what kind of caregiver I’ll be. This has been a serious wrestling point for me as it is entirely new territory for me and way beyond my comfort zone. I’ve searched and sought for some sort of set of guiding principles of what this should look like for me. As an Anabaptist, I gravitated to the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7 as that, traditionally, has been the set of guiding principles for Anabaptists for centuries. The Beatitudes immediately stood out to me and I started really thinking over them and meditating on them. The more I pondered them, the more I saw them as not just a general description of what members of the Kingdom of Heaven should be like, but how they could be applied to this role as a caregiver. So, for the next week or so, I invite you to walk along with me in exploring these little bits of truth and living with them as applications for being a caregiver.
Poor in Spirit
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:3 NIV
First of all, this word “blessed” is rather unfortunately used in a lot of translations of the Bible. It really is not in common use today and, where it is, it usually means “good fortune” and “health and wealth” and all that sort of stuff. I’ve seen some translations that replace it with the word “happy” which also just doesn’t seem to do justice to what is represented here. I don’t think anyone “poor in spirit” or “persecuted” can be said to be “happy” by most people. So, I turn to the Amplified Bible (since I’m not a Greek scholar) to find out what others have to say about what this word means.
(happy, to be envied, and spiritually prosperous—with life-joy and satisfaction in God’s favor and salvation, regardless of their outward conditions)
So, while this version says “happy”, it expands upon it to express something that’s deeper than just a surface satisfaction with circumstances. There is a characteristic of joy and contentment with God and his plans, even if the stuff going on around us seems so stupid and horrendous. This is important to remember as we go through the Beatitudes. “Blessed” is a state of mind similar to what James mentions when he calls people to “consider it pure joy”, that the circumstances of life, difficult as they currently are, will lead to something better down the road and this hope is the source of our deep satisfaction.
So, when Jesus says “Blessed are the poor in spirit”, he’s calling these people to a hope that goes beyond what is happening right here and now. There’s something coming down the road that will make the current circumstances all seem a distant memory. But what does it mean to be “poor in spirit”?
This is where I enter into the context of the caregiver. The Amplified Version calls “poor in spirit” those who are humble or see themselves as insignificant. I don’t think any caregiver really feels that way. They realize how important and significant their role is and that, actually, is probably the biggest source of stress. We feel like the weight of the world is on us, that everything we do has massive consequences, and that the slightest slip will have a devastating impact. Under this massive weight, we mere humans feel like we just don’t have the strength. There is no amount of “spirited” attitude that will bear up against the pounding of all the waves of adversity and trials and troubles. “Spiritual poverty” is what the New Century version calls it. “Realize they need God” is how the NLT terms it. This “poor in spirit” is a massive surrender that mere mortal human strength and power is insignificant to deal with this mess of stuff that assaults us constantly. How in the WORLD can I have any sort of joy in this?
The promise of this Beatitude is that these horrendously, spiritually crushed people will receive the Kingdom of Heaven. Well, what in tarnation does that mean? To answer that, we need to know what Jesus means by the Kingdom of Heaven. The Kingdom of Heaven is where strangers put salve on the wounds of their enemy and pay for their care at the local inn. The Kingdom of Heaven is where storms are calmed, demons are cast out, illnesses are healed, and the poor and oppressed are encouraged. Now, this is all good “Bible” stuff but, when you’re down in the depths of this spiritual poverty, what you want to know is how it impacts right here, right now.
In all of the things about the Kingdom of Heaven, both in the gospels and in the later letters of Paul and such, one thing comes out pretty clear. The Kingdom of Heaven is not a place where you are alone. People take care of people. The gifts and talents given by God to the people in that Kingdom are there for the purpose to take care of each other, to help each other, to lift each other up and encourage each other to keep going. The spiritual poverty of the lonely caregiver is met with the lavish spiritual wealth of the community of believers. Yeah, there is a sense of the future when everything will be fixed, but at the same time we have the Kingdom among us here and now. This is how God blesses the poor in Spirit. He has provided them with this “place” full of people who are bound together by this sense of mutual care and support, driven by this insanely huge love that drives them to “value others above yourself”. The very same drive that pushes the caregiver to give up their own ambitions and agenda for their loved one is the drive that puts the Kingdom people in place to take care of them. And this comes from that fantastically marvelous indwelling of God’s Spirit in his people.
For the caregiver, feeling the tons of pressure and weight of the responsibility for taking care of not just their loved one but, especially in my case where it is my wife, doing all those things that the loved one previously did, my pure joy comes not from some sense of individual strength, but from that group of people around me who are walking along with me, themselves driven by the same Spirit of God that inspires me to care for my wife with an intense, sacrificial love. I’m not alone in this journey as a caregiver. I am a pinnacle of a pyramid of people. All these people behind me, lifting me up, supporting me, each themselves being lifted up and supported, and so on. And supporting all of them, as a network of webbing, binding them all together, is this spiritual love that comes only from God. This is where I find that Kingdom of Heaven.
Here are some practical things that I’ve started doing to find that joy in my spiritual poverty.
1) It’s pretty wonderful to read the Psalms of David, especially those that were written during the trying times. Psalm 22 is one of my favorites. Especially look at those Psalms that have promises based upon what others have received. Read the Psalms and remember who God is and where he is.
2) Pray, pray, pray… and when all else fails, pray. This is my personal struggle point as my mind gets easily distracted when I try to pray. But when you get “poor in Spirit” you need to be refilled. And the best way to do that is to go to the source and spend time drinking at that source of Spirit, that being the comfort of the Holy Spirit.
3) Gather some prayer partners. I learned during my time in seminary of the wonderful support that having a small group of people praying for you can lend. Find a few friends who are absolute confidants, people that you can trust with your deep soul. Pour out all your junk to them so that they can pick you up and lift you up to God.
4) Drop the pride. I don’t know if you’re like me, but I’m stubborn in that I want to do things on my own. When you’re under a ton of weight, though, you can’t. You need help. Go looking for help and, whe someone offers it, don’t turn it down. Let them be God’s blessing to you.