I am blogging my way through the Beatitudes over the next week or so as I meditate and reflect on my new role as caregiver as my wife and I journey together with her cancer treatments. My hope is that as I go through this list of joys and promises in my own personal journey that others will find the same hope I do.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Matthew 5:3-6 NIV
Hunger and Thirst
Ever get hungry? I mean, REALLY hungry? Where you feel your stomach cramping to the point that it is excruciatingly painful, where you look at scraps of food on the ground around a dumpster and actually contemplate eating it? Where you would almost kill for a slice of bread, no matter how dry and stale it is?
Or how about thirsty? Your lips so dry they are bleeding, you can’t swallow because your throat is so dry it is swelling shut, your skin so dry that it cracks and peels painfully?
Yeah, me neither.
No, this is not an article where I’m going to go into being grateful for what we have, even in serious illness. That’s for another time.
What I described above is what is really meant by being hungry and thirsty when Jesus talks about it. It’s not just a little twinge of “Oh, it’s dinner time” or that little bit of dryness where you crack open a can of soda and take a swig to satisfy it. The hunger and thirst Jesus is talking about in the fourth Beatitude is an intense desire for being filled that is excruciating and painful to the extreme. It is a life or death sort of thing.
The hunger and thirst is not for physical food, though. It is for something deeper. Many translations use the word “righteousness”, others use “justice”. Neither of those words is very helpful in our culture because the first brings up images of piety and morality and sinless living and the other brings up (depending upon your view) either images of retribution for wrongs done or correction of social ills. I believe the word used, if I remember correctly, is much deeper than that. Again, turning to the Amplified Bible, we see that it has to do with “uprightness and right standing with God.” There’s a lot there to be unpacked. Again, this is something for another blog.
But as a caregiver, what does the hunger and thirst for this right relationship have to do with the daily struggle of caring for a loved one who is seriously ill? That sort of right standing just seems so hyper-spiritual and just doesn’t seem to connect at all with where I am. I was more worried about my wife’s pain management after her surgery than I was whether or not I was praying enough every day. When the chemo regimen starts, I’ll be more worried about my wife’s strength and nutrition with the weakness and frailty that comes from the medicines she’ll be receiving. Along with that, I constantly worry through all this about keeping her spirits up, making sure that she feels loved, making sure that she has an ear to hear when she despairs and a shoulder to cry on when the tears come. All this Bible reading, praying, moral living kind of righteousness just doesn’t seem realistic in the face of these very human and mortal problems.
And I know at this point I’m going to get platitudes and such from people about “Man does not live by bread alone” and “Jesus is all you need” and all that sort of stuff. That this mortal life is just a whiff of time in comparison to the length of eternity. Yeah, yeah. I know all that. But reality is reality and this is the daily struggle for the caregiver. While I do not deny the spiritual side of my life (hence my meditation on the Beatitudes to begin with), as someone more famous than me once said, “People cannot hear the gospel when their bellies are so loud from hunger.” When reality intrudes in all its ugliness, its hard to focus on those things that do not satisfy the more real problems. When the care of my beloved wife fills my life up, it’s hard to take the time to seek God because of the intrusion of the painful facts of life.
Again, the question is where do I find that pure and confident joy alluded to by being called “Blessed”? The promise in this beatitude is that they will be filled and satisfied. That when I hunger and thirst for right living, that I will find what I need. More than that I will find it, it will be given to me to the point where I will no longer feel the need. I will be completely satisfied and filled.
This is a message of grace and hope to the caregiver, I believe. Being hungry and thirsty for righteousness implies that I’m not satisfied yet. There will come a time when I will be, when I’ll be able to fill that spiritual belly with the good food of God. There will come a time when I will be able to have the time and energy to do what I need to do to be satisfied from this hunger and thirst. God’s promises are more than just what Mary Poppins calls “pie-crust promises”. They are not easily made and then easily broken. It will happen.
In the meantime, this is not an excuse to not do anything. Even hungry and thirsty people, to survive, eat a little and drink a little every day. I may not find the satisfaction I desire, especially when I fall asleep with my nose pinched in the spine of my book. But I do need that little bit every day. While I’m driving to and from work (an hour commute one way for me), I turn off the radio and spend some time talking to God (eyes open… don’t want to MEET God just yet). I grab a quick snatch of scripture at work between tasks, getting little tastes of God’s promises. I sing along (loud and proud) to worship music on the radio, giving my praise while I can (much to the amusement of the other drivers on the road). No, they are not satisfying meals, but I am seeking God and I’m hungering for more. God promises that I will be filled. For now, the promise is enough. God understands and he will give me what I need to serve where I am called right now, to be by my wife’s side, supporting and strengthening her.
1) I gave some examples above of ways that I’ve found to get my little snacks every day. It took a bit of time for me to find these as I was blinded by having to have all or nothing. But once I found one (the drive to work), I found it easier to find more. Look at your daily schedule and see where you can find those little bites of time to seek after God’s wisdom and purpose.
2) Read Isaiah 55. This passage from Isaiah highlights the importance and greatness of God’s wisdom and purpose. It is a great reminder of the need we have for God’s wisdom and the importance of making it a priority, even when reality intrudes.
3) Don’t be so hard on yourself. You have an important job right now, caring for a loved one. This is where God has called you right now and God is gracious enough to give you that time and space to do what you need to do. Your satisfaction will come in time.