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.
Blessed are the merciful for they will be shown mercy. Matthew 5:3-7 NIV
I sat down to write this reflection on the Beatitudes today and drew a blank. I really wasn’t able to figure out how could I apply mercy to my role as a caregiver. But something happened today that really brought it into focus for me. God reached down, moved someone, and now I know what it means to be shown mercy.
First of all, let’s set aside some of the popular views of mercy. Mercy is not putting someone out of their misery. “Mercy killing” is what some people think of when they hear the word mercy. Mercy is also not setting aside a deserved punishment, at least not by itself. Sometimes this is done to gain points with observers. “Oh, look at him, isn’t he merciful?” Being the movie buff that I am, to hear that word, “merciful”, conjures up images of Maximus and Commodus.
But when it comes to the biblical term of mercy, it is more than just commuting a punishment or relieving a pain. It goes deeper than that. Some of the translations I read in preparing this today used the word “kindness”. I would suggest that “compassion” is another way of putting it. The Bible many times refers to God’s “lovingkindness” as the King James puts it when talking about God’s amazing love. Psalm 117 actually uses the term “merciful kindness”. So there is something about mercy that involves love and kindness. It’s a bigger concept than just a relief of pain, suffering, or judgement.
As a caregiver, during my wife’s recovery, my days are spent exercising kindness in immense quantities. Refilling ice-packs, refilling water bottles, getting pillows, helping her get out of the chair, bringing her a meal, etc., all come under this immense kindness. Giving her a hug when she feels defeated also counts. Lending an ear when the constant litany of doctor’s appointments and tests weigh her down goes a long way to showing this biblical form of mercy. This is probably one of the biggest roles a caregiver can fill, to give that constant mercy and love to your loved one.
But I realized today that I was insufficient. Breast cancer is not just a disease for some women. It is a violation of them being a woman. A primary physical characteristic that defines her womanhood has been damaged. Her femininity has been attacked. Along with that, chemotherapy is going to destroy another characteristic of her womanhood. Her hair will be gone and she will no longer have that thing, that physical characteristic with which she can express herself. All the tests and doctors appointments and such make her feel not like a female human being but as a thing to be poked and prodded. It begins to feel like a violation. The fatigue of medicines and tests and such will drain her of any feeling of being beautiful and valued and loved, not that physical characteristics are of paramount importance, but it is a matter of self-esteem and self worth. These are things that, as a man, I can only understand in a purely clinical sense. My mercy is limited in that I cannot meet the emotional needs of this wonderful woman because I am simply not a woman.
I didn’t realize this, really, until I got an offer today via a Facebook message from a distant relative and friend. We had connected recently through that magic of Facebook where you find friends that are friends of other friends, like a gigantic “Six Degrees From Kevin Bacon” game. This morning, her message contained a question as to whether or not my wife would enjoy a time of pampering, compliments of her and Mary Kay cosmetics. This friend is a woman (not sure if there are men who are Mary Kay consultants, but kudos to them if there are), a nurse, and a cosmetological expert. When she asked me this, I realized here was someone who could give my wife something that I had no hope of doing, the kindness of a woman helping her feel like a woman again.
This blessed me. It’s hard to describe exactly what happened in my heart. Matters of the heart are rarely easy to put into words. But it was like a weight that I didn’t know I was carrying was suddenly lifted off my back and I could stand up straight again. I didn’t realize how much I needed that kind of kindness until it was given to me. Just when I needed it, God’s Spirit moved. I don’t know what prompted this friend to offer what she did. What whisper did she hear? What nudge did she feel? What song or verse or word did she experience that moved her to message me today with this offer? I don’t know. I honestly don’t need to know. It is enough to know that kindness unlooked for was offered when I needed it, before I even knew I needed it.
God is good, all the time. When it seems like life around us is so horrible, so depressing, God is good. In the good times and the bad times, God is good. As we pour out God’s goodness to others, God is faithful and will pour it back into us. My kindness to my wife has not gone unnoticed. As a caregiver, I know that I will not be left empty. That mercy and love that I give to Heather will be poured back into me to the point of overflowing. God is good, all the time.
1) Psalm 63 is an excellent reminder that God’s love is better than life itself. Read it and meditate on what it means to be filled with God’s “lovingkindness”, even when it seems like you are empty.
2) When those little blessings come in, give thanks to God for them. God is not silent and distant, but he is moving and working around you and will move people to pour out kindness into your own life.
3) Don’t turn away gifts offered in good grace. Pride sometimes gets in the way as we say, “I can do this on my own.” As I mentioned in an earlier meditation, we cannot do this on our own. We need others in our life to lift us up, support us, and even do those things that we just can’t do on our own. Every little gift given is a way for God to give us the mercy that we need.