SCRIPTURE: Psalm 121
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: 5 September 2012
"He will not let your foot slip— he who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep." (Psalm 121:3-4)
My first industrial attachment experience occurred when I was in engineering school. In my third year, I had to apply for a temporary job that lasts six months. It was one way in which my training would be more practice-oriented. Students were given a chance to apply to major engineering corporations or other approved places of work. Some of my esteemed peers, received invitations to work almost immediately. Others like myself had to go through the regular channels, to be interviewed, and hopefully get a good industrial attachment. For me, I harboured thoughts of a job that fulfills the following three conditions.
- It is not too far away;
- It is relaxed;
- It is well paid.
A) Toughest Job in the World?
It strikes me that social work tends to be something many say important, but the money that comes with it are sadly not reflective of the importance placed on it. Lip service? I see how some top bankers and corporate executives sit comfortably in air-conditioned offices, working according to their own time and convenience, and get paid millions of dollars. Their position often makes it difficult for them to appreciate what goes on at the bottom rungs of their organizations. Their pay is high, but their link to the lower ranks is low.
On the contrary, caregivers may come from third world countries, handling most of the household chores as well as taking care of the aged sick elderly person, or children who are chronically ill. They get paid very little. Family members often bear most of the brunt in caregiving. They are hardly paid, and often, they have to help pay for medical bills and other costs associated with the maintenance and care of their loved ones.
Caregiving is one of the toughest, if not the toughest in the world.
B) Give and Give / Take and Take
In Church, I see a lot of stress that comes with non-stop caregiving. Whether it is a case of a man suffering from Alzheimer's, or a child who is autistic, or a young man stricken with cancer, caregivers take the brunt of the physical and emotional demands of caregiving. People may say that love is the greatest. They extol the beauty of grace and of generous giving. They even claim that family bonds will grow tighter during difficult moments. When placed next to the actual suffering and caregiving needed, these come across rudely as empty words. For some caregivers, the prevailing perception of caregiving is that of a "give and give" relationship. They give and give, and keep on giving until they become a spent force.
This leads to a corresponding perception of the recipients of care, especially those who are totally dependent on caregiving for their daily activities. Readers who have experience with stroke victims can testify to this fact. When a sick person cannot help him or her own self at all, the caregiver does all the work. In such a case, the sick person becomes one who take and take, and take some more. Seeing how some families break down can often break my heart, causing me to pray: "Lord, why must they suffer?"
C) The Journey of Care
The Psalmist puts into words his journey through the valleys and the hills as he travels through the hills of Jerusalem. When he looks up at the hills, he exclaims aloud:
"I lift up my eyes to the hills — where does my help come from?" (Ps 121:1)
Knowing he is not alone, he follows up quickly by acknowledging his spiritual companion.
"My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth." (Ps 121:2)
The question is accompanied quickly with a knowledge that is firm and promising. Just like the Shepherd Psalm in Ps 23, the psalmist here declares out loud that it is the Lord who will comfort and will strengthen him on his journey through the ups and downs of the hills. His recognition of the Lord as "Maker" is more than symbolic. He knows that whether he is on earth or whether in heaven, God is present. God is in control. God is with him through thick and thin. God who made him, will also know and understand him. This knowledge is the essence of care. When we care for someone, we are essentially putting our words of love into works of action. We translate our intentions into tangible attention. We make known our inner selves through our outward deeds. The psalmist knows that he is cared for, and continues with a statement of trust.
"He will not let your foot slip — he who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep." (Ps 121:3-4)
D) Trusting God
When we know we are cared for, our capacity for caring rises exponentially. With confidence growing, the psalmist moves from the first person to the second person. He moves on beyond self-care, taking the position of sharing his experience and encouragement with "you." He assures readers that we will not slip, that God will watch over us. Most strikingly, see how the psalmist describes that the Carer from above will "neither slumber nor sleep." I know of caregivers who get weary and more agitated as the care period lengthens. When their financial and emotional reserves are spent, the stress takes on a whole new level of despair. Just knowing that there is God who is caring for all of us, the sick and the caregiver together, is a big encouragement itself.
At an Alzheimer's Conference, one speaker by the name of Dr Majid Fotuhi gives the following five tips for caring for the caregiver.
- Tease your memory through brain games (give your minds a needed leisurely break)
- Strengthen your heart through exercise (physical workout helps)
- Be curious and learn (mental health)
- Laugh (emotional health)
- Eat well (Inner body balance)
From my years of theological training, I have learned that the biggest challenge for caregivers is not theological. It is personal self identity. If we fail to know ourselves, we will not be able to handle grief or the pains of others who need us. Caregivers who are well-equipped with the technical know-how, but lack the self-knowledge of one's limits and potential, are digging themselves a future hole of despair. Let me share some tips for caregivers as I close.
E) Caregiving Tips
I learn this from an excellent book by Nell Noonan entitled, "The Struggles of Caregiving." First, recognize that the struggle between frustration and faith is real. It is not something to be resolved overnight, but something to anticipate from time to time. Let patience guide. Second, when we care for others, it is only a matter of time before we start to struggle with our own mortality and weaknesses. More accurately, we struggle with our own self-identity.
- What will I do if no one care for me?
- What if I get cancer too?
- How can I understand this pain?
- Who am I to give care?
Four, there will be a struggle to try to make sense of the ups and downs so as to arrive at some form of equilibrium. How do I make sense of it all? Not all of these four stages will happen in sequence. They are just phases that can affect caregivers in different points of the journey.
That said, knowing that there are real struggles pertaining to faith, frustration, guilt, self-identity, and our weaknesses, we will be in a stronger position of caregiving. Add to that the faith and trust on God, we get spiritual help from above.
So, is caregiving the toughest job in the world? Maybe. I believe that while caregiving is tough, without faith and hope, caregiving is much tougher. This is why I believe the spiritual aspect of caregiving can never be ignored.
Begin with trust. Continue with trusting God. Le the One who watches us, who neither slumber nor sleep, keep us in Christ Jesus. When faith is present, the toughest job in the world is given to the Maker of heaven and earth. Caregiving is already tough. Let us not make it any tougher.
THOUGHT: "Within God-times, we allow our breaking hearts and weary souls to meet God at the deepest level of our suffering and struggle. When that occurs, a wondrous thing happens: God consoles and strengthens as only God can. A second outcome is surprising and humbling: we learn to console others in the ways God consoled us." (Nell Noonan)
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