Tuesday, March 27, 2012
Giving Not-So Meaningful Help: Part 1
What will most of us discover is our predominate motivating factor? (See Giving Meaningful Help; Pt.1). I fully believe that it's the same for most all of us: we genuinely love the person whom we are seeking to help. What else would prompt us to leave the comfort zone of our favorite recliner that's parked in front of the TV? Who would willingly choose to leave all of that in order to go to the hospital, or to the funeral home, or even to someone else's private residence, if not motivated by love?
Truth be told, we sometimes find ourselves reluctant to leave the warmth of our families, even for the purpose of traveling to see someone who needs our care. We tell ourselves that we’d rather send the needful person a card. Cards are easier. Someone else writes them, designs them, and even provides us with the envelope in which to mail them. We can choose between sweet, emotionally-oriented cards, funny cards, or even blank ones that force us to write in them. Signing our names, addressing the envelope, adding the stamp, and dropping it in the mail, is much less intimidating than actually having to interact with the real live person we're trying to help.
At our laziest times, we take a step further down the road of rationalization. We tell ourselves that a phone call would suffice. We do struggle sometimes with even that idea however. We think that we may actually get the person to pick up. Then we'd have to talk to them, coming up with things to say and keeping the conversation going. If we're lucky however, we think, we'll get the answer machine. Then we're in scott free. We don't really have to do much of anything in that case. They'll automatically know that we cared enough about them to risk having an interactive conversation with them.
But let's not stop the self-incriminating introspection yet. There's more: Sometimes, hopefully not too often, we decide not to go out and pay a visit to our needful friend, we decide not to send a card, and we even decide not to interrupt our evening TV show with a phone call.
In order for all of these decisions to be acceptable alternatives for us, we just have to do something to assuage our feelings of guilt. We'd have a hard time living with ourselves at that juncture. The only way we can do that is to utilize a type of “catch all” promise that is adopted by so many people in so many different situations: We promise ourselves that we will pray for them. That way we don't even have to move a muscle. Now don't get me wrong, because we do honestly care for this needful person, we do go ahead and actually pray for them. Otherwise the guilt feelings remain.
The beauty of this course of action is that it's easy and it's fast and it's low maintenance and in truth, it's always helpful. Through prayer, we can verbalize our friends' needs to God in very specific terms, and we can seek guidance on how we can be a viable part of their care (at a later time of course). We can do that honestly, with true fervor, and all in the time it takes for one brace of commercials. Then the next time we see our friend or some of their family, we can report that we've been been faithful to pray for them one-and-all.
Obviously the promise to pray for someone (those made to ourselves and those we've made to others) can be abused and misused. I had a pastor friend of mine recount a tale about how he got himself thoroughly embarrassed by promising to pray for someone's well-being. Listen to his woe-some tale: John and his young son were leaving the movie theater one Saturday, when he ran across a member of his church who had been ill for some time. John, the pastor, was new to the church and community, having spent only a couple of months on that church field. John told me that he remembered having seen the man in church only once and that as the gentleman exited the church, he asked John to pray for him. John promised the man that he would do so, and made himself a mental note to go by and visit the ailing man.
Unfortunately, as things go so often in the ministry, John got busy with a lot of other things and therefore kept putting off making that visit. Also, John confessed to me, he failed to carry through with his promise to pray for the man.
Several weeks and a lot of harried activities later, enough time for John to have forgotten the man's name, John and his 8 year old ran into the man once again. Now John may have forgotten the man's name, but he remembered all too well that he had meant to visit this man. He also recalled his promise to pray for the fellow. And finally, he knew too, that if he had done either one of these thngs, he would have remembered the man's name.
Feeling guilty and with no small amount of shame, as John exchanged pleasantries with the man, he devised a means by which he could cover up the fact that he had forgotten the man's name, and therein hide the fact that he had not fulfilled his promise to pray for him.
At this point in telling me the story, John paused and explained that in truth he had no excuse for what he did at that point. He was just embarrassed and that that embarrassment was exasperated by the fact that his 8 year old son was with him.
What John did was to lie, although in his mind he didn't see it as such. He was just trying to protect his pride, and he did it in a particularly manipulative way: As the exchange of pleasantries with the man came to an end, John let the man know that he remembered his promise to pray for him. His words were something like this: “I remember you asking me to pray for you some time ago. I'd like to mail you out a card acknowledging that prayer, and I'll include on that card my cell phone number. That way, you can easily reach me should you need me in the future. I do want to be sure that I spell your name correctly when I address the envelope. How do you spell your first name?”
Let me interrupt John's story for a moment to say that I was surprised (and impressed in an conspiratorial sort of way) at John's quickness of mind and at how clever he was to think of that. I even interrupted him by asking him how he came up with such an involved idea so quickly. I think I joked about the fact that I didn't realize that he was that smart. John cautioned me to wait for the conclusion of his story. And here it is:
With John's son waiting patiently beside him, craning his head in an attempt to be a part of what was going on, John pulls out his pen and a business card and pauses ready to write down the man's name. John then noticed that the man had a curious look on his face, but he proceeded as he slowly spelled out “B..I..L..L”. And the last name is spelled “J..O..N..E..S”.
John said he felt his face turn a bright chrimson color as he wrote down the man's name and address. He said he never had any idea how good it was to close the door of his car and shut out the rest of the world until that day. He sat for a moment trying to clear his mind while at the same time mentally kicking himself for being so stupid. He fervently hoped that no one would ever hear of that experience, when he heard his son's small voice come from the booster seat in the back saying, “Daddy, I could have told you how to spell that.”
Up until this point in time, I have refrained from telling John's story to anyone. I did it in part out of my utmost respect for him, and in a much larger part out of my ability to see my own culpability in his mistake. I believe that all of us have times when we share in the process of disappointing ourselves and others. And as caregivers, we must realize that no matter how hard we try to do everything right when we attempt to give care to someone else, we run the chance of letting them (and ourselves) down to some degree or another.
Which brings me full circle to what I believe to be the major motivating factor behind care-giving: Love. It is our genuine concern for others that makes us desire to help them in an effective manner. And it is that strong desire to be perfect in our care that causes us invariable self-disappointment, if not also the disappointment of others. It's that same desire that causes us to feel guilty when we that pushes us up out of our seats, to temporarily set aside other priorities (such as our own family's needs), in order to help someone else.
We do it because we love them. We care about them enough to sacrifice some of our comfort on their behalf. We want to help them; really help them in a way that brings them some peace of heart and spirit.
I believe that it is your love for others that will motivate you to continue to read this blog. I don't kid myself about my writing skills. You not reading this because I've riveted your attention. You're reading because you want to know how to give good care, great care. And you want to be able to do that because you have a loving heart.
Well keep reading. My answers, or my approach to effective care-giving are soon in coming.