Confession time: being a caregiver can disincline you to care about others. A paradox, yes, but here’s how the rationale goes: God has laid on me a heavy burden. Caregiving to an invalid is a full-time job. It can dominate my thoughts and energies. If I need to have a life outside of caregiving, it needs to be for the purpose of taking care of me, so I can keep on taking care of Pete. Now, there is truth in these statements; I won’t refute them. But there’s also an inherent risk in giving free rein to such sentiments: selfishness. And without strong application of other ideas, our caregiving will fail to do in us the beautiful spiritual work that God designed for it to accomplish.
You would think that learning the role of a caregiver would foster great heights of spiritual devotion, would give flesh and blood to the good Samaritan story. Yet, our natural default to selfishness, so easy to justify when the burden is light, is infinitely easier when our load has us staggering. How effortlessly we conclude that we’ve got all we can take! How quickly a willful ignorance of the struggles of others—outside our own struggles—settles in. And we instinctively coddle our own selfishness, even pass it off as a virtue: “I have a heavier burden than most people, and they live for themselves. Ergo, I am better because I am a caregiver. I know what it means to deny myself because my life is taken up in caring for Peter.”
The Lord has His ways of dispelling such delusions. It goes like this: Our hardships bring to the surface the hidden self-interest we keep tucked away in our hearts. First, if I am to be like Christ, I don’t get to decide where and when I can be selfish as a reward for having met my quota of selflessness. If I am to be like Christ, I “always do the will of my Father in heaven.” If I am to be like Christ, none of my living gets to be for myself, “but for him who for ‘our’ sake died and was raised.”*
The battle against this stripe of selfishness requires me to be ruthless, but realistic. Victory cannot play out in my performing proud feats of service to others that require my neglect of Peter or of necessary rest. I need humble dependence on God to show me ways to come alongside others as we come alongside Pete. Thus, even when I can’t be as hospitable as I’d like because we care for an invalid in our home, I can still ask about people’s burdens and struggles when I see them. Even though we can’t be as involved in as many ministries, we can pray fervently for those who are. I can care about people outside my frame of focus and maintain an outward mindset even from within the four walls of my home.
I cannot let caregiving incline me to isolate myself, for that would break out against all sound judgment (Pr. 18:1). God intends that we live in community. He guides us through His word and through His church. Our hearts are deceitful and we need each other, not only for how “they” can meet “my” needs, but for the flip side as well. They need me to help them, even if how I do it feels a bit lackluster on my part at times. The Lord wants me to be faithful in small acts of service that may also be obscure. Our hunger for significant service is a function of our pride.
So Lord, today, give me an outward, unselfish mindset to give care to more people than Peter only. And give me the humility to be okay when giving my all means putting in two small copper coins.*
2 Corinthians 5:15