The Gift of Helping

My Mom: “Then He began to wash the disciples feet…”

In “The Gift of Helping,” we are exploring the spiritual gift of helping and how it applies far beyond the scope of acts of service at church. The gift of helping is a series of scripture meditations orbiting around personal anecdotes about 10 people who helped me in life saving ways in the last 10 years by exercising the unassuming gift of helping.

Foot-washing is the gold standard in servant leadership set by Jesus. In Jesus’ day, it was the chore no one wanted to do and having to do it marked your status as the lowest on the totem pole in the household.

Growing up, the chore in our house that nobody wanted to do was scrubbing the guest bathroom baseboards…with a toothbrush. Bathroom baseboards are basically the worst. I’m convinced no one notices them. But to my mom, a pristine guest bathroom shows that you care about the person visiting your home. You care that your guest can attend to their personal hygiene in a discreet and comfortable space.

Providing discretion and comfort for performing duties that are undignified by nature is a fairly comprehensive description of auxiliary care. “Auxiliary care,” the job description name for caregiving, requires fastidious attention to the details of completely mundane things that goes unrecognized by onlookers and unappreciated by the recipient.

In reaching out with the gift of helping toward a loved one with mental illness, auxiliary care is essential to her recovery. She won’t want it. She’ll see it as an intrusion of her autonomy and identity. You’ll have to make choices for her and impose limits on her daily activities that are resented. I’m talking about loud, thrashing, outburst-of-anger resentment too, not the much more tolerable passive-aggressive kind.

Recovering from mental illness takes way more than just taking your anti-psychotics and mood stabilizers. When you are new to mental illness, everyone who has gone through the storm before you will chant like a mantra, “Just stay on your meds.” All involved in your treatment plan and every member in your support groups will harp over and over, “Just stay on your meds.”

But I can tell you, in all honesty, that nearly no one stays in recovery by just staying on their meds. Most people require years of experimentation to find the right “cocktail.” Usually, a person needs just one medication that rights what is wrong with their brain, and then a battery of others to enhance, curb, or correct its effects. And on top of that there is a whole set of other prescriptions to support the patient’s secondary issues– sleep disturbance, anxiety, weight gain, tremors, alcohol cravings, etc. I read an article in The Atlantic, if I remember correctly, about a girl who took 17 medications at one time to hem her in.

The advocate term for being well with a mental illness is “recovery.” Like an addict. It’s not the most hopeful term.

I don’t consider myself to be in recovery but rather I consider myself to be in “remission.”

Recovery is allusive, and remission isn’t even a description people imagine. For this reason, support people quickly fade away from those with mental illnesses. Loved ones resign from meaningful relationship with the mentally ill. The perception is that they will never be well.

It is the rare person who has the bandwidth to take up washing the feet of the mentally ill. Very few people willingly take on the role of caregiver. Instead they get frustrated that “just take your meds” is either ignored by the patient, or, as is the case with many patients, psychiatrist after psychiatrist can’t seem to find the right meds to prescribe to them.

I think it is becoming more recognized now (than when I was first diagnosed) that medication is only a safety net. It is not the foundation of recovery. The foundation of recovery is lifestyle- the eight points of self-care, also called the eight areas of self-care.

  1. Physical- diet, hygiene, exercise
  2. Psychological- therapy, medication
  3. Emotional- self-reflection, journaling, stress management
  4. Social- conflict resolution, communication, participating in group activities
  5. Professional- identifying goals, professional development, maintaining employment
  6. Environmental- clean home, socializing in positive environments, getting outdoors
  7. Spiritual- personal spirituality, spiritual communities, like-minded relationships
  8. Financial- paying bills on time, safeguards against manic spending

I have listed 22 activities in 8 areas as the bare minimum of self-care efforts. Taking medication is only 1 of 22 examples of recovery-supportive habits. So do you just need medication to move toward recovery? I think not.

And have you really supported, loved, cared for, and intervened in the crisis of a love one or friend by constantly hounding them to just find, take, and stay on their medication? I’m sorry but your conscience cannot be relieved on that action alone. If you wash your hands of them at that, you really can’t say you did everything you could.

You can’t out-source the care of your mentally ill loved one to doctors and medication. It just will not yield results.

I am in remission, not recovery, but remission– I like to call it functional healing–  because my mom washed my feet for years after my diagnosis.

She did make me take my medication, at the same time every morning and every night. She did make my psychiatrist appointments and drive me to them every month.

She also took me to church as often as I’d let her. She went on walks with me every day. She monitored my diet. She wouldn’t let me have coffee or alcohol– that went over really great seeing as I was first facing the Bipolar Beast in my twenties not my teens!

She asked me annoying questions about my bills, my friends, and where I was spending my time. I resented her for it completely. Here I was a college graduate, and I felt as micromanaged as a preschooler.

But she wasn’t controlling me. She was helping me control myself.

Ten years ago, I don’t think any of us ever thought I’d be able to leave my parents’ home. My mom was only aiming to keep me from the worst outcome. That outcome being repeated and frequent hospitalization. Instead, her caregiving ended up yielding the best: I became able to care for myself fully, independently, and also to care for a family of my own.

I became able to manage the 8 areas of self-care to the extent of stability; of functional healing.

The Apostle Peter while still a hot-headed disciple of Jesus, resisted letting Jesus wash his feet. When Jesus pressed him on the importance of it, Peter goes extreme and says, “Well then wash my whole body so I can be clean!” But Jesus assures him that the feet will do it. And I think I know why. It is humbling if not humiliating to allow someone to serve you so intimately when you are completely incapable of taking care of yourself. Peter had to submit to the powerless position of being cared for by Jesus physically and spiritually. I had to submit to that powerlessness in front of  my mom. (John 13:1-17)

Thank you, Mom for offering me the spiritual gift of helping through your steadfast caregiving.

Mom and Me blog pic

 

Instructions on the Care of Your Soul

“For He cares for you,” 1 Peter 5:7

living waters matisse

Just a couple weeks ago, I saw this print by Pierre Matisse gracing a statement wall in my friend, Julie’s living room. Knowing the story of the Woman at the Well, I was struck by Matisse’s handling of the immoral Samaritan woman. He portrayed her as dignified, secure, and saturated in provision. Matisse’s interpretation couldn’t be further from how I had previously thought about the Samaritan woman at the well. But, his interpretation couldn’t be any closer to the truth of her story.

 

Today’s Instruction on the Care of Your Soul is to cast your cares on Jesus.

The story of Jesus’ encounter with the Woman at the Well portrays better than anything why we can trust Jesus with our cares.

Typically we think of our “cares” as earthly needs for provision and protection. Perhaps you, as I, separate your “cares” from your “burdens,” with burdens having a more emotional connotation.

It makes sense that we’d parse definitions this way being that even alternate versions of the Bible translate “cares” as anxieties or worries.

The context in which 1 Peter 5:7 tells us to, “Cast your cares on Him for He cares for you,” is an exhortation to humble ourselves to God’s sovereignty– His “mighty hand.” We are to allow Him to be the one to take care of us no matter how our life circumstances look. We are to believe beyond belief that He is in control of even the most chaotic situations. In this framework, we cast our cares on Him.

Putting ourselves under the execution of God’s mighty hand is scary. It is scary when you aren’t certain that He cares for you. This shadow of uncertainty in God’s care is darkest when you are a person with a guilty conscience.

When you carry a burden of guilt the fear of punishment, feelings of shame, and knowledge of judgment makes it very difficult to trust God with anything physical and emotional, temporal or eternal. Guilt erodes our belief that God is for us and cares to sustain us through life’s trials.

The cares of this world and emotional burdens get tied together by a guilty conscience. The result is an inability to cast our cares on the only one who can take care of them.

Enter the Woman at the Well.

The Woman at the Well was drawing water in the heat of the day because no one else would be there at that time. She wore the scarlet letter. She was judged by others and had done everything they gossiped about. In the middle of the day, she was avoiding all the other women in town who’d come draw water once dusk cooled the day.

Uncomfortably for her, this woman with a terrible reputation found herself alone with a man at the very time of day she was trying to escape her reputation as a seductress.

Truth be told, I feel really sorry for the Woman at the Well. She had had five husbands. The sixth guy didn’t even marry her in an age when cohabitation was not a thing. And within two minutes of conversation with this stranger, Jesus displayed His supernatural quality to the woman by telling her that He knew these secrets and sins about her. Oddly, it was kinda her miracle. Some people understood Jesus’ identity after a healing or receiving forgiveness, the Samaritan woman’s miracle encounter with Jesus was just Him stating the elephant in the room— that her life was dominated by sexual impropriety.

As far as I know women couldn’t divorce men at that time. A women caught in adultery would be killed. So, I’m not sure what she did, but I am guessing her husbands left her, not the other way around. And the sixth took advantage of her sullied history to the extent of not having the decency to accept her as his wife.

For the Woman at the Well, guilt had crystallized into a ton of rejection. Those rejections had greater implications than just emotional insecurity. A woman who wasn’t legally married in that day had no legal rights or inheritance. She had no security of future provision.

I have been discovering lately that guilt, rejection, and a deprivation mentality are clandestine bedmates.

When I think of rejection I think of feelings of being unlovable or overlooked or insufficient. Until this week as God has been working things out in my own heart, I never even considered how an abiding sense of guiltiness under the law could be a platform for a pattern of rejection in my life.

A sinfulness complex and a rejection complex are twin specters in our lives.

Rejection is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Particularly because we can perceive rejection where it really doesn’t exist. Our response to fictitious rejection often culminates in real rejection as people’s limited grace for our insecure oddities runs out. At the root of it, we expect to be rejected because we feel guilty and ashamed of ourselves.

Worse than any rejection we can suffer at the hands of parents or parental figures, employers and mentors, potential lovers or actual lovers, is the rejection of God. Rejection by God implies death. Where God rejects there is not just pain but utter deprivation.

The law lets us know that being rejected by God is not just a possibility it is an inevitability. Unless we receive the Holy Spirit, which is the Living Waters from Jesus, we will be cast out to where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth– a place of consuming anxiety and cosmic wanting (John 7:37-39; Matthew 22:1-14; Hebrews 10).

I am one of those people who has an unfortunately sensitive conscience. My conscience is easily piqued. The awareness I have of the righteous requirement of the law expands far beyond its natural bounds. I lay a heavy burden on myself much like the Pharisees did to the people in Jesus’ day (Matthew 23:4).

“They crush people with unbearable religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden,” Matthew 23:4.

 All growing up I had an abiding sense of guilt. I felt inherently immoral. I was always waiting to get in trouble for something even though I almost never (seriously) did anything that could get me into trouble.

My guilt burden, or sinfulness complex, resulted in an expectation of rejection. I had this weird “un-fantasy” when I was young that I would do something bad and that my parents would abandon me for it and then I would become homeless. To me, homelessness was the end result of rejection for your sins. Of course as it happens, I was born genetically predisposed to bipolar disorder, a serious mental illness closely associated with homelessness. As Job said, “The thing that I feared came upon me” (Job 3:25).

I carried an inflated burden of guilt that fortified a stronghold of rejection that gave a throne in my heart to a spirit of deprivation. A spirit of deprivation manifests as: cares, worries, anxieties, want, lack, scarcity, torment, weeping and gnashing of teeth.

We must receive the forgiveness of our sins and the atonement for our guilt that Jesus offers, so that we might also receive the rich provisions of His mercy. We cannot have relationship with God without the removal of our guilt. Otherwise, our rejection stronghold will make us unable to feel the love of God; and a pervasive belief that we are chronically deprived will make us unable to receive the saturation of His grace.

The Woman at the Well was a Samaritan. When she met Jesus she had an immediate expectation of rejection because of the animosity between Jews and Samaritans. She was born the wrong kind of person– she had inherent guilt.

Jesus engages with the Samaritan woman despite her being the wrong kind of person morally and ethnically; and He engages with her in a very generous and intimate way.

In John 4, there are three references to the woman’s response to Jesus’ supernatural knowledge of her multiple sexual partners:

  1. First, she says to Jesus: “I can see you are a prophet.”
  2.  Second, she tells the towns people, “Come see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could he be the Messiah?”
  3. Third, the narrative explains that the Samaritan townspeople went to hear Jesus themselves because of the testimony that she gave: “He told me everything I ever did.” They came to believe that Jesus is the Savior of the world because of both what she said and that she encouraged them to go listen to him for themselves. 

The Woman at the Well’s response to Jesus grew from “You are a prophet” to “maybe You’re the Messiah” to “You are the Savior of the world.”

Jesus defied the woman’s expectation of rejection by requesting her hospitality

Jesus disabled her guilt by taking the veil of secrecy off of her sins.

Jesus also dispossessed the woman’s spirit of deprivation by telling her to ask him for the satisfaction he had available to her.

Her problem was sin and shame, but Jesus addressed her cares– her need for satisfaction.

First, He addresses her profound thirsts. Then He shares with her something he shared with very few people. He shares with her the mystery of God– that Jesus came to offer salvation to the Jews and to the Gentiles, to the half-breeds like her (Ephesians 3:5-6). He tells her the secret that God’s plan is to make right even the people who were born wrong. He offered her knowledge of Himself and His life’s passion. 

This is how Jesus handles our cares too: He requests entry to our hearts, removes the secrecy from around our sin, tells us to ask Him for satisfaction, and then resolves all of our ambivalence toward Him into perfect peace by revealing intimate information about Himself to us.

This is relationship with Jesus. Not only does He know us, but He assures us that our hearts are safe in His hands by entrusting to us privileged information about Himself.

It’s hard to describe what “a personal relationship with God” means in practical terms. But here’s my best guess: Relationship with Jesus is realizing that Jesus is a person who knows the secret of my sins and let’s me know the secrets of His glory.

The transformative power of casting our cares on Jesus is that He cares for us. Paternalistic relationships are one way. But Jesus displays His tender care for us by knowing us and being known by us.

The power center of my testimony is the way that Jesus cares for me.

Sharing our testimonies grows our satisfaction and our conviction that Jesus is the Savior who is able to handle all manner of cares. Again- the Samaritan woman’s conviction about Jesus’ identity grew from prophet to possible Messiah of the Jews to Savior of the whole world in the course of two days by sharing her testimony.

Her testimony— “He told me everything I ever did,” unfettered her from guilt under the law and released her into dignity. It removed her cloak of rejection and clothed her in security. It filled her up with self-replenishing, life-giving waters.

My instructions to you for taking care of your soul’s cares is to share your testimony. It’s the most tangible action step in the effort to psychologically cast your cares on Jesus.

Tell anyone and everyone about the One who knows everything you ever did and extended an offer of friendship to you anyway. And– sharing your testimony isn’t really to evangelize anyone else. That’s just a byproduct.

Sharing your testimony is about evangelizing yourself. It is about growing your capacity to cast your cares on Him because you know He cares for you. In such your capacity to receive from Him also grows. Your capacity to feel love grows.

When Jesus first asked the Woman at the Well for a drink of water, she said, “but you have nothing to draw it up with.” He replied, “If you knew who you were talking to, you would ask me for living water and you would never thirst again.”

Let Jesus remove the guilt that keeps you from dipping into the well of God’s grace, mercy, and forgiveness.  Your sin is not a secret to Jesus. You don’t have to worry what He’ll do if He finds out.

“While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8