Some of the most challenging moments in my life, and some of the most cherished, have involved caring for others.
I say challenging because, like most people's, my days are already very full. Dropping everything to nurse someone back to health isn't usually convenient.
What I have cherished, though, was knowing that my love for them was felt, and that it made a difference.
The activity of caring has deeply spiritual roots. It reflects an ethical imperative to respond to one in need - giving another the same dignity and aid we would hope to be given if facing a similar challenge.
But there is something deeper at work, and in the midst of the challenges, it can be really important to reflect deeply on what it is that has brought us to this place of caring for another.
The Bible counsels us often, and in many ways, to give or to serve not out of a sense of obligation, but willingly and with joy. "Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver" (II Cor. 9:7).
This generosity of spirit is a hallmark of Christianity. Jesus said that his followers would be identified, not by the magnificence of their church structures, not by their numbers, not by the purity of their doctrine, but by their love. He said, "By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another" (John 13:35).
When the sheer hard work of caring for another tries to crush out inspiration, it's helpful to remember that this care for others is the essence of following Christ.
The work of caring and nursing is often undervalued by the world. But the world needs love and care probably more than anything else.
I've spent most of my adult life caring for my family, and nursing professionally. The moments I've felt most poised and fulfilled have had certain elements in common:
• What people most need of me is seldom the thing they think they need. People think that what they most need is to be more comfortable, to have something to eat, to be given a bath, or to be taken for a walk. While these things are important, there's a deeper need that's not to be overlooked: the need for genuine respect and concern. People need to know that their comfort and well-being really matter to me. The spirit that I communicate as I work and the kindness that I express are not extras. They are basic human needs. Monitor founder Mary Baker Eddy said it well when she wrote: "The poor suffering heart needs its rightful nutriment, such as peace, patience in tribulation, and a priceless sense of the dear Father's loving-kindness" ("Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," pages 365-366).
• The important question is not, Do I have enough time? But, Do I have enough love? If I care about something, I make the time. I can't think of a time I've regretted stopping to do or say something kind. But I can think of times that I wish I'd been a little more thoughtful, patient, or understanding.
• There's something much bigger than me going on. There is a divine design at work, a divine Love that is also called God. When I'm most aware that any good I may do is the result of our dear Father's timeless purpose to bless and care for all His children, I have greater patience with others. I trust more deeply that my work makes a difference and that the Love that has sent me is also sending other help.
The world doesn't rest on my shoulders. It rests on Love's shoulders. I work as patiently and steadfastly as I am able. When it's time to turn the care over to someone else or to trust my children or patients to care for themselves, divine Love will still be with them, caring for them and sending them help and guidance in ways I could never plan or provide myself.
At the end of the day, I want my patients and my children to recognize clearly not how wonderful and caring I have been, but how wonderful and caring they are. God has made us all in His image, and the image of Love is necessarily loving. So it's my job, not just to be loving, but to see this love in the heart of everyone I care for.
There's always someone nearby who needs this kind of love. And, when we get it right, when our caring is sincere and generous and God-impelled, the blessing is pretty terrific.