It should be easy - even a bear can do it.

It should be easy – even a bear can do it.

Often at the Lotus House we struggle with how to care for one another and for the strangers who come our way. That we care is not in doubt – it’s what drove us to intentional community in “the abandoned places of empire” in the first place. We came because we cared, we were concerned, and we wanted to care in a more concrete way, by healing and feeding and sheltering.We had read James. We knew that saying “Be warmed and filled” was not enough, that care must be expressed in actions. Simple right? If someone is hungry, you give them food. If they’re cold, give them a room. If they’re sad, give them a hug.

Yet we discovered that as that impersonal someone comes into view as a particular One, an individual person with a story, with a history of hurts and debts and sins, knowing how best to care becomes increasingly difficult. We find ourselves sitting around our living room strategizing, trying to figure what we’re going to do for this or that person in need. Our desire to care slips into a desire to save them.

Apparently we’re not the only ones to have wrestled with these questions. In Out of Solitude the spiritual writer Henri Nouwen, who lived for several years in a L’Arche community caring for the disabled, recalls us to the true meaning of care:

The word care finds its roots in the Gothic “Kara,” which means “lament.” The basic meaning of care is to grieve, to experience sorrow, to cry out with. I am very much struck by this background of the word care because we tend to look at caring as an attitude of the strong toward the weak, of the powerful toward the powerless, of the haves toward the have-nots. And, in fact, we feel quite uncomfortable with an invitation to enter into someone’s pain before doing something with it… [Instead] the friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair and confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of powerlessness, this is the friend who cares…

Therefore, to care means first of all to be present to each other. From experience you know that those who care for you become present to you. When they listen, they listen to you. When they speak, you know they speak to you. And when they ask questions, you know it is for your sake and not for their own. Their presence is a healing presence because they accept you on your terms and they encourage you to take your own life seriously (pp. 33-37).

Caring is so difficult because it’s not just a matter of sharing food or space or resources – it’s a matter of sharing one’s own self. What’s more, I have to shed the heroic image of the god-like caregiver and learn to admit and lament my own brokenness and need. Thus, to care is not necessarily to end the pain of another, but to face the suffering head on, together. As the poet David Whyte said about forgiveness: “Forgiveness is a heartache and difficult to achieve because strangely, the act of forgiveness not only refuses to eliminate the original wound, but actually draws us closer to its source.” Like forgiveness, caring draws us closer to the pain in each of our hearts. The relationship between the wound and the gift lies at the very heart of the mystery of the gospel: “Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering.”

I suppose caring will continue to be a struggle, but that’s okay. Following Jesus isn’t easy after all, even though his way is full of life and joy. Until we learn to care as deeply as our Lord, we’ll keep praying these words from the song Make Me a Servant:

Open my hands, Lord, teach me to share,
Open my heart, Lord, teach me to care.
Service to others is service to you.
So make me a servant – Lord, make me like You.