“That stinks” isn’t a euphemism that our family uses very much. So how come this blog isn’t “Sometimes Care Giving is Stupid” or something like that?
There’s a story I find helpful when it comes to care giving. It’s short:
“A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. And he said to the vinedresser, ‘Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?’ And he answered him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure. Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’” (Luke 13:6-9 ESV)
Sometimes, care giving is literally stinky. Most of the time, it’s stinky in the sense of spreading stressful, seemingly unfair and impossible demands on a family. But the demands can be fertilizer. They can bring out the best in us, making our lives more fruitful, more lovely.
Over the years, we’ve planted a few trees. It’s always been a joy to watch them grow, imperceptibly, from tentative sticks in the ground into impressive shade-casters. It’s a like joy to look back over years of care giving, and see our lives made different. Acceptance replacing anxiety. Healthy boundaries and a gentler pace replacing guilt’s frantic activity. Honesty replacing the wasted energy of phony courtesy.
Personal progress can grow as stealthily as a tree trunk. It took years to make my first hang-up on a telemarketer. For most of my life, I wasted time (and generally got stuck buying crap) because I tried to make every conversation graceful, even if I didn’t want the conversation and it didn’t deserve much attention. It was a combination of high standards and dinged emotions. The stinky “fertilization” of care giving took away my energy for that nonsense. Hanging up on telemarketers means saving my energy to pour into fruitful relationships.
Don’t get down on yourself when the stinky season seems long and the fruitful stuff seems slow to grow. The little story includes patience: “Sir, let it alone this year also…” Keep giving yourself those stinky days and weeks and months and years. Don’t see failure, smell fertilizer.