Love vs. Cooties (a thought for Lent)

There are all kinds of care givers. We are parents of a child living with autism. There are adult kids caring for a parent with Alzheimer’s, spouses caring for sick or disabled partners, and all kinds of other arrangements where folks are living a typical life one day and thrust into the world of medicine, therapy, advocacy, domestic labor and who-knows-what the next.

One of the frequent complaints I hear from care givers is the way that family and friends start to draw back from the situation. Some folks feel completely abandoned in their efforts to take care of a loved one. A few quotes from other care givers:

I have found that we have become more and more isolated as time goes on.

Maybe it’s too much to ask for somebody to just be there to listen or hold your hand or just exist in the same space…

I guess my question is why You’ve taken every single earthly, tangible aspect of faith from us? Church. Sacraments. Spiritual support. Friends. Family. You’ve given us both loneliness.

There used to be a similar complaint from divorced people, although the culture has changed so much I’m not sure if its’ still a reality. But over the years, I heard divorced people lament how friends, especially other married couples, floated away from them.

I think that we all share a human tendency to turn away from situations that scare us. There’s a primitive fear that another person’s dilemma is contagious, like cooties. Maybe the roots are some evolutionary impulse to separate from that which could introduce a defect into our gene pool. Maybe they are spiritual – we don’t want to stand too close to someone who seems to be suffering the wrath of the gods.

Whatever the source, a Bible passage I heard on Ash Wednesday reminded me that the real God wants us to overcome the fear and to love those is distress as though we are part of one another:

“Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of wickedness,
to undo the straps of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover him,
and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?

(Isaiah 58:6-7 ESV)

That’s a tall order, to see someone else’s distress as a hurt to “my own flesh.” The passage puts it in the context of “fasting.” It is to starve my selfishness and fear of “cootification” in order to reach out and make another’s burden lighter in any way for which I am equipped. As that one care giver lamented in the quotes above, sometimes that’s as little as to “just be there to listen or hold your hand or just exist in the same space.”

That Ash Wednesday lesson went on to say that God blesses such love,

Then shall your light break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up speedily;
your righteousness shall go before you;
the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer;
you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’

(Isaiah 58:8-9 ESV)

I pray that God’s Spirit will cleanse fear from hearts and bring loving people alongside isolated care givers.

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