Vale of Tears

Caring for the Carers



Caring for the Carers

 Then the Lord told him, “I have certainly seen the oppression of my people in Egypt. I have heard their cries of distress because of their harsh slave drivers. Yes, I am aware of their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the power of the Egyptians and lead them out of Egypt into their own fertile and spacious land. I have indeed seen.”
Exodus 3:7-8

The word “care” derives from an old Germanic word meaning “to grieve, experience sorrow, and to cry out with.” Because people anticipate the grief-stricken being absorbed with their grief, they fear that this will leave them indifferent to anyone else’s needs. Most of us are instinctively disinclined to embark on a “one-way” relationship, which is a major reason why so few are willing to spend time with people while they are in the intense throes of grief.

If the loss in question has had an impact on us, we will have our own grief to deal with too, in which case it may be doubly sacrificial to allow the primary mourner the space they need to pour out all their negative emotions. But is life not full of such sacrifices?

In the world of nature, the mother humpback whale goes eight long months without food in the warm tropical waters until it is ready to make the eight-week journey north to the feeding grounds while her calf draws a staggering one hundred pounds of milk a day from her.

Because the Lord set us apart for many years in the Body of Christ, Ros and I are used to receiving a high volume of requests for prayer from people who are going through extreme grief situations. We have been more than willing to do this – but we cannot deny that dealing with so many mega-intense issues takes its toll.

Since our emotional reservoir is far from bottomless, we, as friends and carers, must take care of our own mental and spiritual well-being. If we find ourselves becoming continually exhausted and irritable that someone is not recovering more quickly, it may be best to refer the grief-stricken person to someone else.

Caring deeply is one thing – but feeling indispensable is quite another. One particular snare to avoid is trying too hard to fulfil a primary role in someone’s life, not least because we are likely to lose objectivity in the process. More often than not, the real reason for this lies in our need to earn approval and admiration. Since not even the best of us can be perfect friends or counsellors, John and Paula Sandford challenge us to give up trying to be, and to “resign from the post of General Manager of the Universe!”

If possible, take deliberate breaks from all forms of burden-bearing. We want to be around not just to help this person survive their emotional roller coaster ride, but to be there for many others in the future.

If we have been caring for someone long-term, we should not be in the least surprised if we feel guilty and insecure when our services are no longer required in that capacity. Only too clearly do we remember wishing to be free of the burden – but now that we are, it is completely understandable if we feel decidedly ambivalent about it.

Only the Lord can show us whether uttering strong sentiments against awkward colleagues or family members and lamenting our “lot” so loudly has played any real part in what has happened. Words certainly do have power, and we may quite possibly have some serious “house-keeping” to do at this point, both in terms of wiping the slate clean, and in resolving to be more careful in the future. Soul-searching that leads to genuine repentance is good, but it may only be a small step from there to berating ourselves with endless reproaches. May the Lord, who longs to be close to us, help us to fix our thoughts more on Him than on our many sins and shortcomings!8

Reflect and Pray

Lord, in my pain and frustration
I said I wanted “this” to happen –
but now that it has,
I am not at all sure that it is what I really wanted.

Forgive me, Lord, my hasty words.

Set a guard over my mouth
and keep watch over the door of my lips,
so that my words more nearly reflect Your heart.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.


8 Richard Foster has written some excellent material on self-examination in Prayer (Harper Collins).

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Hands Photo by Joshua Hoehne on Unsplash