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Standing and Waiting with Those Who Suffer

The words of 17th century poet John Milton from On His Blindness, come to mind with every visit to my mother’s long-term care facility:

 “They also serve who only stand and wait.”

I hope it’s true, and I’d love to report that in the midst of my waiting we have warm and meaningful conversations or that I push her wheelchair outside for sunshine and fresh air, but the truth is that she refuses to leave her room, and that for the duration of my visits, the t.v. is blaring infomercials and game shows.  With every visit, I wonder if her life is enhanced at all by my presence.  Of course, “standing and waiting” on behalf of my mother also includes advocating for her when her crankiness gets in the way of administrators hearing her real needs, calling health care providers, and bringing her treats, but, most of the time, I realize that I don’t know what to do in the face of her great need.

It is this awkward and frustrating sense of helplessness that often prevents people of faith from taking risks in serving those who are disabled or grieving or suffering in other ways.  Being There by Dave Furman offers inspiration and advice from the perspective of the one being served.  Readers who are familiar with his wife Gloria’s writing will remember that Dave is afflicted with a neurological condition which, over the past decade, has disabled his arms, caused chronic pain, and resulted in four major surgeries and a variety of tests, therapies, and prescriptions — none of which have been helpful.

With candor and realism, Dave shares his discouragement, his depression, and the impact his disability has had on his young family and on his ministry as a church planter on the Arabian peninsula.  He warns readers of the danger inherent in playing the “if only” game, which goes like this:

Fill in the blank — If only ___________, then I’d be happy.
If only my arms were healthy.
If only I had more money.
If only my spouse were healed.
This is not a game that is exclusive to the disabled, and Dave quotes John Calvin, referencing our “idol-factory” hearts, for somewhere along the way he realized that pain-free living had become an idol to him.

Suffering is a group project, and those who care for the suffering have a unique need to come clean before God about their own grieving process.  They need a marathon-level strength that is not their own in order to act, day after day, with selflessness toward one who is continually in need.  The messy process of grieving over a loved one’s pain is hard work and is best done in community. Over and over, the Furmans urged:  “Don’t walk this journey alone.”

The Psalms of Lament (particularly Psalm 88) give words for the hopelessness and for the sense that God is distant and uncaring.  Three lessons emerge from the text:

  1.  It is possible that a believer may experience unrelieved suffering.
  2. Our pain and suffering are not the final word, but remind us of the redemption to come.
  3. The psalmist does not give up.  Even in the midst of darkness, he prays.

Being There thrums with Gospel-based reassurance that not only does God not look away in our suffering, but the truth is that “the only person who sought God and truly did lose God’s face and did experience total darkness was Jesus” — and this was on our behalf.  “Because Jesus was truly abandoned by God the Father, we will never be abandoned by God.”  This is solid truth to encourage the heart of the suffering as well as the compassionate caregiver.

A highlight of Dave’s writing is the wide range of great authors and thinkers he quotes.  For example, citing Thomas Chalmers on “The Expulsive Power of a New Affection,” Dave reminds readers that our love for the hurting comes out of new hearts based on resurrection-hope and because of what Jesus has already done for us — not because we are stellar servants or possess super stores of personal endurance.

Horatius Bonar’s Words to Winners of Souls applies to caregivers as thoroughly as to soul winners.  “You must be much with Christ before you are anything for anybody else.”

Seventeenth century English Puritan John Flavel’s writing drives home the truth that only those with a healthy heart can really help the hurting.  With this emphasis on a growing relationship with God in place, Being There moves on to some very practical components for helping the hurting and their caregivers:

  1.  Faithful friendship that offers silent presence, the fellowship of mutual burden bearing, loyalty over the long haul, the grace of lavish and ready forgiveness, and a willingness to use humor and lightheartedness to lift spirits.
  2. Continual clinging to the hope offered in the gospel over all other possible sources of hope.
  3. Selfless service that washes feet, honors the dignity of any image-bearer, humbly offers healing words, and shows up with specific and practical hands-on help.
  4. Heartfelt prayer in the manner suggested by Dietrich Bonhoeffer:  “True spiritual love will speak to Christ about a brother even more than to a brother about Christ.”  This includes urging the hurting to draw strength from their own prayer life.
  5. Loving rebuke when it’s clear that hopes need realignment and fear is in the driver’s seat.  Paul refers to it as “restoration” in the sense of putting a bone back in joint.
  6. Avoidance of unhelpful patterns such as becoming the “fixer;” delivering a message of false hope; unsympathetic questioning, pushing, condemning, or comparing; and allowing the disability to become anyone’s main identity.

We are called to a life of what Paul Tripp describes as “intentionally intrusive relationships.”  When we, as the Body of Christ, bear one another’s burdens in a culture of caring, we put the love of God on display and demonstrate our belief that He can provide strength to help us overcome obstacles and minister with love to those who are hurting. We can “stand and wait,” as we watch the grace of God prevail.

//

This book was provided by Crossway in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Published by

Michele Morin

I am a teacher, blogger, reader, and gardener who finds joy in sitting at a table surrounded by women with open Bibles. I have been married to an unreasonably patient husband for nearly 27 years, and our four children are growing up at an alarming rate. Nonetheless, two teens still remain at home, and along with an incorrigible St. Bernard, we laugh, make messes, clean them up, and then start all over again. I love hot tea and well-crafted sentences, poems that stop me in my tracks and days at the ocean with the whole family. I lament biblical illiteracy and advocate for the prudent use of "little minutes." I blog at Living Our Days because "the way I live my days will be, after all, the way I live my life." You can connect with me on Facebook or Twitter.

31 thoughts on “Standing and Waiting with Those Who Suffer”

  1. This stirs up stuff! There are certain seasons in this life that are trying and testing. Caring for a declining loved one is certainly at the top of this list. Been there/done that five times. It never gets easier but I did learn to recognize that being compassionate and patient during the trial benefits the emotional well being of the caregiver as much if not more than the one needing care. It helps to understand that confused and disordered brain function is mindless, so to speak, it’s not doing anything ‘on purpose’ so it’s in no way personal.

    I’ve wondered, as I have watched a mind dissolve into base function with no cognition, whether modern science, prolonging life as it has, did us any real favors?

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    1. So true. If I find myself anxious about Mum, it’s because I’ve been stuffing or taking things personally. And I’ve had the same wonderings that you’ve had. Thanks, as usual, for your spot-on comments.

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  2. What great tips for helping the hurting and their caregivers. Thank you for sharing them, Michele. My heart goes out to caregivers. It is such a difficult job. I’m so sorry for what you’re going through with your mom. Prayers for you both!

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  3. Oh my what a man. I can see that he is an overcomer and I think much of that is related to his ability to quote such incredible authors. It seems the writer, Dave is focussing his mind on good things. Such Strength! Thanks for also sharing about your experience with caregiving and the honest truth about its difficulties. Praying God’s blessing on your life Michele, my link-up buddy 🙂
    ~Sherry
    xoxo

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      1. Treasuring Christ When Your Hands Are Full, Glimpses of Grace, and The Pastor’s Wife are all excellent. They have a pretty specific audience, and I’ve enjoyed them all and given them as gifts. Missional Motherhood addresses our role as women as spiritual mothers. Very good Old Testament overview as well!

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  4. It’s so easy, disabled or not, to fall into the trap of “if only” thinking. I’ve only had a few weeks of this battle with shingles and it’s taught me so much about enduring pain and how it messes with your mind and spirit. I’m grateful my pain will subside, but so many face physical trials every single day and God refines them into beautiful representatives like Dave Furman. Thanks so much, Michele, for sharing his inspiring story.

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  5. Michele- a great thought provoking post! I haven’t been in a caregiver situation , but I have been through periods of depression due to health issues.
    What a great reminder that God doesn’t turn His face from us.
    #Sititngamongfriends
    Julie

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  6. This is the second post in a row at the #ThreeWordWednesday that I read about this book. It sounds like a good one, and one I wished I had as a resource when my best friend was walking through a hard, dark season and I didn’t always know how to encourage her. Thanks for linking up at my place today.

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    1. Yes, I read Tehila’s review as well. Fun and serendipitous — and I found the book to be helpful in the way you mentioned. So often we want to help and just don’t know how. Thanks for your weekly hospitality.

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  7. I wish I would have had access to a book like this while we were caring for my Mother in law. We wanted to seek help but his family refused it. They didn’t look at this precious lady as the one who gave birth to them and cared for them while growing up; she was just another old person who needed to be put away. I’m so thankful she is in Heaven and no longer suffering. Thanks for sharing this book review with Thankful Thursdays.

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  8. I’m so glad to read this here, Michele. I’d read Gloria Furman’s blog and a few book excerpts, so I’d heard that her husband had a health struggle and disability, but I didn’t know he’d written a book too. Powerful lessons learned only through suffering.

    God’s grace on you while you “wait” with your mom.

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  9. Who should I send my book bill to, Michele! You’re reviews of late have been too timely and my list of “must-reads” is growing!!! Thank you for the honest and thorough review as usual. I’m really looking forward to reading this book someday. Just prayed for you and your mom.

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  10. Michele,
    How difficult this situation must be for you and for your mom. I’m so sorry. My heart is with you and I will be praying for you as you stand alongside her. So much of what you said here resonates with me. “Awkward sense of helplessness” sums it up perfectly. I’ve been guilty of avoiding because I just don’t know what to do. So much to think about here …
    Blessings, my friend, and as always, thank you for sharing at #MomentsofHope!
    Lori

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  11. This is a really deep and heartfelt post Michelle – thanks for sharing it with us at Inspire Me Monday at Create With Joy! I’m sorry you are going through such a challenging season with your Mom. Your words and this message really ministers to my heart.

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