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Some may simply be for another time in your life when your heart is ready. The day will bring a mix of opportunities to reflect personally, share your stories with a small group, and hear the voices of others who know both the challenges and gifts of the journey you are on. At the end of the day, you will have the opportunity to glean key insights or a new practice to carry out with you as you return to your caregiving responsibilities and routines.

We pray you will leave today refreshed in heart, supported in friendship, and strengthened in your own courage for caregiving. Henri had much to say on the subject of care across the arc of his ministry. A Dutch Catholic priest who reached across denominational boundaries, he touched the hearts of people worldwide. His humility and vulnerability revealed our shared humanity. The word finds its origin in the word kara, which means to lament, to mourn, to participate in suffering, to share in pain. To care is to cry out with those who are ill, confused, lonely, isolated, and forgotten, and to recognize their pains in our own heart.

To care is to enter into the world of those who are broken and powerless and to establish there a fellowship of the weak. To care is to be present to those who suffer, and to stay present, even when nothing can be done to change their situation. But this is not our spontaneous response to suffering.

What we desire most is to do away with suffering by fleeing from it or finding a quick cure for it.

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Faith in relation to suffering: There can be no human beings who are completely alone in their sufferings since God, in and through Jesus, has become Emmanuel, God with us. It belongs to the center of our faith that God is a faithful God, a God who did not want us to ever be alone, but who wanted to understand—and stand under— all that is human. The Good News of the Gospel, therefore, is not that God wanted to take our suffering away, but that God became part of it. Deep mutuality: Henri teaches that deep mutuality lies at the heart of every caring relationship.

In the very act of caring for another, you and I possess a great treasure. What was so amazing … was the gradual realization that Adam was really there for me, listening with his whole being and offering me a safe place to be. Adam was becoming my teacher, taking me by the hand, walking with me in my confusion through the wilderness of my life. Those who ask for care invite us to listen to our own pains, to know our own wounds, and to face our own brokenness.

They help us make sense of the narrative of our own lives. Jesus was a consummate storyteller, capable of conjuring up a parable on the spot to bring a spiritual truth to life in the hearts of his hearers. The most powerful human stories keep working in our hearts over time. Some become beacons of light for a lifetime. Yet our stories of caregiving are important to self-understanding and central to this retreat. Here is a simple way to begin thinking about the contours of your care story. For whom do you offer care, and for how long thus far?


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He clearly sees challenges on both sides: Many of us know from experience how hard it is to simply be a caregiver. At the same time, we may need to be reminded of how hard it is to be cared for. Anyone involved with intense or long-term care knows just how difficult and complex it can be. As you listen to the stories presented now, and the challenges they illustrate, notice where they connect with your own story, and how they shed new light on your experience.

Ponder how you experience and see these—on both sides of your care relationship. Until we allow, and own, and name our real feelings, we cannot take the next step of fully accepting and even embracing these challenges. This truth telling also gives us the opportunity to see more clearly where we might need to ask for support. On mixed feelings and motivations, Henri candidly acknowledges, If the one we care for is a family member, we also may bear all the conflicting emotions of trying to support a loved one.

On the one hand, there is the desire and willingness springing from our love for this person. On the other hand, our desire and willingness may be woven together with loneliness, resentment, guilt, and shame for unwanted thoughts and dreams of being free once more from the burden of care. Conflicted feelings can coexist in close quarters! There is often a huge cost to the caregiver, and sometimes the care we give springs not from a well of love and altruism but from a bitter sea of resentful duty and obligation.

As caregivers, how do we attend to the suffering not only of physical or intellectual decline, but emotional and spiritual pain in the hearts of those we care for? Henri speaks directly to some of these challenges: Important for us as caregivers to remember here is that it is embarrassing to be exposed in weakness and to need help.

Having managed their own lives so easily for so long for both themselves and others, those who are ill or weak may find it humiliating to have to receive care and ask someone else to help them, especially if the one asked is already busy and occupied with important matters. Another very real sorrow for those receiving care is that it is not easy to wait—sometimes in pain—for someone to do for them what they can no longer do for themselves.

It is bad enough for them to feel so fragile and so scared, but worse still to have to trust someone else—someone they may not know at all and who never knew them when they were strong. It can be humiliating to allow a stranger or even a family member to enter their intimate, physical, and private space. You may need to come back to other questions later. What would I name as the three greatest challenges in my caregiving story?

What else might my care receiver be experiencing that I tend not to see? When does compassion feel natural to me in caregiving? When is it hard? What do I notice about myself as I look at my responses? Mutuality becomes meaningful as we recognize the gifts received while caring for others. Yes, caregiving may bring heartache and hardship, but it is also a sacred privilege! In opening our hearts to God and others, we begin to see how much we receive in giving.

The reason, spiritually speaking, is simple: each of us is imprinted at our core with the divine image, however dim or distant it may seem. Deep in the heart of each person dwells an imperishable glory, freely given to us and cherished by our Creator beyond our wildest imagining! And one of the enormous spiritual tasks we have is to claim that and to live a life based on that knowledge.

In the economy of Grace, the least among us—the sick and forgotten, the weak and vulnerable, the disabled and frail—are precisely the ones God works through most powerfully. God can minister through anyone, and often does so in and through the least, the little ones, the handicapped, the poor, the unimpressive. Jean could see my fatigue and was always an ace at detecting a white lie! But being honest about the hard side allowed her to hear equal truth in the happy side: my assurance that I wanted to be her primary caregiver at the end of her life, and found fulfillment in that choice because of who she was and what she meant to me.

Jean had no fear of what lay on the other side of death. While she was not looking forward to the final act of dying, her faith was strong and her trust in the reality of the communion of saints was a blessing. I knew she suffered no needless anxiety, but rather carried a spirit of inner peace. Our shared faith was a great gift to me, especially when I felt anxious or grieved about her suffering. Jean was present for all our family celebrations—if only standing at the loft railing looking down, tethered to her oxygen tubes.

With her presence came warmth, vitality, and her sardonic wit—bringing smiles and much-needed levity. I will never forget the last exchange between my mother and mother-in-law, Bab, the day the ambulance came to take my mother to the Hospice Residence. What responses arise as I read this story? How does my story connect or differ? She had not received affirmation or emotional warmth as a child, and did not know her belovedness. I began to recognize a tug in my heart to show her more tangible affection—to express that she was loved just for who she was.

She needed concrete evidence, the very physical expressions of love she appeared determined to repel. And if it appeared I might be about to forget, she would tap her cheek to remind me! This soon became an unalterable ritual—first just between the two of us, until gradually John was drawn in as well.

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Freedom from the tangled web of family history was one of the great gifts in my role as daughter-in-law. Bab was my unwitting teacher. She kept me humble by revealing me to myself—my reactions, unrealistic expectations, ego needs, fear and anger. In her maddening stubbornness, she showed up my inability to fix, change, or control others to my liking. Bab gave me plenty of grist for growth.

Giving People a Theology of Suffering

She drove me daily to prayer and my great need for the Spirit of grace! What could be more precious than to see the face of our humble Lord shining in the flesh and bone of another human being, weak and imperfect as we all are? What better gift could there be in this world? Care receivers give gifts as well. Jean and Bab embodied a beautiful insight Henri articulated this way: Our weakness and old age call people to surround us and support us.

As we are given into their hands, others are blessed and enriched by caring for us. Our weakness bear fruits in their lives. Where in your care relationship have you known mutuality in blessings given and received? If so, how did that recognition affect you? In what ways does your sense of being or not being beloved affect the way you see your care receiver? Henri Nouwen was a prolific letter writer. He kept up an amazing volume of correspondence with hundreds of individuals over his lifetime.

Some were ordinary letters to family or friends, but many were letters of spiritual guidance and support written to people struggling with painful questions and circumstances. Yet writing a letter can be a fine way to express your own feelings and process your caregiving story.

Letters to family and close friends are not usually formal compositions, but rather spontaneous expressions of what we are experiencing and thinking. Use the space provided here to write either a few notes about what you would like to express in a letter you will write when you have more time or a short draft of a letter that you can copy onto a card or paper you think might be meaningful to the person receiving your letter.

The title reflects how he signed his name. How will our caregiving be sustained? This question raises the issue of self-care. We are pulled in opposite directions between giving ourselves to the care of others and taking time for adequate self-care. How can a realistic balance be achieved between two necessities in constant tension? Western culture has burdened us with the idea that caring for ourselves is somehow selfish.

Anytime we can listen to true self and give the care it requires, we do it not only for ourselves, but for the many others whose lives we touch. Palmer, Let Your Life Speak 1. When we are exhausted, the care we offer others suffers as well. And God does not require us to ruin our health to prove our love.

Jesus models balance when he withdraws from the crowds to take time apart for prayer and inner renewal. Do I feel that I am worthy to be cared for by others? Am I worth caring for myself? What makes self-care most difficult for me? What is hardest for me to hear in this topic of self-care? If I feel cold, I put a sweater on my son—why not on me too?

It means being mindful about how to care for yourself as you care for another. Donna suggests you choose three things you typically do in a week that you would love to give someone else—yard work, grocery shopping, light housekeeping? What three tasks would I love to delegate to others? She starts with two questions: 1. Who holds you? Who cares for you? Who carries the burden with you? Prioritize, delegate, be selective. Which do you already practice in some measure? Which do you most crave but feel are out of reach?

What would you add? Prioritizing and delegating are not easy. This may be a good area to discuss with a wise friend, counselor, or more experienced caregiver. Henri tells us the most difficult thing is to be only half there— to be present without wanting to be, which leads to resentment. The practices suggested here are selected to fit the realities of caregiving. They can help lighten our load by releasing heavy emotions, opening up limited perspectives, attuning our listening skills, and simplifying our prayer life. As with self-care, choose the spiritual practices that suit your circumstances and nourish your heart.

Scripture gives us permission to express the full range of human emotions. We see this most fully in the Psalms, where praise and grief, joy and sorrow, contentment and fury contend on every page—even in the same psalm! Personalize the ancient words, bringing your experience and feelings into it. You may paraphrase an existing psalm, or simply write your own from scratch. Here is a sample paraphrase of Psalm How long, O Lord, must we keep this up?

How much longer can I take the stress, the unknowing, the endless care? How much longer must I endure watching her suffer and shrivel by inches? My soul cries out within me for help and comfort! Look and answer me, O Lord my God! A Retreat Participant Workbook. Give me some hope, or I will sleep the sleep of death soon myself. I put my trust in your saving help and love, O Lord. Do not abandon me! One of the most helpful is to reframe our experience. As we go through life we turn it into a story, creating an internal narrative based on our perceptions and assumptions.

We are largely unaware of these deeply held assumptions and interpretations. Gaining new perspectives can give us a different frame of reference and thus a new story line. Henri used to get frustrated by what he felt were constant interruptions of his work from phone calls or students knocking on his door. This reframing of his experience significantly reduced his frustration levels. How might it change our view if we thought of our care receivers as souls who are offering themselves to us, in great vulnerability, for the sake of our own spiritual growth?

Caregiving is a tremendous opportunity to learn how to listen more deeply to ourselves, to others, and to God. Letters to family and close friends are not usually formal compositions, but rather spontaneous expressions of what we are experiencing and thinking. Use the space provided here to write either a few notes about what you would like to express in a letter you will write when you have more time or a short draft of a letter that you can copy onto a card or paper you think might be meaningful to the person receiving your letter.

The title reflects how he signed his name. How will our caregiving be sustained? This question raises the issue of self-care. We are pulled in opposite directions between giving ourselves to the care of others and taking time for adequate self-care. How can a realistic balance be achieved between two necessities in constant tension? Western culture has burdened us with the idea that caring for ourselves is somehow selfish. Anytime we can listen to true self and give the care it requires, we do it not only for ourselves, but for the many others whose lives we touch.

Palmer, Let Your Life Speak 1. When we are exhausted, the care we offer others suffers as well. And God does not require us to ruin our health to prove our love. Jesus models balance when he withdraws from the crowds to take time apart for prayer and inner renewal. Do I feel that I am worthy to be cared for by others? Am I worth caring for myself? What makes self-care most difficult for me? What is hardest for me to hear in this topic of self-care? If I feel cold, I put a sweater on my son—why not on me too?

It means being mindful about how to care for yourself as you care for another. Donna suggests you choose three things you typically do in a week that you would love to give someone else—yard work, grocery shopping, light housekeeping? What three tasks would I love to delegate to others?

She starts with two questions: 1. Who holds you? Who cares for you? Who carries the burden with you? Prioritize, delegate, be selective. Which do you already practice in some measure? Which do you most crave but feel are out of reach? What would you add? Prioritizing and delegating are not easy. This may be a good area to discuss with a wise friend, counselor, or more experienced caregiver. Henri tells us the most difficult thing is to be only half there— to be present without wanting to be, which leads to resentment.

The practices suggested here are selected to fit the realities of caregiving. They can help lighten our load by releasing heavy emotions, opening up limited perspectives, attuning our listening skills, and simplifying our prayer life. As with self-care, choose the spiritual practices that suit your circumstances and nourish your heart.

Scripture gives us permission to express the full range of human emotions. We see this most fully in the Psalms, where praise and grief, joy and sorrow, contentment and fury contend on every page—even in the same psalm! Personalize the ancient words, bringing your experience and feelings into it. You may paraphrase an existing psalm, or simply write your own from scratch. Here is a sample paraphrase of Psalm How long, O Lord, must we keep this up? How much longer can I take the stress, the unknowing, the endless care? How much longer must I endure watching her suffer and shrivel by inches?

My soul cries out within me for help and comfort! Look and answer me, O Lord my God! A Retreat Participant Workbook. Give me some hope, or I will sleep the sleep of death soon myself. I put my trust in your saving help and love, O Lord. Do not abandon me! One of the most helpful is to reframe our experience. As we go through life we turn it into a story, creating an internal narrative based on our perceptions and assumptions. We are largely unaware of these deeply held assumptions and interpretations.

Gaining new perspectives can give us a different frame of reference and thus a new story line. Henri used to get frustrated by what he felt were constant interruptions of his work from phone calls or students knocking on his door. This reframing of his experience significantly reduced his frustration levels. How might it change our view if we thought of our care receivers as souls who are offering themselves to us, in great vulnerability, for the sake of our own spiritual growth?

Caregiving is a tremendous opportunity to learn how to listen more deeply to ourselves, to others, and to God. Listening fully to others is a sacred art, one of the deepest expressions of human care we have at our disposal. Sometimes it is the gift we most need, for to be truly heard is not only comfort but also affirmation of our dignity and value. It is freeing to discover that simply being a listening presence for our care receiver may be the best gift we can offer.

Listening to God in the midst of daily challenge and gift is the crux of prayer. Some ways of prayer are easy to integrate into ordinary life. Breath Prayers. Depending on ability, invite your care receiver to find a meaningful Breath Prayer and promise to pray it with them. Share your prayer and ask them to pray it with you.

This can be a beautiful expression of mutual care! A form of prayer many of us do naturally takes short verses of Scripture as a focal point. Here are a few such prayers I drew from Ephesians — and Colossians — It is a declared spiritual truth that can keep us grounded, hopeful, and steady when life is difficult and the road is long. One of the great truths Henri discovered and claimed was his belovedness. Write your affirmations on sticky notes and place them where you will see them daily—atop your dresser, on a mirror, beside Like Breath Prayer, the practice of affirmation is wonderful to share with care receivers.

Each of you can benefit from your own affirmations, and when you know which ones are meaningful to each other they become another bond between you. You may find yourself reminding the other, when they have forgotten, of their phrase of confident trust or beloved identity. When we bless each other we say good words: words of gratitude, affirmation, and encouragement; words that draw attention beyond ourselves A Retreat Participant Workbook. The way you express it will be uniquely yours. May God comfort and fill you with all peace.

For those who are facing death, a bedtime blessing like this can help prepare their spirit for its coming transition to the fullness of the kingdom. You may find that the one you care for would like to bless you in return, confirming a joyful, tender mutuality in your relationship. Receive gratefully! We may carry unrealistic expectations of trying to be perfect.

When we feel inadequate or guilty about some failure—real or perceived—it is time for self-compassion. Self-compassion is a practice of mindfulness. What an idiot I am! Can we humbly allow for our human weaknesses? Do we affirm that God loves us even when we are fearful, frustrated, or foolish? Self-empathy gives us the opportunity to listen to our own hearts with the same quality of compassionate attention that we would offer another in our best moments.

Christ, who indwells our heart, sees with love. With a little intention and practice we can access our heart-center in daily life. Here is one way to practice compassion for ourselves. Get in touch with something about yourself you really dislike and wish you could be rid of—perhaps a character weakness or bad habit.

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Become aware of your usual feelings in relation to this. Notice the feelings without sinking too deeply into them. Now take a step back from your judging ego to a deeper center, a place of interior freedom from which you can observe your reactions and feelings. This is your inner sanctuary of love, where the compassionate Spirit burns like a little pilot light. Breathe and relax into this heart-center. Just as oxygen feeds a flame, let your breath feed the Spirit-flame within, till it is full and bright. Feel compassion fill your heart. From this compassionate center, look at the part of yourself you so dislike.

What do you observe? Let the compassionate One in your heart give comfort to the wounded child in you—with words, or song, or a gesture of embrace. Notice how your inner child responds. Accept a higher love for yourself—even in weakness, brokenness, and incompletion. You are a work in progress. Christ bears with you patiently. Take a moment now to name and absorb fully the gift of this meditation.

Our stories will, of course, continue. Perhaps you have found new ways to give voice to your experience, and have made a start on telling your caregiving story. Hopefully you have a greater sense of community with others on this path, and some alternative perspectives on your care relationship.

Naturally, the final word belongs to love. What else, finally, can we cling to? Is there any higher good, anything beyond the love of God? When our loved ones die, and when we ourselves cross the threshold of death, we will find ourselves fully embraced in the Light that is simply the glorious radiance of divine Love. Even now each of us participates, in our small way, in the Love that will not let us go. What greater privilege and joy can there be?

All blessings of grace and peace as you journey forward! Endnotes Session 3 1. Session 4 1. Parker J. Emphasis added. Allan Hugh Cole, Jr. WJK, , Used by permission. Henri J.


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Permissions Grateful acknowledgement is made for permission to reprint the following excerpts from previously published works. Used by permission of the Henri Nouwen Legacy Trust. Published by Upper Room Books. Originally published in by Penguin Random House. Excerpt from Care and the Elderly, by Henri J. Reprinted courtesy of HarperCollins Publishers.

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Allan Hugh Cole Jr. Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books. Reprinted by permission of Orbis Books. Used by permission of the Crossroad Publishing Company. Copyright by John Wiley and Sons, Inc. Henri was born in the Netherlands in and was drawn to the priesthood in the Catholic church at a young age. After being ordained in , he undertook further studies in psychology in the United States.

In , he accepted a position teaching psychology at the University of Notre Dame and wrote his first two books while there. After doctoral studies, Henri spent ten years on the faculty of Yale Divinity School, where his classes were some of the most popular on campus. During these years he was also publishing prolifically.

Later, Henri became interested in Latin America and the many poor affected by both political turmoil and theological developments. He considered living and ministering in Peru. Though he accepted a position on the faculty at Harvard, he remained restless and yearned for deeper meaning and personal connection with others. There he served in a pastoral role, gave countless talks and retreats, welcomed hundreds who sought counsel, and still found time to write, eventually publishing more than 40 books. At Daybreak he had at last come home.

Henri suffered a heart attack in and was buried close to his beloved Daybreak community. Nouwen Archives and Research Collection, and in the enduring values of compassion, community and ministry that shine through all his writings. Schooled by Henri Nouwen at Yale, and by her mother and her mother-in-law through years of caregiving, Marjorie allowed her teachers to gift her with inner transformation on the journey toward deep integrity and compassion. This transformation is evident in the wide-ranging vision of caregiving offered here. Added to her personal growth and insights are the gifts and challenges of others in caregiving situations, along the spiritual perceptions of a lifelong pastor and friend to the suffering, Henri Nouwen.

Marjorie Thompson has profound gifts for feeling, discerning, and writing. What a precious resource Courage for Caregivers will be for those who give care and compassion.