Tag Archives: pastoral care

Caring for The Battered and Broken

This is part three.  Having looked at health, or lack of it, and healing; how can someone on the outside help?

Pastorally we have to be prepared to be alongside people as they go into their own desert.  People need to be able to pour out to someone the fears that they have buried deep, or that are bubbling near the surface.  Just sharing those feelings with someone can make them less frightening, as they are acknowledged.  People may be reluctant to express such deep personal feelings that pain and suffering bring.  One of the privileges in life is being the one someone feels they can ‘let go’ to.  Someone ‘putting on a brave face’, may just have no opportunity, or tools, to face or express their fears.  They may need some company, some care, some holding.

Norman Autton in his book, Pain – An Exploration, makes the  comment that children should always be given permission to feel pain.  Adults too, particularly sometimes christians, need to know that there is no need to be brave or ‘cope’.   Feeling the pain is the only way it can be let out for healing.

Denis Duncan in Health and Healing: A Ministry to Wholeness reminds us that christian pastoral care, including to ourselves, is the acceptance of people where they are, in order to take them to where God wants them to be ‘warts and all’.  This is very positive, except that we can never take them.  What we can do is accompany them as they make the journey there themselves.

What anyone offering care needs is sensitivity.  Such comments as, ‘Every cloud has a silver lining’ are not particularly helpful when it doesn’t feel it.  It may ultimately become true, but takes reconciling to the situation first. There will undoubtedly be some positives to come from the suffering, but that does not remove the pain of the struggle.  It can be too easy to produce platitudes that nothing can separate us from the love of God, or that there is glory waiting beyond the tears.  I firmly believe that

all things work together for good for those who love God  (Rom 8:28),

but at times of struggle it was the last thing I wanted to hear.  Not because I no longer believed it, but at that time I could not assimilate it into my experience.  To glibly quote scripture references can show total lack of empathy and can appear to belittle the problem.

If we can, however use the bible sensitively and positively, there are many verses that do offer hope and comfort.  For example, Isaiah 43:1-2, reminds us that God is with us in situations that threaten to consume and overwhelm us; Psalm 23 speaks of the Psalmist’s assurance that God is with him in the valleys; and for me Habakkuk 3:17-20 encapsulates the acceptance and ability to live with having no answers, but finding something in that, and still being able to cling on because of his trust in God, when everything else has disappeared.

We should not be afraid to say that we have no answers, there is more honesty in that than trying to grope for quick-fix solutions.  And honesty is the one thing that is appreciated.  Sometimes nothing more is needed than a being with.

And that is the point I come to.  If it sounds positive, it has come from a place of great pain. Only the answer has survived on paper – but the pain was deep and life-transforming.  Ask those who were around me then how many times I preached on being in the desert – because that is where I was and all I could do.  I’m not trying to put just a positive spin on it, but to try to share some of what I learned, and in sharing it all again, it has helped me with where I find myself again.  Healing and wholeness are ongoing.  Living with ongoing illness regularly throws up new discoveries and realities to be assimilated. As does life for each one of us.

I hope sharing this has helped someone.  If you’ve got any comments, please share them below for everyone to share in.

I’ll leave you with my conclusion, that sixteen years on and a few crises later, still, I think, holds true:

So for me, both personally, and as a basis for pastoral care, there has to be the offer of healing and wholeness, whatever the state of our mind and body.  It may not be healing as we would like it or recognise it, but that does not mean it is not.

I believe firmly, passionately and with experience that we can lay our pain with the one who took our pain upon himself, and receive Life in its true fullness.  If we do not believe that what else have we to offer to a hurting world?

And so I return to my very practical definition of healing:

accepting all that we are, and all that we will never be, incorporating that into ‘me’ – and being able to live with it.

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What is Healing?

This is part 2 of thinking around health and healing.  It follows on from What is Healing?

It would be fair to say, that when someone says ‘healing’ with think of restoration to how things were, maybe even ‘back to normal’ and everything being ok.  That is not always what happens, or apparently not, so can there still be healing?  I would say there can be – a deeply profound type of healing…

To begin to see the possibility that there can be wholeness despite ill health needs us all to grasp that personhood is about more than just our physical shape or functioning.  We are our whole self, whatever that package brings with it.  It is that entirety that we need to be comfortable with to find wholeness whatever our limitations.  Frank Wright , in his book, The Pastoral Nature of Healing speaks of

healing to be the essential ‘I’.

For each of us not to aim for some supposed ideal, but to realise the distinctive individuality that God gives to each of us (As stated in The Church and the Ministry of Healing A Methodist Statement adopted in 1977).

Simon Bailey, wrote a brilliant book called The Well Within, exploring his experience of living with HIV.  The subtitle, Parables for Living and Dying say it all – read it if ever you come across a copy.  In that book he speaks of acknowledging the sense of calling specific to me, to which I must be honest and loyal.   To become the very most that I can be should be the only concern for each of us, whatever that “I” turns out to be.  In the words of John F. X. Harriott,

everyone can create a masterpiece – themselves

Healing does not bring out our likeness to others, but it will bring out our likeness to ourself.

We will never achieve ultimate healing in this life, but perhaps wholeness is possible. If we can find a point at which we can accept and live with what continuing illness is going to mean for us, then we can begin to move towards the potential in that.  This will not be a once and for all acceptance, but having internalised it, taking it with us into the rest of life.  Denial and rationalisation are self-protective defence mechanisms for preserving emotional well-being, therefore should not be dismantled until there is something else, i.e. acceptance, available to go in their place.  The ultimate will be when we have honestly faced what is within us, we have nothing to fear – in ourselves, or the world.  If we know what is there, it is no longer a threat.  The healthiest way of being ill is to come to terms with the truth.

Perhaps for me the definition of healing in this way has to be,

knowing what is there, but not letting it be a crippling factor in experiences, relationships, and situations that I encounter.  Knowing there will be no getting rid of the fact, but incorporating that into what I am.  Whether I like it or not, it is part of me.  If I can live with it, rather than against it, and it becomes part of the offering that is me.  Acceptance brings being able to face and handle my experience, to speak of it and touch it – to myself, others and God.

Knowing our own wounds, we are able to identify with  the world’s pain and stand alongside those who suffer without focusing so hard on how it affects us.  The wound will still be there, and scar tissue is more sensitive than other skin, but knowledge and acceptance of that show that we have incorporated the truth into our very being.  That is no longer a controlling factor, but part of what makes us what we are.  The fact that it is there makes us no better or worse that a supposed “healthy” person.

Simon Bailey writes of living with the knowledge that he was HIV positive as a “brick wall” for the first years, then coming to the point of realising he had to talk to himself – to “step into the wilderness”.  The brick wall is about refusing to accept the affliction, denying it’s presence and repercussions – an inevitable part of the process of assimilating the information.  Moving into the wilderness of despair can seem like a backward step, but it is the beginning of acceptance, as we do at last allow ourselves to feel something about what is happening to us. Going into the desert forces us to probe the basic foundations of our lives, to face what we are and to reflect on the deep questions.  (Simon Bailey would define those as: Who are you really?;  What do you really want?; Where really are you going?; What really are you afraid of? ) As we discover what is there we can grow as we incorporate the feelings and effects of our illness into them.  In accepting pain and suffering we are not taking on a resigned passivity, but finding the courage to face the facts.  The pain can then be spoken aloud, which begins to give it meaning.

In terms of healing beginning where brokenness remains, recovery begins as we are able to slowly turn outwards to face the world again.  To find a level of ease so that ‘I’ am not my soul consideration, but finding a level of comfort with what is, acknowledging my identity as this person who cannot do something.  When we can face the truth it no longer lurks in the background, with the potentiality to control or destroy.  It is taken on board, if not welcome, at least in full knowledge that it is there, and that being OK.  For healing to begin, pain has to be faced.  If it is ignored, it will trip us up at some time.  If we try to keep pain buried, it can fester and cause all kinds of other problems.

Frank Wright states that

as we draw to God, we are drawn together as a person made whole.

This is true, but only when we let him in to those broken, hurting parts.  God can do nothing, or at least what he does has no effect, until the one who is hurting allows him. God does not force his way into lives.

Equally, yes Christ shares in the pain with us, but will not always magic it away. The road to acceptance may not be easy.  There may be much kicking and screaming along the way, and the place of kicking and screaming may be returned to. Yet ultimately suffering will be a forward movement.  As Wright says

Healing liberates us to set out again on the adventure of life – and enables us to be available for the healing of others.

We will know what we really stand on – tested in the fire.  We will be more grounded people, less glib, more aware of our fragility.   Some awareness of the wound must continue, but not it’s hold over us.

So healing is about, not necessarily getting rid of, but learning to live with all that we are – and are not.

I mentioned God not forcing himself into our lives, but being ready and waiting.  This is perhaps our model for care of those who are hurting.  We need to be alongside them, but cannot force our way in to a place where they are not, or cannot yet let us in to.  We cannot try to push people to move faster than they want or are able.

And this I will look at in the third part tomorrow.

What is Health?

So having read Arthur’s Call and as part of my current grappling, I’m going to go back to something I wrote  in 1998 as part of my Ministerial Training.  At that time, I had encountered a couple of spells of pretty rubbish health problems and this came out of my coming to terms with them and their profound effects in my life – which until that time, I had pretty much managed to dance around and pretend didn’t matter – until the day I realized they did and the bottom fell out of my world.

It’s funny how God prepares you, for something even more shattering and heart-breaking that is to come.  I’m sharing it, largely unchanged, in the hope that it will remind me and may help someone else.  It will come in three parts.

“If you’ve got your health, you’ve got everything” seems at first to be a very positive statement to make.   A similar attitude is shown by expectant parents, when asked about hopes and dreams for their child reply, “we don’t mind as long as it is fit and healthy”.  These frequently uttered comments show an attitude of being  aware that possessions and material gain are of relative unimportance when compared to being fit and well.  Yet they do leave the question of what value there is in life that is not a healthy one. If having your health means that you have everything, does this by definition mean that if you do not have ‘full health’, you have nothing?  Is living with suffering and physical or mental difficulties necessarily second best to supposed full health?  Is human worth directly related to physical functioning?

To hear that you have a medical problem, for which there may be relief, but no cure, can be hard news to take, even more so if there is little relief available.  It may even be that there is a cure, but that in itself will bring further physical repercussions.  For those faced with this situation our response to the consequences, and how they effect the rest of our life, can depend on how we assimilate them into our personhood.  Is it less than ideal, a total disaster, or can it actually be an equally acceptable way of being?  Can there be a position of worth and wholeness within what may appear to be brokenness?

Perhaps the first question to ask is, define ‘normal’  or what do we mean by ‘health’?    Is each individual so focused on ‘what I am is normal’, that society perceives anyone who does not reach or maintain expected norms as somehow lacking.  Or is that a feeling that someone struggling to come to terms with a continuing illness places upon themselves?

Type ‘health’ into a search engine, and such images as this are what are portrayed…

Society places a great emphasis on health, as many advertising campaigns seize on.  To be young, active, and preferably attractive is held up as the ideal, re-enforcing feelings of failure in those who do not make that supposed “standard”.  There are also many other subtle pressures of ‘expectation’, by friends, family or employers that compound feelings of being not as good as the rest. To constantly question our perceptions of what ‘normal’ is, or is not, continually challenges our assumptions without belittling those who do have real difficulties in life. This is subtly different to the approach of ‘well everyone is handicapped in some way!’ which can appear very trite, and shows a total lack of appreciation of what a real handicap in life is like.

With the advent of great medical advances in the last few decades, society has been lulled into feeling that there must be a cure for everything.  Whatever you have wrong can quite literally be made better by one of the medical profession.  It can come as quite a shock to discover first of all that you too are not immune to illness, and that there may not necessarily be anything anyone can do to make it better.  There may be relief for symptoms, but no cure.  The only way forward then is to decide how you are going to come to terms with that. This is not about facing death – that might actually appear as relief.  It is about the struggle to live as we find ourselves to be, not in temporary illness or incapacitation, but an ongoing condition that needs some, if not much, re-assessment of life.  This will mean taking on board what we  are and are not, and finding a way of living with it.  To come to an acceptance of what has happened, and the damage we carry with us.

This may take a major re-alignment on understanding – health does not just mean the absence of physical disability.  There is far more to health than ‘usual’ physical functioning.   Jurgen Moltmann puts health into a new dimension when he says,

It is not a condition of my body, but the power of the soul to cope with the conditions of that body.

Likewise the World Health Organisation defines health as,

A state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, not merely an absence of disease and infirmity.

Health has equally to do with self-understanding, and being able to incorporate life events into ourselves, with honesty and courage.  When faced with trauma, specifically here ill-health, after the initial shock, there are several ways to respond.  Some of these will lead to moving on with the news and awareness, and bring a level of wholeness without health.  Others may totally incapacitate our very being.

Tomorrow I will consider What is Healing?