'Unfashionable doctrine'

From Sacred Space this week:

Jesus told us, ‘When you do good, your right hand should not know what your left hand is doing.’ That is almost a description of a mother changing nappies. Her routine is such that her right hand barely knows what her left hand is doing as she skilfully and rapidly folds and soothes. Nobody pays her, and nobody even notices, except perhaps baby, if she is less than skilful.

Even a mother’s work seems easy compared with caring for the old and incontinent. A mother is handling the precious, promising body of her baby. She is rewarded at least with trust and occasional smiles. But when we are old, our body is falling apart, and our controls slip. We are not easy to help. We are proud, ashamed, and angry at how we are reduced. Smiles do not come easily. Yet across the country there are wives, husbands and other carers whose daily existence centres round cleaning up for their loved ones. ‘Your father who sees in secret will reward you.’ (Matthew 6:6)

It is unfashionable doctrine. Thomas à Kempis, author of The Imitation of Christ, urged us to ‘enjoy being unknown and regarded as nothing’. Lord, give me the ability to persist through tedium, to survive without the oxygen of recognition, praise and stroking, and to do some good things every day which are seen only by God.

The thing that struck me most about this passage was not so much the ability to survive without recognition but the thought of whether or not I would age gracefully. If it comes to pass that one day I become incontinent… if I need someone else to bathe and change me, wipe my ass after I do business, feed me… if I become physically dependent on others, how will I take it?

Would I be proud, ashamed, frustrated and angry? Could I be gracious and joyful? Would I still believe that I can be an instrument of God’s peace and joy even when I am completely helpless?

Somehow I know that if I were to be able to rejoice in life even when I am old and incontinent, I must start preparing NOW. The path I need to walk is simple even as it is difficult…I need to depend not on my own strength but on God’s; bask not in my ‘accomplishments’ but rejoice in God’s love and mercy; remember that I am nothing, but that because God loves me, I am priceless.

Help me, Lord, to learn how to be helpless. Help me to see my value and worth not in what I am able to do but in the depth of Your love. Let my eyes be always opened to true worth and help me not to judge myself or others by their incapacity and failures.

Let me always see You in every person and situation. Amen.

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