Caring for Caregivers

If I fall asleep in the sermon today, it is because of how jealous Chaska and I were of everyone who got those beautiful views of the northern light on Friday, so we sat outside till midnight last night trying to pray the findlay light pollution into northern lights because the news said there was a chance they were coming back. We saw nothing.

Instead of lights, what insused was the ongoing conversation that Chaska and I have about prayer. Can one pray something into existence? Pray dazzling lights into the sky. Pray for energy for the next day.

Jesus Prays

Our passage was titled in my Bible, “Jesus prays for his disciples.”

In the days before his ascension, Jesus gathers together his disciples, and he decides to pray for them. Jesus had a rich prayer life and prays often in the book of John.

In John 6, Jesus prays through giving thanks for the food at the feeding of the 5000.

After raising Lazarus from the dead in John 11, again Jesus prays and gives thanks to God.

And then in John 12:27, When Jesus is predicting his death, he says another prayer,

He prays, “Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘(question) Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!”

Jesus’ prayers in John, were prayers of gratitude – of recognizing God’s presence, amidst troubling moments in life.

Whether there is a interceding miracle, like in the feeding of the 5000 and the raising Lazarus from the dead, or in the moments when God doesn’t intercede and Jesus dies on the cross,

Jesus’ gratitude is a recognition that all of life is a gift. To be alive is not something we “will” into existence, but is a gift from God.

Life is Pain

To be alive is also to experience moments of great pain.

The great pain of mental health crisis. The great pain of death of a beloved family member or friend. The great pain of dying on a cross.

I have been thinking about this with the death of Michael Kingsley this last week. How does one respond to such painful experiences in life? How does a family bounce back from such a tragedy?

How do we pray in such times?

Giving thanks, like Jesus does in his prayers, seems outrageous. Is it possible to be thankful in life in the moments of deepest pain? To hold both pain and gratitude?


Sometimes as humans we feel divided. Like there are two parts of us.

A part of us in great pain, and a part of us in deep gratitude for life.

A part of us that has hope. And a part of us that feels all hope is lost.

A part of us that feels loved. And a part that feels forsaken.

A part of us that would do anything for a family or friend in crisis, and a part of us that knows we need to set boundaries.

A part of us that prays with all of our hearts, and a part of us that feels like we are just shouting words to a ceiling.

It is both.

God Gives

Today, as the second Sunday of our Mental Health series, we are considering the care for caregivers. Those who are tending to folks who are stressed, who are anxious, who may have a disorder. It can be a lot of work to give in this way.

In the prayer that Jesus gives for his disciples in our passage today, from John 17, Jesus uses the word “give” 9 times.

  1. Jesus in his prayer recognizes that God gave him his disciples to tend to, care for, and love.
  2. Jesus says that everything that he has done, was not done on his own, but was given to him from God.
  3. Jesus says that he prays for his disciples who God has given him
  4. And that he has protected the disciples and will continue to protect them by the power of the name he was given – Jesus.
  5. And lastly Jesus said that he gave the disciples the word, the world has hated them for it.

God is giving, sustaining, and giving birth to life. Giving birth to life in the disciples. And is still giving birth to life in all of creation, today. For Jesus it was important to recognize this gift in prayer. It oriented him – I am a gift from God. And my disciples are a gift as well. We are all gifts from God, who have been given life.

Sometimes we take this gift for granted. We forget that all of this giving is a gift.


It is really hard when you give, and it no longer feels like a gift, but an expectation.

How many of you have felt that as caregivers for family and friends.

As we enter mothers day, we recognize that mothers give and give. And often there is a recognition that there is a lack of gratitude for it. The giving the mothers do can become an expectation, instead of the gift that it is.

There are a lot of similarities between the giving that mothers do and how Jesus gave of himself.

It’s a connection that has been made for some time. Several Christian mystics during the 14th and 15th centuries made this connection between Jesus and mothers.

There are paintings of Jesus, where blood is squirting out of his side, and is collected into the chalice, in which Christians were drinking for communion. Jesus blood, given for them. Squirting out – not unlike milk coming from a mother’s breast.

Both Jesus and Mothers give of their body for the nourishment of their beloved children.

Feminist Theologians have gone as far to say that Jesus has been the way that the Christian Church has repressed the Feminine part of God, by giving the feminine to a male, Jesus. As a result, Christianity has nurtured the oppression of women.

Wisdom, or in Greek Sophia, is used throughout the bible as the feminine image of God – wisdom.

Then wisdom takes on flesh in the form of a male, Jesus, not female, who gives of his body, not unlike a mother who gives of her body for the nourishment of her baby.

Perhaps the more radical take would recognize how Jesus breaks down the binaries of Gender, both emobing female and male characteristics, not unlike a trans or gender queer person.

Regardless, women have been told for centuries to give of themselves like Christ. To serve their children and families as a sacrifice of themselves.

There are moments of giving like this that are beautiful. A mother tending to her children. Similar to caregivers tending to their family or friends. Nurses tending to their patients. Teachers, their students

It is a beautiful thing to give of oneself for another. But giving of oneself has also been abused: When giving becomes an expectation. When women are told to sacrifice themselves for the community, their families, for their relationships, or whoever they tend to.

To give of yourself is not to lose ourselves for the sake of the patriarchy. To endure abuse and violence. This is not what Jesus prays for in this prayer. He prays that his disciples may be protected from evil, not to endure and sustain it.

To be protected from the systems of oppression that expect women, or marginalized people, or slaves, to give of themselves because it is a social role that has been forced on them. That is not a gift. That is not giving. It is violence.

This is the struggle of giving: The balance of giving of yourself to serve like Jesus, and resisting how the patriarchy has told women to give of themselves, even to the point of violence.

To give of oneself is to give freely, or it is not a gift.


So how do we give of ourselves for others?

Putting boundaries in place is tricky. When does giving freely become something that is exploited? When does giving turn to abuse from those you are giving to.

In the extremes of violence, there are clear answers, but in the middle its a lot more tricky.

You have to listen to your body. Listen to your spirit. Am I giving and caring freely? Where do I need to set boundaries because my giving is becoming something else. It’s becoming abused. An expectation. Exploited. Violence, for the sake of sustaining men or other loved ones.

Caregiving in the healthy way, the beautiful way, can still be exhausting. Whether that is as a mother, a parent, as a family member or anyone that works with people.

What sustains you in your care giving?

Jesus was sustained by the practice of prayer, as seen throughout the gospels, and you can see it in his prayer for the disciples. How can we pray, like Jesus did, to sustain each of our caregiving?

Prayer – a spiritual practice that can take many different forms. Spirituality is the practices we do that place us into deeper connection with each other, with God, with nature, and with ourselves. When one of those connections are depleted, they need to be nurtured. And spirituality is how we do that.

When you are not connecting with nurturing relationships that sustain you, you remain isolated in your work as a caregiver. It is amazing what lifegiving time with others can do to sustain you.

When we are not connecting with nature, we lose sight of our interconnectedness to the rest of the world. That we come from the earth and to it we return. We do not receive that vitamin D either. Connecting with nature can help sustain us.

When we are not connecting with ourselves, out of touch with how we are doing, practices like meditation or contemplation, brings us back to reflecting on what is happening in our lives and what is going on inside of us. Knowing ourselves can help us make informed caregiving decisions that will sustain us.

When we are not seeking loving connection with the divine, we may lose sight of our belovedness – the love that can sustain caregiving relationships. Connecting with the holy nurtures or caregiving relationship.

Practices that nurture those relationships can help us in our work of giving to the world. In bringing about part of that kin-dom of God now.

Last week, I was feeling anxious about a couple of things all happening at the same time. Multiple people that I was caring for. That evening, after Flora was in bed, I knew and I wanted to fall into blissful sleep in a few hours, but I will still holding that anxiety around some caregiving that I was doing. I knew that if I couldn’t let go of it, it was going to be a restless night.

I had a couple of options. Do I drink a beer? Do I play a mindless video game or watch a mindless TV show? These are all things that I have done before, and sometimes they are great stress relievers.

But were they going to help me release the things I was holding, or just help me ignore them for a bit? What was going to sustain me through the week?

After cycling through the options, I decided to sit out on the porch, watch the sun set, and slowly release what I was holding to the great giver. – and Chaska generously gave me some hot tea.

Sometimes it is music that sustains me. Sometimes it’s doing something exercise related. Sometimes its talking to a friend. Sometimes it is silence. Sometimes it is a walk in the woods.

We are each different in what prayer practices are going to sustain us. From hiking to singing, to speaking to God. They center us, and connect us to the holy within each of us. Even if we are not consciously naming God as we do them.

We each need to find out what that looks like for us. And while the individual practices are great, we need the practices that we can do in community. When we do them in community, it is no longer just you that is carrying the burdens of caregiving. But it is the community. Singing together. Walking together. Like Jesus, praying for each other.

When we gather on Sunday mornings in community in Song and reflection, we practice spirituality. We are seeking to connect ourselves to the holy, to each other and ourselves. The practices that will nurture our caregiving.

May God bless you with connection that will sustain you in your caring