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Hands and Feet: the Caregiver Pathway

This post is part of a series exploring different ways to connect with God.

Let us touch the dying, the poor, the lonely and the unwanted according to the graces we have received and let us not be ashamed or slow to do the humble work. -Mother Teresa

Full tummy. Fresh diaper. Clean clothes. Happy baby. Relieved mommy.

I lifted adorable Declan from the changing table and handed him off to another caregiver who proceeded to strap him into his car seat while I kept an eye on Declan’s brothers. We were spending the day with the 6 month old triplets following a surgery that rendered their mother unable to lift anything heavier than 10 pounds–including two of her sons. I had been asked by her pastor if I would be willing to step up and provide care in time of need and I am so glad that I did. What was an inconvenience in some ways was also very rewarding. In agreeing to help, I know that I was a blessing to the mother in need, but I also knew that I would be the recipient of blessings through this act. Because being the hands and feet of Jesus sometimes means a morning of baby snuggles.

What is it?

The Caregiver pathway is loving God through loving others. It means helping other people and showing love in practical ways. It could be volunteering to help a mother after surgery, or helping an organization that provides feeding services or other programs. It could be helping someone battling substance abuse, fixing someone’s car or home, volunteer babysitting, donating time at a shelter, or helping a friend through a personal crisis. Acts of love small and great go a long way in following the Bible’s command to “love your neighbor as yourself.”

Practical acts of love are at the heart of our mission and message as Christians and it makes sense that one of the pathways to intimacy with God is an emphasis on this kind of selfless giving. The Bible is filled with directives for giving to the poor, caring for those in need, and loving our brothers and sisters. John says “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has not pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?” (1 John 3:17). James says that “pure and faultless religion” is to look after widows and orphans in their distress (James 1:27). The city of Sodom is condemned in Scripture as the most wicked city, having been destroyed by God through fire for their wickedness. And what was their crime? “Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and the needy” (Ezekiel 16:49).

Caregiving involves demonstrating the love of God in practical ways and becomes a way that we can show others the transformative power of God, and not just preach about it. Like the old Sunday School song, our life becomes a “sermon in shoes.”

Caregiving also becomes a prophetic message calling other Christians to be less selfish and care more for the needs of others. In Matthew 25, Jesus gives a parable about the sheep and the goats. The King separates the sheep from the goats and gives this message to the sheep:

‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ (vv. 34-36)

The sheep ask “When did we do all this?” “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” The goats are condemned for their failure to feed, clothe, visit, and be hospitable to the King. They also ask “When did we see you in need and not help?” “Whatever you did not to do for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did not do for me.” A sobering reminder that what we do for others here and now has an eternal impact.

Notable examples

Mordecai is cited by Thomas as an excellent example of a caregiver in the Bible. Mordecai was the Jew living in Babylon during the time of exile who took in his young cousin Hadassah and raised her as his own after the deaths of her parents. We know her as Esther, the queen whose quick thinking saved the lives of all the Jews living in Babylon when the king had nearly been tricked into annihilating them. Mordecai demonstrates caregiving in his raising of Esther, as well as his protection of the king–he was able to save the king’s life through exposing a plot against his life. And even to the end of the book when the plot against the Jews is thwarted by Esther’s courage and Mordecai’s creative solution (allowing the Jews to protect themselves, which kept anyone from trying to harm them), his response is to institute a day of celebration of God and not of himself.

Children still celebrate the saving of the Jews with a special holiday called Purim. Kids dress in costume and re-tell the story of brave Esther and the caregiver Mordecai.

Children still celebrate the saving of the Jews with a special holiday called Purim. Kids dress in costume and re-tell the story of brave Esther and the caregiver Mordecai.

Mother Teresa is the first example of caregiving that came to my mind. She knew early on that she wanted to give her life to God and the care of others and she found that on the streets of Calcutta caring for the least of these–lepers who were shunned and abandoned by most of society. Mother Teresa was once asked why she didn’t take advantage of her popularity. She could have been successful. “God didn’t call me to be successful; he called me to be faithful.”

Actions and Reflections

Through the years I have had quite a lot of experience with caregiving. I have spent my life in a denomination that was formed on the streets of London, helping those in need in practical ways. The founder famously said “Nobody gets a blessing if they have cold feet and nobody ever got saved while they had toothache.” Caring for physical needs has gone hand in hand with ministering to spiritual needs for as long as I can remember. I am familiar with feeding lines, with handing out gifts for parents to give their children for Christmas. I have been on the scene after a disaster strikes, feeding the people who have lost their houses and giving vouchers to buy the necessities for rebuilding their lives. I have walked the halls of countless nursing homes, bringing a little cheer to residents who are often forgotten. I have served, volunteered, cared for children, adults, grateful and ungrateful people alike. I have always considered that my love for others was an outgrowth of my love for God, but for the first time I considered that my love of others was an intricate part of my love for God. In loving others I wasn’t just responding in gratitude for what God has done for me, I was seeking a new level of intimacy in his presence by participating with the divine in love for others.

Besides caring for babies, I also was given the opportunity to care for a friend many miles away who was hurting by chipping in with a group of friends to buy her a thinking-of-you-love-you-and-sorry-you’re-going-through-a-hard-time gift. I can’t say that the way I cared for others changed through this experience. But I did sense a new awareness of my relationship with God through a new perspective of how our relationship touches others. That, in itself, is a good reason to continue. I think I can say that the caregiver pathway has affected my relationship with God, but is not my main pathway to intimacy with him.

How about you? Do you find yourself closer to God when you are serving others?