Tag Archives: Matthew

Take Time to Take Care

Alarm Clock

As special needs parents it is so easy to put ourselves at the bottom of the priority list. We give for our children, our spouses, our friends, our jobs, our churches, our schools.  There are so many needs and they are so pressing and urgent.  At times it can be a struggle to be enough. Compassion, like any muscle that is over-used, can tire and be stretched too far.  Compassion fatigue is the inability to continue to offer care at the level previously provided.  It is hard to continually offer compassion to others when we do not even offer it to ourselves.  When you reach the point where you cannot see your way to the bottom of your to do list, does self- talk criticize that you can’t do it all? Do you drive yourself to dig in and do yet more?  Self-compassion is the recognition of your own need for help, nurture and respite.

I think as Christians some may feel they are called to give selflessly and endlessly, but the Bible models for us self-compassion and self-care even in the midst of caring for others. In Matthew 14, John the Baptist was beheaded by King Herod, “Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick” (Mat 14:13-14 NRS). Jesus tried to set aside time for himself, perhaps to mourn the death of his cousin, perhaps to move farther from the reach of Herod, perhaps to avoid crowds drawing attention to him. But the people have heard where he is going and they race there ahead of him.  His opportunity for respite turned into an opportunity for compassion and healing. When the evening came there was no food.  His disciples urged him to send the crowds away so they could get food in the local villages.  Instead, Jesus multiplied the five loaves of bread and the two fish and fed them all.

So where does the self-compassion and self-care come in?  Isn’t this an example of self-care gone wrong with life interrupting and taking away the chance for respite? Here is the rest of the story, “Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray” (Matthew 14:22-23 NRS). Though Jesus’ plan for respite was interrupted, by the end of the day he made time for it.  He took care of the pressing needs of the crowd and the disciples and then sent them both away so that he could be alone to pray. Was this to recharge spiritually?  Did he rest while alone to recharge physically?  Did he grieve for John during his time of prayer, processing emotions of loss?  Scripture does not tell us. What we do know is that Jesus offered to himself the same compassion he offered to others.  Being both human and divine, he knew his human limit and made self-care a priority, even in the midst of tremendous pressure. It may be easy to think the needs of our families are just too much for us to take a break, but could the needs of our families really compare to the needs and expectations laid on Jesus?

Taking time to take care of ourselves doesn’t mean we are weak, selfish or incapable.  It means we are human and the same need for compassion that we see in others is a need that we have too. Over the next few weeks I will post a short series with practical ideas for physical, emotional and spiritual self-care that can fit even into the busiest schedule. I hope that it will be a blessing to you so please check back next Wednesday.

“Ringing Alarm Clock” image courtesy of Paul at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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Fathers: The Unsung Heroes

Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.” When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; (Matthew 1:18-24 NRSV)

It’s hard to find much in the Bible about Joseph, Jesus’ earthly father.  He’s sort of the unsung hero, missing entirely from Mark, mentioned in passing twice in John and only a bit more often in Luke.  His star shines the brightest in Matthew with the story of his dream about Mary’s pregnancy, and later a story about another dream to flee to Egypt for the safety of his family. I’ve heard it said that Joseph could be missing from a nativity set entirely and it would be just fine.  You have to have Jesus. You have to have Mary. But Joseph… I think it must have been hard to be Jesus’ earthly father. Where does a father fit in with a child like that?

I see parallels with many special needs fathers I know.  Where does the father fit? I think they are often the unsung heroes in the midst of special needs.  A friend of mine who is an occupational therapist says he encounters fathers at school IEPs and the dads are often omitted from the conversation.  He started wondering what the dads had to say and began a gathering for special needs dads. Turns out they have plenty to say, but the system the way it stands does not give them a voice in the process. There is a strong bias toward the mom.  I know an amazing stay at home dad who has four children, one of whom has a history of extreme health issues as well as autism. He is the one scheduling therapies, doing medical interventions as needed and doing the day to day running of the house. Yet, in the special needs world, he also wonders where the father fits. When trying to get medical information from a nurse he was told the nurse was only willing to talk to his wife. That has happened many times. While trying to attend play groups with his children he is constantly asked, “Are you babysitting today?” Again, where does the father fit?

Looking back at my early journey with our son with Asperger’s, I am so grateful for what an amazing father my husband was, and is still, to our son.  We brought different skills to the table.  When I decided to leave work in order to meet Craig’s needs, I was the one running the after school therapy schedule and helping with homework.  I was wiped out by the end of the day, especially in the summer months.  Mark would get home, offer a perky toot of the car horn from the driveway signaling Craig to come steer the car into the garage from his father’s lap.  After dinner they were off to the community pool, where Mark was the “cool dad”, happily launching child after child into a barrage of mid-pool cannonballs.  And let us not forget the super-soaker wars the summers of the early 2000s. Epic! He’d had a long day too, but he craved time with Craig. I brought structure, he brought fun. I prepared the meals, he provided a paycheck to pay for them. When I thought there is no way to get this child to go to sleep, he had the magic formula that worked every time.

Mark is a great father, but not one who wants a fuss made about it.  For Mother’s Day I am typically combing reviews for the latest place for brunch and making reservations weeks in advance.  I can easily rattle off a short list of items I might enjoy as a gift if he asks.  For Father’s Day, my husband prefers ribs at Chili’s. Finding the “just right” gift?  That’s a challenge!  Of course, he has no list of suggestion, even when threatened with receiving a shirt.  Father’s Day is very quiet and simple, per his preferences.

Maybe Joseph set the mold by parenting without accolades, yet offering loving dedication to mother and child, fierce protection of family and great faith.  Perhaps men like that don’t want an over-the-top celebration once a year. It’s not their style.  Perhaps regular appreciation to match their tireless dedication is the key to celebrating these unsung heroes who fit into our lives and hearts beautifully.

Prayer: Loving God, I thank you for fathers who lead by example, love without measure, and do their best to be the fathers you have called them to be. Amen.