Henry Nouwen suggested that those involved in the helping professions,
whether ministers who happen to be clergy, nurses or what have you, are
"Wounded Healers". That title seems particularly appropriate for
those who are Caregivers. So frequently such persons are prisoners of
compassion. The very word "compassion" comes from the Latin and
means "with suffering" or "suffering with".
Caregivers, by the very nature of the tasks facing them on a daily basis,
truly suffer with those to whom they are bound. The bonds may be those of
voluntary love, for love is always costly, it demands expression. They
may, on the other hand, be bound by the bonds of obligatory
responsibility. The Caregiver is "stuck" with these duties
because no one else is prepared or willing to help. In either case, one
can become a prisoner of compassion. The vital difference is one of
Caregivers would be well served to ask how they viewed themselves. The
difference is gigantic when it comes to the power to cope. Depending upon
one's outlook one can become either bitter or better.
My experience in working with caregivers over several decades drives
this fact home. Caregivers tend to look upon the life they live as either
a gift or an entitlement. If they look upon their life as an entitlement,
something due them because the were born upon this earth, then every
difficult situation, every accident, every disease, every physical or
emotional setback, is looked upon as an unwelcome and undeserved intrusion
upon their deserved happiness. Such persons typically become critical,
cynical and bitter. They tend to blame God, the physicians, even the
person to whom they offer care, for their own bitter fate. Life as they
view it is fundamentally unfair! On the other hand, there are those who
look upon life as a gift, a boon, something so splendid and undeserved
that every breath is a blessing and every hour, an honor. Such persons may
begin each day as did a caregiver friend who prayed at each day's
Good morning dear God; This is your day I am your child, have your own
With that kind of outlook, such persons tend to naturally reach out to
others less fortunate in gratitude that they may do so. As early
Christians explained their remarkable capacity to show love: "We
love, because He first loved us."
All of us who would help others do so as wounded healers. Our tasks are
not easy, but they are needful. We are at our best when we begin each day
with gratitude, offering thanks for yet another day in which to receive
and offer love. It isn't always easy; it is always necessary if we -- and
those we care for -- are to become better and not bitter.
Dr. Gerald Trigg is the Senior Minister at First Methodist Church in
Colorado Springs, Colorado.