Compassionate Care

In my last column I shared how I had been drafted into service as my wife’s nurse.

The duties are not onerous, in part because she’s become quite ambulatory with her crutches . . . but even more, due to the fact that I truly love her. To care for those you love is a natural thing, and it would be the opposite path—to ignore the suffering of those about whom you care—that would be contrary to human nature.

This is why we are also so deeply stunned when we see spouses doing harm to one another, or (far worse) injuring children in their care. These are inhuman acts contrary even to that universal Natural Law which governs even those who take no notice of religious codes.

But, returning to my nursing experience . . . I am not a total stranger to such matters. My first assignment as an Air Force chaplain was in a “Contingency Hospital” which was part of the Reserve. As part of my active duty tours I frequently included hospital visitation and service.

In fact, years ago during a five week Joint military exercise in Thailand, I served for a season as the chaplain of a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital. (Yes, I was an honest to goodness M*A*S*H chaplain!)

Returning to my initial point, caring for my wife is not burdensome. I readily confess I would hardly bring the same enthusiasm and selflessness to caring for a stranger.

But that’s not the man, the disciple of Jesus, I desire to be. And so, I pray for greater compassion, exercise and “stretch” my concern for others, seek forgiveness for my failings . . . and repeat the cycle.

C.S. Lewis writes brilliantly about the great significance of each and every human life. In The Weight of Glory he reminds us that we have the potential to influence their lives either positively or negatively, and assisting them to follow the path to “glory” is central to our reason for being.

It is hardly possible for [us] to think too often or too deeply about [the future destiny] of [our] neighbor. The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbour’s glory should be laid on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken. . . .

All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or the other of these destinations [glorified resurrection in the presence of our Creator or eternal corruption apart from God].  It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never met a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat.  But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendours.

One of my favorite books was written by Calvin Miller. He’s the author of numerous classics, and I most recently enjoyed his The Path of Celtic Prayer. However, because of my interest in the early church, and my affection for keenly wielded wit, it is The Philippian Fragment which ranks in my personal “top ten.” (And, great news, despite being out of print for some time, it’s now available in a Kindle edition!)

The following quotation is from one of the epistles gathered in pseudepigraphical Philippian Fragment. The letters are written by a pastor named Eusebius of Philippi to another shepherd, “Clement, pastor of Coos.” It illustrates precisely the spirit we should have within us. If we were all like Eusebius, this world would be a far more wonderful place.

I am not sure that I can survive the new hostility I have engendered by missing church merely to pray for a dying man. I was foolish to assume that the church would see the glory of my ministry to Publius and excuse the absence of my sermon. Through pain I have learned that it is still wrong to heal on the sabbath—at least during the eleventh hour. . . . Is the yet-paralyzed Publius worth the cancellation of my morning sermon? I have betrayed a tradition to furnish forth a single act of compassion. Oh, the institutional cankers that do fester when traditions are unserved! . . . It is time for the evening vigil now, and I have just received word that one of the lepers is at death’s door and has called for me to come. Shall I go to tend the dying, or shall I go to church and keep my place?

I had planned to talk tonight about how we must minister to our world before we seek each other’s consolations. I am still unforgiven by most for healing the paralytic. Now I must go to the leper and seal my fate. 26. Grief is seldom convenient to our scheduled worship.

I had a dear mentor, Constantinus, who was shepherd of the congregation in Antioch. His church’s meeting house was near a busy road. One day, five minutes before his well-packed service was to begin, a Roman chariot ran over a beggar and left him dying before the church house. How grieved was the pastor that most of his members stepped over the bleeding man to carry their prayer scrolls on into the sanctuary. Constantinus was a gentle pastor and full of the love of Christ. He scooped up the emaciated old man and carried him to his grieving widow.

In the process of his ministry to this victim of Roman traffic, his hands and togas were fouled with blood. There was no time to go home and change clothes, so he entered his pulpit besmirched by the gore of his own compassion. 31. Clement, many in that congregation never forgave Constantinus his bloody toga. Ministry must ever be willing to face tradition. Somewhere a leper is dying. Tonight I shall act out a sermon. I can preach next week when human suffering is more remote. (Calvin Miller, The Philippian Fragment).

17 thoughts on “Compassionate Care

  1. Alvie

    Good words preacher, good words.  Alvie

    In happy moments–thank the Lord.  In difficult moments–seek the Lord.  In quiet moments–worship the Lord.  In painful moments–trust the Lord.  In every moment–praise the Lord.

  2. I haven’t thought of Calvin Miller for years! My only encounter with him was The Singer (was it a trilogy?). I love how you write of caring for others, not just those we love such as spouses. I’m a grade 3 teacher and my deepest desire is to “assist others to follow the path to glory” as C.S. Lewis said. Not overtly with words (I think that’d get me fired), but I think the central way of doing this is to love others for who they are, as Christ has loved us. I’m certainly far from wise in perfecting this, but because I am rich in others loving me this way, I feel encouraged to continue. Thanks for your thoughts.

    1. Teaching is a truly important work . . . benefiting not just the individual kids entrusted to your oversight, but to society as a whole. Loving your students communicates far more than simple words would. However, it is nice to introduce them to things like the Chronicles of Narnia, and seasonally appropriate music during holidays. My wife used to include genuine Hanukkah and Christmas songs alongside the snowy, Santa pieces.

      Miller has written many worthwhile books, including the Singer Trilogy. Check out his official website:

  3. Amanda

    Thank you for posting this!

    I will be passing this along to my husband.

    Within the last year, I have become sick. He has taken it upon himself to assist me where needed and to take care of me. He has shown his true colors in our marriage and has been a blessing. Even though I am sick, he tries to help others where he can.

    God bless!

  4. I’ve been waiting for part two of your nursing post, thank you! It did not disappoint. Your writing is excellent, and you have summed up the compassion, dedication and purpose God has recently put on my heart, for all of his people.

  5. A very interesting and thoughtful piece, thanks for sharing. It’s always easier for us to love and take care of those who are close to us, and yet if we can love and take care of strangers in the same compassionate, selfless way, the world would be a better place.

    I’ve always loved that idea from Lewis that “you have never met a mere mortal,” that every individual is worth more than any economy or civilization on earth. It reminds me of the end of The Great Divorce, with the image of the immense ghosts of our souls, looming over the small chess pieces of our daily lives. A powerful image, and good to remember when you’re tempted to devalue someone, for any reason.

  6. Thoughtful post – I have been wondering how your wife was getting along. Glad she’s getting along well.
    I think compassion for others often comes from seeing a parent or adult take time to care for others. As kids we always moaned about being dragged along to one old relative’s farmhouse or the other to visit on the porch or do small errands – and some weren’t really even relatives. And there was the old guy down the road we had to check on – and the farm hand who was feeling poorly and that old woman down the road whose son was overseas ….you get the idea.
    Reading words about compassion are great, but not always enough as is shown by that congregation in Antioch?
    Can’t say all this in elevated terms as others have here, but I bet your kids- and many whose lives you have touched- are themselves compassionate – learned from you.

    1. When I was a child, growing up in a military family, we would usually get home to Washington State once a year for a brief visit with family. We would stay with my grandparents, who lived across the street from a nursing home. Being a small town, they literally knew every single person who lived there. They would coerce us (not in a mean way, but in a relentless one) to go over and visit the nursing home every year to visit with the elderly folks there. They would have us sing for them, and encourage us to bring some youthful joy to the place. I can’t say I enjoyed it, but I knew even then it was much appreciated by the residents. As a pastor, I’ve spent many hours visiting people in similar settings. I wouldn’t call it “fun,” but there are precious few things in life more rewarding.

  7. Thank you so much for sharing this. I will have to check out “The Philippian Fragment” – how beautiful, and convicting for those of us who have been in church leadership positions. BTW, thanks for being the first to “like” a blog post of mine. :) I’m a newbie when it comes to the finer points of interacting on the interwebs (why would a confessed technophobe start a blog? I confuse myself sometimes…). It was really nice of you to stop by!

  8. As a MASH chaplain you might appreciate the challenge I faced getting the MDs and Dentists to visit the tent of the “expectant” to comfort them when there was no other work to be done. My shock comes because this struggle happened in an exercise – so the injured and dying were actors. The sentiment shared was that they could do no good there. They felt helpless. Perhaps because I am in the business of helping people find peace and new paths (psychologist), I did not feel that same helplessness. Helping one’s fellow human, being compassionate, is a topic worthy of much attention. Thanks for taking it on! I am certain compassion is not a requirement for earning a degree in medicine (nor in psychology), but it is a good place to have it.

    1. Interesting that doctors would consider themselves without value in a setting where they cannot medically rescue or treat the patients. They are still people. And, who more than someone who is dying, can benefit from the warm touch of a compassionate hand?!? Chaplains, of course, have the “expectant” tent as a priority during crises. Yet the nurses and techs, simply sitting beside those who are breathing their final breaths, also deliver powerful spiritual care to the dying.

      I’ve heard a variety of reasons offered in answer to your question. One being that the doctors really feel powerless in that context, and it’s terribly uncomfortable. Another is dependent on their availability, since their focus is on saving and healing those who still have potential for recovery. (But you addressed that by noting their reluctance even when there is “no other work to be done.”)

      Fortunately, this isn’t a universal situation. Some docs are more comfortable with death . . . and that often develops, of course, with age and experience.

  9. I left the Church because of the lovelessness that I saw there….surely the greatest commandment is to love God and equal to that “love thy neighbour”. I blogged about this same subject last month! Good luck. I hope that you are able to make people see the light!

    1. I read your post about your mixed feelings at returning to church. You are correct that many people simply don’t know how to related to people suffering as you and your daughter are. Don’t write them off. Help them learn. That can be one of the truly good things that comes out of your child’s suffering.

  10. Pingback: Offering Comfort Like C.S. Lewis « Mere Inkling

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