The Cost of Caring

 
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Giving does sometimes hurt. But that’s no reason to stop. But beyond the pain, there are benefits for all parties, as Brad Watson found.

I had no right to be delighted! This was a schoolyard brawl, I was a teacher, and duty required immediate action. But as it was, I was struggling not to cheer! Now don’t get the wrong impression; I’m a peaceful person and I’ve been around long enough to know that violence doesn’t solve much. But this felt different.

For months I’d watched 15-year-old Prakash desperately trying to settle into a new culture and school. Before long, however, the bullying started. The kids would laugh and imitate his Indian accent. Later there were pushes and bumps, followed by smirks and sideways looks. Through it all Prakash had become quieter and quieter,

Specially avoiding James, a tall, good-looking boy who led the abuse. He would shrug his shoulders and act like he didn’t care, preferring to stay away from trouble.

Today it had become too much to bear. The playground joking had gone too far and Prakash was doing his best to land a punch on the big mouth it came from. Not surprisingly, the mouth belonged to James and although none of the punches found their mark, James did manage to fall over and look very frightened.

All in all it was a good outcome. Nobody got hurt, the bullying stopped and both boys ended up on detention. The staffroom that day was filled with satisfied teachers who couldn’t condone violence but loved to see a good kid draw his line in the sand. Prakash deserved better and eventually got it!

Caring Costs

There is another underdog who will, according to the Bible, definitely come out on top.
Jesus was born in a shed to humble parents, who soon became asylum seekers in Egypt because King Herod wanted the baby “king” dead. You probably know the story. Jesus grew up, became the most remarkable figure in history, and died on a crude, Roman cross, crucified like a criminal for teaching peace and hope. But what did He do to deserve that?

Historians do not doubt Jesus lived. The question is, was Jesus who He said He was? Was He truthful when He said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No-one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6)?

Consider this for a moment. If Jesus was telling the truth, He was architect of life, King of the universe and Son of God! So why would a king give up perfection to wallow in our world? Why would He care for a place that is so unfair? Why didn’t He just shrug His shoulders and steer away from trouble, like Prakash?
Lucky for us, Jesus didn’t see it like that. He healed smelly lepers with putrefying bodies, touching them with His bare hands. (Remember, there was no cure for leprosy back then.)

Jesus also intervened in the stoning of a woman who had committed adultery. He confronted a crowd of self-righteous, angry men, exposing their hypocrisy by asking the sinless among them to throw the first stone. None could. Then He spoke to her with compassion. Far from being harsh and critical, He soon gained a reputation for caring.

Jesus was different. He walked with the poor, but He also ate with the rich, some of whom had full bank accounts yet empty lives. Pious men accused him of socialising with prostitutes and dodgy tax collectors. He became known for noticing little people, like the embarrassed widow who slipped her tiny offering into a donation plate full of silver and gold coins. Yet despite all this, Jesus was bullied, harassed, falsely accused, then sentenced to death.

What did He do to deserve that? Even the Roman who ordered Jesus’ death tried to set Him free. Pilate, the governor of Israel, said, “Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no basis for a charge against him.” The chief priests, however, shouted, “Crucify! Crucify!” (John 19:6).

As amazing as it sounds, Jesus wants us to care for the poor, powerless and fallen just as much as He did!
You must be kidding!” I hear you say. “Caring pays poorly.”
True. Not only is caring not easy, it costs! So why did Jesus say, “Follow me”?
Curiously, two thousand years after Jesus paid for our sin on the cross, researchers are discovering what He has always known: Caring is good for you!

Caring’s Reward

Take for example the numerous studies that show caring for a pet adds to the carer’s quality of life. Sure, dogs have fleas and chew your shoes; however, according to a Mayo Clinic study, people who own a dog are more likely to be alive one year after a heart attack than those who don’t. Pet owners have lower heart rates and blood pressure! And older people caring for a pet generally have a lower incidence of depression and higher activity levels! Even AIDS patients with pooches experience reduced depression!1

It isn’t just pets, however, that enrich our lives. In a 2002 Canadian study on health and ageing, researchers interviewed 289 people who were caring for seniors with an average age of 84. According to researcher Dr Carole Cohen, “More than 70 per cent said they were happy about care-giving or had positive feelings about it. “These positive feelings were associated with less depression and sense of burden and better self-reported health.” 2

Ruby, my Nan, is a living example of the power of caring. The doctor who delivered her daughter in 1940 could not bring himself to speak of her baby girl’s condition. So, he gave Ruby a textbook with pictures and left her alone, heart beating wildly, to break the news to herself. Baby Robyn had Down syndrome.

Ruby’s war-veteran husband became an alcoholic, convinced that a loving God could not allow such tragedy. Despite this, Ruby raised two sons and cared for Robyn for 61 years until her much-loved daughter passed away. Ruby has a dignity that comes from sacrifice. She will tell you that she would not have had it any other way.
Yvonne, another carer, nursed her mother-in-law for several years until finally, after several strokes and heart attacks, she too passed away. Now nearing retirement herself, Yvonne says, “My mother-in-law was an amazing woman. It was difficult but those years are so precious to us now. We have some wonderful memories.”

And it doesn’t stop there. In a Johns Hopkins Children’s Center study of 190 mothers with chronically ill children aged seven to 12 years, mothers said they had learned better parenting skills; developed greater self-awareness, sensitivity and tolerance; had more confidence and emotional stability. Some 70 per cent of mothers indicated “their families were stronger because of their child’s condition.” In this case their children were aged seven to 12 and their conditions included sickle cell disease, diabetes, cystic fibrosis and moderate to severe asthma.3

Even caring for an unrelated person has a benefit. In one study, men and women who mentored disadvantaged youth, experienced something entirely unexpected. They felt better about themselves, increased their sense of accomplishment, laid the foundation for better morale at work, and strengthened their own family relationships.4

On the other hand, youth with mentors felt more competent in school, related better to their parents and showed greater optimism. They were 46 per cent less likely to use illegal drugs, 53 per cent less likely to skip school, and 33 per cent less likely to hit someone.5

Care To Care?

Tim Costello, CEO of World Vision Australia and one of Australia’s better-known Christian leaders, believes that we live in a society that is “increasingly competitive, consumerist, and isolationist.”6 Not only does he think we need to care more about children, he argues that we need to build better communities. His self-improvised “10 commandments for neighbourhood living” contain a requirement that once a week you should share a cup of tea or a chat with at least one person who lives near your home!

To illustrate the power of caring, consider a non-Christian friend who attended my Christian boarding college. After six months of immunity to Bible classes and worship activities, he contracted a virus. At around 2 am one night, he was violently ill, and found himself standing in a huge puddle of his own vomit in the men’s bathroom. It shocked him when a fellow student, also half-asleep, discovered the mess and sent my ill friend off to bed, then stayed behind to clean up. “That’s love,” my non-Christian friend told me later.

Mother Teresa put it another way. She said, “I’ve found the paradox that if I love until it hurts, then there is no hurt, only more love.

Jesus knew that. He gave up everything to live with, and die for us. He knew that a short life, lived to care, is more satisfying than a long and selfish one. He also knew there is no guarantee that just because you care, life will treat you well. However, as much as it can hurt, caring adds meaning to our lives, gives hope to our hearts, and injects us with life-improving doses of depression-busting purpose.
Why should I care?” I hear you ask. Well, the answer is simple: Because Jesus did. And it’s good for you.

References:
1. <http://www.mayoclinic.com/invoke.cfm? objectid=C4B0A8ED-9373-4B7E-A160117C0E2 AD6DC#attributes.url>.
2. <http://www.newsndevents.utoronto.ca/ bin2/020218b.asp>.
3. <http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/press/2001/ March/010321.HTM>.
4. <http://www.volunteerarizona.org/mentoring/ benefits.htm>.
5. ibid.
6. Tim Costello, “The Challenge of Caring for Children,” Family Matters, No 59, Winter 2001, page 80.