Caring Well by Henri Nouwen
The following passages are taken from Father Henri J.M. Nouwen’s book “Bread for the Journey,” published in 1997.
1.Care the Source of all Cure (Feb 8)
Care is something other than cure. Cure means “change.” A doctor, a lawyer, a minister, a social worker—they all want to use their professional skills to bring about changes in people’s lives. They get paid for whatever kind of cure they can bring about. But cure, desirable as it may be, can easily become violent, manipulative, and even destructive if it does not grow out of care. Care is being with, crying out with, suffering with, feeling with. Care is compassion. It is claiming the truth that the other person is my brother or sister, human, mortal, vulnerable, like I am.
When care is our first concern, cure can be received as a gift. Often we are not able to cure, but we are always able to care. To care is to be human.
2.Giving and Receiving Consolation (Feb 9)
Consolation is a beautiful word. It means, “to be” (con) “with the lonely one” (solus). To offer consolation is one of the most important ways to care. Life is so full of pain, sadness, and loneliness that we often wonder what we can do to alleviate the immense suffering we see. We can and must offer consolation. We can and must console the mother who lost her child, the young person with AIDS, the family whose house burned down, the soldier who was wounded, the teenager who contemplates suicide, the old man who wonders why he should stay alive.
To console does not mean to take away the pain but rather to be there and say, “You are not alone, I am with you. Together we can carry the burden. Don’t be afraid. I am here.” That is consolation. We all need to give consolation as well as to receive it.
3.The Healing Touch (March 25)
Touch, yes, touch, speaks the wordless words of love. We receive so much touch when we are babies and so little when we are adults. Still, in friendship, touch often gives more life than words. A friend’s hand stroking our back, a friend’s arms resting on our shoulder, a friend’s finger wiping our tears away, a friend’s lips kissing our forehead—-these bring true consolation. These moments of touch are truly sacred. They restore, they reconcile, they reassure, they forgive, they heal.
Everyone who touched Jesus and everyone whom Jesus touched were healed. God’s love and power went out from Him (see Luke 6:19). When a friend touches us with free, non-possessive love, it is God’s incarnate love that touches us and God’s power that heals us.
The passages below are taken from “Seed of Hope.” It is a Henri Nouwen’s reader book, edited by Robert Durback.
1.Caring (pg 185)
What does it mean to care?. . .The word care finds its roots in the Gothic “Kara,” which means “lament.” The basic meaning of care is to grieve, to experience sorrow, to cry out with. I am very much struck by this background of the word care because we tend to look at caring as an attitude of the strong toward the weak, of the powerful toward the powerless, of the haves toward the have-nots. And, in fact, we feel quite uncomfortable with an invitation to enter into someone’s pain before doing something about it.
Still, when we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving much advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a gentle and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not-knowing, not-curing, not-healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is the friend who cares. . .
Therefore, to care means first of all to be present to each other. From experience you know that those who care for you become present to you. When they listen, they listen to you. When they speak, you know they speak to you. And when they ask questions, you know it is for your sake and not for their own. Their presence is a healing presence because they accept you on your terms, and they encourage you to take your own life seriously and to trust your own vocation.
Our tendency is to run away from the painful realities or to try to change them as soon as possible. But cure without care makes us into rulers, controllers, manipulators, and prevents a real community from taking shape. Cure without care makes us preoccupied with quick changes, impatient and unwilling to share each other’s burden. And so cure can often become offending instead of liberating. It is therefore not so strange that cure is not seldom refused by people in need. (Out Of Solitude)
2.Aging (pg 187)
To care one must offer one’s own vulnerable self to others as a source of healing. To care for the aging, therefore, means first of all to enter into close contact with your own aging self, to sense your own time, and to experience the movements of your own life cycle. From this aging self, healing can come forth and others can be invited to cast off the paralysing fear for their future. As long as we think that caring means only being nice and friendly to old people, paying them a visit, bring them a flower, or offering them a ride, we are apt to forget how much more important it is for us to be willing and able to be present to those we care for.
And how can we be fully present to the elderly when we are hiding from our own aging? How can we listen to that pains when their stories open wounds in us that we are trying to cover up? How can we offer companionship when we want to keep our own aging self out of the room, and how can we gently touch the vulnerable spots in old people’s lives when we have armoured our own vulnerable self with fear and blindness? Only as we enter into solidarity with the aging and speak out of common experience can we help others to discover the freedom of old age. By welcoming the elderly into our aging self we can be good hosts and healing can take place. (Aging)
The passages below are taken from Father Henri J.M. Nouwen’s book “In the House of the Lord,” published in 1986:
1.Fruits need Caring Environment (44-45)
Fruits need care. To live a fruitful life, we need an environment that keeps us from being afraid and allows the weak, vulnerable fruits within us to grow in strength. Care does not men manipulation or control. A seed will never grow if we pull it out of the ground daily to check its progress; likewise, the fruits of our own and others’ lives will never mature if we want to control every stage of their development. Products need constant maintenance in order to prevent breakdown. Fruits, on the hand, ask only for the rich soil, water, air, and sunlight of a caring environment in order to flourish. Jesus cared deeply for the people He met. He did not control or dominate them, but through His words and actions offered them an opportunity to search for new directions and make new choices.
When we are no longer dominated by fear and have experienced the first love of God, we no longer need to know from moment to moment what is going to happen. We can trust that good things will happen if we remain rooted in that love. All true education, formation, and healing are ways to let the fruits of love grow and develop to full maturity. All ministry is a caring attentiveness to vulnerable lives, and a grateful receiving of the variety of fruits by which they manifest their beauty.
Here at L’Arche I can see better than ever the beauty of fecundity. When we live in the house of fear, it is hard to imagine how handicapped people without an able mind, an able body, a productive job, or a happy family can be considered fruitful. But those who have lived with handicapped men and women for a long time have come to experience their great fecundity.
I see here how much they give to those who are able to receive. They give generously and without hesitation. They give their hearts. What for us ‘normal’ people often remains hidden behind rationalisations, preoccupations, and fears is for handicapped people the most available gift. They share their love, joy, and gratitude—with such directness that we are challenged to respond from our own hearts. They put us in touch with our often hidden gifts and weaknesses, and become our healers, without even knowing it!
The following passages below are taken from Father Henri J.M. Nouwen’s book “A Letter of Consolation,” published in 1982. Six months after the death of his mother, during his second six months of protracted stay at the Trappist Abbey of the Genesee, Nouwen found himself deeply in touch with his own grief over the loss of his mother. He wrote to his father to console his father and himself.
1.Simple, Supportive and Healing Ways of Caring (54-56)
Let me start with your own observation, which you have often made since mother’s death, namely, that she lived her life for others. The more you reflected on her life, looked at her portraits, read her letters, and listened to what others said about her, the more you realised how her whole life was lived in the service of other people. I too am increasingly impressed by her attentiveness to the needs of others. This attitude was so much a part of her that it hardly seems remarkable. Only now can we see its full power and beauty. She rarely asked attention for herself. Her interest and attention went out to those who came to her. Many found it easy to talk with her about themselves and remarked how much at ease they had felt in her presence. This was especially noticeable during her visits to me in the United States. Often she knew my students better after one evening than I did after a year, and for many years to come she would keep asking about them. During the last six months I have grown painfully aware of how accustomed I had become to her unceasing interest in all that I did, felt, thought, or wrote, and how much I had taken it for granted that, even if nobody else cared, she certainly did. The absence of that caring attention often gives me a deep feeling of loneliness. I know that this is even truer for you. You no longer hear her ask how well you slept, what your plans are for the day, or what you are writing about. You no longer hear her advise you to be careful on the road, to eat more, or to get some extra sleep. All these simple but so supportive and healing ways of caring are no longer there, and in their absence we begin to feel more and more what it means to be alone.
The passages below are taken from Father Henri J.M. Nouwen’s book “Our Greatest Gift,” published in 1994.
1.Caring is being Human (pg 51-52)
In the realm of the Spirit of God, living and caring are one.
Our society suggests that caring and living are quite separate and that caring belongs primarily to professionals who have received special training. Although certain people need preparation to practice their profession with competence, caring is the privilege of every person and is at the heart of being human. When we look at the original meaning of the word profession and realise that the term refers, first of all, to professing one’s own deepest conviction, then the essential spiritual unity between living and caring becomes clear.
2.The Choice to Care Well (pg 103-104)
To care for the dying, we must trust deeply that these people are loved as much as we are, and we must make that love visible by our presence; we must trust that their dying and death deepen their solidarity with the human family, and we must guide them in becoming part of the communion of saints; and finally, we must trust that their death, just as ours, will make their lives fruitful for generations to come. We must encourage them to let go of their fears and to hope beyond the boundaries of death.
Caring well, just as dying well, asks for a choice. Although we all carry within us the gift to care, this gift can become visible only when we choose it.
We are constantly tempted to think that we have nothing or little to offer to our fellow human beings. Their despair frightens us. It often seems better not to come close than to come close without being able to change anything. This is especially true in the presence of people who face death. In running away from the dying, however, we bury our precious gift of care.
Whenever we claim our gift of care and choose to embrace not only our own mortality, but also other people’s, we can become a true source of healing and hope. When we have the courage to let go of our need to cure, our care can truly heal in ways far beyond our own dreams and expectations. With our gift of care, we can gently lead our dying brothers and sisters always deeper into the heart of God and God’s universe.
3.You are a Child of God. (pg 53-67)
Maurice Gould, who died ten days before I began writing this book, was one of the first people I met at Daybreak. He was a member of the “Green House,” the house where I spent my first week. Moe was born with Down’s syndrome. For many years, he lived with his parents and sister, who cared for him lovingly. When he was in his early forties, he came to Daybreak. Two years ago, Maurice began to show signs of Alzheimer’s disease. From then until his death, the community tried to care for him in the special way that Alzheimer patients require. The doctors told us that Moe would not be able to live long and that we must prepare him, as well as ourselves, for his death.
For those who were close to Moe—his family, his friends, and those who lived with him in the Green House—caring for him became a great challenge, a challenge at once painful and joyful. As Moe gradually lost his memory, his ability to recognise people, his sense of orientation, and his ability to feed himself, he became increasingly anxious and could no longer be his old good-humoured self. Seeing him slip into a state of complete dependence, needing more help than we could offer him, was difficult. Finally Moe was taken to the nearby hospital, where a competent staff, together with the members of the Green House, cared for him during the last months of his life.
Among the things I remember most about Moe are his generous hugs. Often he would walk up to me with both hands stretched out and ready for a big embrace. As he held me, he would whisper in my ear, “Amazing Grace,” his cue for me to sing his favourite song with him. I also remember his love for dancing, his love of food, and his love for making people laugh with his imitations. When he imitated me, he put his glasses upside down on his nose and made wild gestures.
As I sit in Freiburg, far away from my community and think of Moe, I realise more than ever that Moe was, and became evermore, a child of God. Because his friends were allowed to be so close to his “second childhood,” they were able to care for him with great patience and lavish generosity.
Moe’s illnesses—Down’s syndrome and Alzheimer’s disease—showed in a dramatic way the journey we all must make somewhere, somehow. But at the end of that journey, what do we finally see? Do we see a person who has lost all human abilities and has become a burden for everyone, or do we see a person who has become evermore a child of God, a pure instrument of grace? I cannot help but think about the countless times Moe looked me in the eyes and said, “Amazing Grace.” I was not always ready to sing the old song again, and often I would say, “Next time, Moe.” Now Moe is gone, I keep hearing his persistent words—“Amazing Grace, Amazing Grace”—as God’s way of announcing to me the mystery of Moe’s life and of all people.
Many of the people in Daybreak cannot do what most people outside the community can do. Some cannot walk, some cannot speak, some cannot feed themselves, some cannot dress themselves, and a few can do none of these things. No one is waiting for a cure. We only know that things will get harder as we get older and that the difference between people with a disability and those without a disability will become ever smaller. What are we ultimately growing toward? Are we simply becoming less capable people, returning our bodies to the dust from which they came, or are we growing into living reminders of that amazing grace that Moe always wanted to sing about?
We must choose between these two radically different viewpoints. The choice to see our own and other people’s decreasing abilities as gateways to God’s grace is a choice of faith. It is a choice based on the conviction that we see not only failure on the cross of Jesus but victory as well, not only destruction but new life as well, not only nakedness but glory as well. When John, the beloved disciple, looked up to Jesus and saw blood and water flowing from Jesus’ pierced side, he saw something other than proof that all was over. He saw fulfilment of the prophecy “They will look up to the One whom they have pierced,” a glimpse of God’s victory over death, and a sign of God’s amazing grace. John wrote, “This is evidence of the one who saw it—true evidence, and he knows that what he says is true—and he gives it so that you may believe as well.” (John 19:35)
That is the choice of faith. It is the choice we make when we say that Moe, with his body and mind completely depleted by Alzheimer’s disease, brought to us, through his dying and death, an amazing grace. It’s the choice we make when we care for dying people with all the tenderness and gentleness that God’s beloved children deserve. It’s the choice that allows us to see the face of Jesus in the poor, the addicted, and those who live with AIDS and cancer. It’s the choice of the human heart that has been touched by the Spirit of Jesus and is able to recognise that Spirit wherever people are dying.
Recently I attended a meeting of the leaders of several Christian institutions responsible for the supervision of homes for people with mental disabilities. In our free-market economy, they told me, human care is spoken of in terms of supply and demand. In this context, the suffering person becomes the buyer of care, and the care professional becomes the merchant of care. It seems to me that this language and the vision that underlies it reduce the human person to nothing but a commodity in the competitive world of high finance. In this language, a vision has been chosen that no longer encourages us to celebrate the dying and the death of people like Maurice Gould. Amazing grace has been replaced by not-so-amazing business considerations.
Care, as I speak of it here, is the loving attention given to another person—not because that person needs it to stay alive, not because that person or some insurance company is paying for it, not because care provides jobs, not because the law forbids our hastening death, and not because that person can be used for medical research, but because that person is a child of God, just as we are.
To care for others as they become weaker and closer to death is to allow them to fulfil their deepest vocation, that of becoming ever-more fully what they already are: daughters and sons of God. It is to help them to claim, especially in their dying hours, their divine childhood and to let the Spirit of God cry out from their hearts, “Abba, Father.” (Galatians 4:9) To care for the dying is to keep saying, “You are the beloved daughter of God, you are the beloved son of God.”
How do we say this? The ways are countless: through words, prayers, and blessings; through gentle touch and the holding of hands; through cleaning and feeding; through listening and just being there. Some of these forms of care may be helpful, some not. But all are ways of expressing our faith that those we care for are precious in God’s eyes. Through our caring presence, we keep announcing that sacred truth: dying is not a sweet, sentimental event; it is a great struggle to surrender our lives completely. This surrender is not an obvious human response. To the contrary: we want to cling to whatever is left. It is for this reason that dying people have so much anguish. As did Jesus, dying people too often experience their total powerlessness as rejection and abandonment. Often the agonising cry “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” (Matthew 27:47) makes it difficult to say, “Father into your hands I commend my Spirit.” (Luke 23:46)
Moe was not spared this struggle. As Alzheimer’s disease took away his already-limited abilities to direct his own life, a great anguish grew within him. He often cried out in agony, and he experienced an ever-growing fear of aloneness. Often, during the night, he wanted to get up and go to work. Among the last words he could say were, “Call me. . .call me. . .call me.”
Moe’s fear was no different from my own. It was the fear of being rejected or left alone; of being found a burden or a nuisance; of being laughed at or considered useless. It was the deep fear of not belonging, of excommunication, of final abandonment. The more intimately I come to know people with mental disabilities, the more I am convinced that their deepest suffering is not in their inability to read, study, speak, or walk but their deep fear of rejection, of being a burden; in this respect, they do not differ from me. Our greatest suffering comes from losing touch with my/our belovedness and thinking of ourselves as a useless, unwanted presence.
Caring for others is, first of all, helping them to overcome that enormous temptation of self-rejection. Whether we are rich or poor, famous or unknown, disabled or fully abled, we all share the fear of being left alone and abandoned, a fear that remains hidden under the surface of our self-composure. It is rooted much more deeply than in the possibility of not being liked or loved by people. Its deepest root lies in the possibility of not being loved at all, of not belonging to anything that lasts, of being swallowed up by a dark nothingness—yes, of being abandoned by God.
Caring, therefore, is being present to people as they fight this ultimate battle, a battle that becomes ever-more real and intense as death approaches. Dying and death always call forth, with renewed power, the fear that we are unloved and will, finally, be reduced to useless ashes. To care is to stand by a dying person and to be a living reminder that the person is indeed the beloved child of God.
Mary’s standing under the cross is the most moving expression of that care. Her Son died in agony. She was there: not speaking, not pleading, not crying. She was there, reminding her Son by her silent presence that, while she could not keep Him for herself, His true Sonship belongs to the Father, who will never leave Him alone. She helped Him recall His own words: “The time will come. . .when you will leave Me alone. And yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me.” (John 16:32) Mary encouraged Jesus to move beyond Himself into the embrace of His Father. She was there to strengthen His faith, even in the midst of darkness, where He can feel nothing but loss and rejection, He remains the beloved Son of God, who will never leave Him alone. It was this motherly care that finally allowed Jesus to win the battle against the demonic powers of rejection, to ward off the temptation of abandonment, and to surrender His whole being to God, with the words, “Father into Your hands I commend My Spirit.” (Luke 23:46)
Can we care as Mary did? I don’t believe we can care in this way on our own. Even Mary was not alone. John, the beloved disciple, was with her beneath the cross. Reminding people in their agony of their divine childhood is not something we can do on our own. The powers of darkness are strong, and we can easily be pulled into the darkness ourselves and drawn into enormous self-doubts. To stand by a person who is dying is to participate in the immense struggle of faith. It is a struggle no person should take on alone. Before we realise it, the anguish of our dying friend becomes ours, and we become the victim of the same powers our friend is struggling with. We become overwhelmed by feelings of helplessness, powerlessness, self-doubt, and even guilt linked to our often-unacknowledged wish that it all would end soon.
No, we shouldn’t try to care by ourselves. Care is not an endurance test. We should, whenever possible, care together with others. It is the community of care that reminds the dying person of his or her belovedness. It is Mary and John, Lori and Carl, Loretta and David, Carol and Peter, Janice and Cheryl, Geoff and Carrie, Lorenzo and many others who together can stand at the foot of the cross and say, “You are the beloved child of God, now as always.” This circle of love surrounding our dying friends has the power to expel the demons of self-rejection and abandonment and bring light in the midst of darkness. I saw it happened around Moe, and I see it happening in the AIDS community and in the networks of support for cancer patients. Together, as a body of love, as a community of cares, we can come close to the dying and discover there a new hope, a new life, and a new strength to live. There can be smiles and stories, new encounters and new knowledge about ways to help, beautiful moments of silence and prayer. There can be the gift of people being together, waiting patiently for death to come. Together we can create that place where our dying friends can feel safe and can gradually let go and make the passage knowing that they are loved.
Caring together is the basis of community life. We don’t come together simply to console each other or even to support each other. Important as those things may be, long-term community life is directed in other ways. Together we reach out to others. Together we look at those who need our care. Together we carry our suffering brothers and sisters to the place of rest, healing and safety.
I have always been impressed with the thought that people are only ready to commit themselves to each other when they no longer focus on each other but rather focus together on the larger world beyond themselves. Falling in love makes us look at each other with admiration and tenderness. Committing ourselves to one another in love makes us look together toward those who need our care: the child, the stranger, the poor, the dying. That commitment lies at the heart of every community.
When I reflect on my own community, the L’Arche Daybreak community in Toronto, I realise increasingly that what keeps us faithful to each other is our common commitment to care for people with mental disabilities. We are called to care together. No one in our community could care single-handedly for any one of our disabled members. Not only would it be physically impossible, but it would quickly lead to emotional and mental exhaustion. Together, however, we can create a caring space that is good, not only for those who receive care, but also for those who give it. In this space, the boundaries between receiving and giving vanish, and true community can start to exist. It is essential to the weakest members of our community that those who care for them do so together. These members say to us, “For me to live, you must love not just me, but each other, too.”
When I reflect on community life through the ages, I can easily see how the “ups” are closely connected to the vibrancy of caring together and the “downs” to absorption in internal matters. Even the most contemplative, seemingly hidden community could stay alive and well only when its life remained a life reaching out beyond the boundaries of the community. Even a life dedicated to prayer and meditation needs to maintain a quality of caring together for others. The mystery of this caring together is that it not only asks for community, but also creates it.
Those who cared for Moe realised after his death that he had brought them closer than they were before. Just as the dying Jesus brought Mary and John closer to each other by giving them to each other as mother and son, so too did Moe bring his friends closer to each other as sons and daughters of the same God. All true care for dying person brings new awareness of the bonds that create a community of love.
The Flying Rodleigs are trapeze artists who perform in the German circus Simoneit-Barum. When the circus came to Freiburg two years ago, my friends Franz and Reny invited me and my father to see the show. I will never forget how enraptured I became when I first saw the Rodleigs move through the air, flying and catching as elegant dancers. The next day, I returned to the circus to see them again and introduced myself to them as one of their great fans. They invited me to attend their practice sessions, gave me free tickets, asked me to dinner, and suggested I travel with them for a week in the near future. I did, and we became good friends.
One day, I was sitting with Rodleigh, the leader of the troupe, in his caravan, talking about flying. He said, “As a flyer, I must have complete trust in my catcher. The public might think that I am the great star of the trapeze, but the real star is Joe, my catcher. He has to be there for me with split-second precision and grab me out of the air as I come to him in the long jump.” “How does it work?” I asked. “The secret,” Rodleigh said, “is that the flyer does nothing and the catcher does everything. When I fly to Joe, I have simply to stretch out my arms and hands and wait for him to catch me and pull me safely over the apron behind the catchbar.”
“You do nothing!” I said, surprised. “Nothing,” Rodleigh repeated. “The worst thing the flyer can do is to try to catch the catcher. I am not supposed to catch Joe. It’s Joe’s task to catch me. If I grabbed Joe’s wrists, I might break them, or he might break mine, and that would be the end for both of us. A flyer must flyer, and a catcher must catch, and the flyer must trust, with outstretched arms, that his catcher will be there for him.”
When Rodleigh said this with so much conviction, the words of Jesus flashed through my mind: “Father into Your hands I commend My Spirit.” Dying is trusting in the catcher. To care for the dying is to say, “Don’t be afraid. Remember that you are the beloved child of God. He will be there when you make your long jump. Don’t try to grab Him; He will grab you. Just stretch out your arms and hands and trust, trust, trust.”
The following passages are taken from Father Henri J.M. Nouwen’s book “God’s Beloved—-Adam Arnett,” published in 1997.
Caring is as much Receiving as Giving (47-49)
Many men and women assisted Adam during the 11 years that he lived at Daybreak, and they all can tell stories about the gift of caring for him. When Adam came to the New House he was 22 years old. He was certainly not a thin man, not easy to hold and walk behind, and the many activities necessary to keep him in good physical shape were complex and tiring. Over the years quite a few people in the Daybreak community had learned his ‘routine’ so that they could be called upon when nobody in the house was free to help Adam. Adam’s housemates, Rosie, Michael, John, and Roy, also needed a lot of attention. Rosie, who came to the New House at the same time as Adam, is no less disabled. Michael, who has not only a mental handicap but also severe cerebral palsy, needs assistance in every move he makes. John, who with Down’s syndrome can go his own way, still requires much emotional support and attention. And Roy, who at the age of 80 is the oldest member of the community, needs constant emotional and physical support. The New House, with five or six assistants and five core members, is a very busy place, and the many assistants who have lived and worked there didn’t always think about Adam in the way I described him. At the same time, what prevented them from perceiving themselves as housecleaners, cooks, nappy changers, and dishwashers was the experience that Adam, Rosie, Michael, John, and Roy, who were entrusted to them, had as much to give them as to receive from them. Many of them touched into the mystery of their own lives and experienced a renewal of their inner selves, mainly because they were able to receive some spiritual gift from the people they were caring for.
Speaking about ‘Adam’s gift’ is not romanticising an otherwise quite demanding and unrewarding life situation. Adam’s gift was a reality of everyday living. When, on Monday mornings, Jane, D.J., and the other assistants gathered to discuss the week that had passed and the week to come, the main questions always were, ‘What was difficult for you this week?’ and, ‘What was the gift you gave and the gift you received?’ Amid all the planning of meals, clean ups, visit to the doctors, shopping, repairs, and countless other things to do, that question of the gifts of Adam, Roy, Michael, Rosie, and John always remained central. Everyone knew that they would not remain good L’Arche assistants for long if they weren’t richly rewarded—by the spiritual gifts of people like Rosie and John. They were discovering that true care is mutual care. If their only reward had been the small salary, their care would soon have become little more than human maintenance. Not only would they have become bored, exhausted, and deeply frustrated, but Adam and the others would not have been able to give their gifts, accomplish their mission, or reach the fulfilment of their human potential.
Adam and the other core members were announcing Good News. Adam kept reminding us that the beauty of care giving was not just in giving but also in receiving from him. He was the one who opened me to the realisation that the greatest gift I could offer to him was my open hand and open heart to receive from him his precious gift of peace. In this exchange I was enriched and so was he. I was able to reveal to him that he had a gift to offer, and his true gift became a gift when I welcomed it. He gave his gift freely to everyone he met, and so many people received it and were enriched by it. Caring, he kept ‘telling’ us, is as much receiving as giving, as much giving thanks as asking for it, as much affirming him in his ability to give as looking for self-affirmation. Caring for Adam was allowing Adam to care for us as we cared for him. Only then did Adam and his assistants grow in mutuality and fruitfulness. Only then was our care for Adam not burdensome, but privileged because Adam’s care for us bore fruit in our lives.