We use the word ‘care’ in a very loose and often inaccurate manner. ‘I don’t care’ is almost a give-away line that means little whereas the root of the word is ‘to grieve, to experience sorrow, to cry out with’.
Given the huge bonds of love, parents are naturally caring of their children. For a young child growing up, the world is unknown and unexplored, it awaits their tentative first steps. It is not surprising that often they do not see the consequences of their actions. It is then that they need our gentle guidance, our open hands suggesting direction, our caring voices offering advice. We experience their sorrow, we understand their cries.
So too with our prayerful journey in faith, for as we outgrow childish ways other paths must be followed. “Be careful!” we were told as children, running free along a tree-lined path, close by the water’s edge. “Watch where you are going!” our mother warned in case tree-roots tripped young feet. But her care is not forever although her love certainly is. Our later courage is gained from the example we were set when we were younger. Only by testing the water could we judge its depth. Only through responding to creativity in our lives could we learn how to swim.
Being told how to do something is all very well. But being shown how to be someone is far more important.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the pastor who experienced the fascist years of wartime Germany, ultimately losing his life in April 1945, wrote that ‘The child learns to speak because the parent speaks to the child. We learn to speak to God because God speaks to us’ .
Part of learning for a young child is being secure in their freedom to make mistakes. Offering an answer, expressing an opinion involves taking a risk; we might be wrong. How others react to our mistakes can greatly affect our willingness to try again later. This is especially true when our thoughtless actions hurt someone. There is a deep generosity in the person who can genuinely forgive, who keeps a hand on love only by giving it away. To say all the time ‘you are wrong!’ is to miss the point; to offer to others our compassionate forgiveness is to echo the example given to us from the Cross, for with forgiveness there is the gift of the spirit.
The son who left his father’s house, only to return empty-handed and broken-hearted, was forgiven with the extravagance of a feast and a chance to start again. Being alongside others in their suffering is not a matter of words but of presence, just being there says ‘I love you’. The touch of reassurance comes first, then acknowledgement of helplessness follows and in itself offers strength.
The upturned, outstretched hand of a man seated on the pavement of a city street asks for recognition, not only through a coin tossed in his upturned cap but by our acknowledgement of his gaze. That way we can gift him our very presence as God does for each of us. Nouwen wrote that “The great illusion of leadership is to think that man can be led out of the desert by someone who has never been there.”
What do others experience in our company? Some people we know are always smiling, greeting the friend and the stranger alike with the same cordiality and expressive warmth. As adults we respond to the encouragement of others much more than to their criticism. We learnt that gift as children. A phrase such as “You are doing well, keep going!” affirms our actions even though we may still be hesitant and unsure of our direction.
Dark days come to dampen our enthusiasm, certainties seem to fail us. We’ve all been there. Yet the Psalmist recognises this when he writes ’You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day’. Indeed throughout the Psalms there is the thread of hope in the face of adversity. They tell the story of offering help when someone is down, of walking the extra hour with a lonely pilgrim, of trusting each other and in trusting God. It was a story repeated on the road to Emmaus when dejection was overcome by encouragement and in consequence ‘…didn’t our hearts burn within us?’.
After time has been spent together, however brief, we should each be able to say that ‘although we may never meet again, thanks for the lift on the way’. That gift from our parents is precious indeed and through their care for us, it is ours to give to others. We can then say with Julian of Norwich “All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.”