As a caregiver, you’ve heard this analogy endless times: Put on your own oxygen mask before you help others. It’s true. Caregivers need times of rest … and reflection.
God urges us to rest in both the Old and New Testaments.
“Six days you shall labor, but on the seventh day you shall rest; even during plowing season and harvest you must rest.”Moses, Exodus 34:21
“Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”Jesus, Matthew 11:28
God taught us that rest is a very important Christian concept. We are taught to be obedient in having a regular Sabbath, inclusive of all people and animals in our household, even when it’s the busiest time for making money. God gives rest as a gift to his people in this life and in eternity.
What’s stopping you?
The Family Caregiver Alliance reports that a caregiver between the ages of 66 and 96 who is experiencing mental or emotional strain has a risk of dying that is 63 percent higher than that of people that age who are not caregivers. Despite this scary statistic, caregivers are less likely than others to take care of themselves. The Alliance says that we don’t get enough sleep, have poor eating habits, don’t exercise, don’t stay in bed when we are sick, and don’t go to the doctor when we should.
If that isn’t enough, the Alliance says an estimated 46 percent to 59 percent of us are clinically depressed.
If you collapse, your loved one collapses. So ask yourself why you don’t take care of yourself. The Family Caregiver Alliance offers these questions to consider:
- Do you think it’s selfish to put your needs first?
- Do you become scared when you think about what you need? Do you know why?
- Do you have trouble asking for help?
- Do you think you need a treat (food, cigarettes, alcohol, a Netflix binge, etc.) because of your caregiving?
Pray through these questions with God and see what you find out. I believe it is God’s will that we take care of ourselves, but I know how hard that is to do. I fail often at it.
Rest and reflection go together
Many psalms, including Psalm 23, talk about rest in a reflective manner. As we are resting, we have the opportunity to look on our lives. Sometimes we are afraid to do that, afraid that the trauma of our loved one’s mental illness is too devastating. Afraid that, if we start crying, we will never stop.
That’s easy to understand. Yet resting and reflecting may give you more energy and more peace of mind for whatever you are facing when you do both regularly.
Taking care of yourself … getting enough sleep, taking a Sabbath, eating nutritious food and moving your body regularly … makes you stronger physically. Spending time with God makes you stronger mentally, emotionally and spiritually.
Look for God’s presence in your life
A great way to pray is to look for God’s presence in your life. More than 400 years ago St. Ignatius Loyola encouraged prayer-filled mindfulness by proposing what has been called the Daily Examen. The Examen is a technique of prayerful reflection on the events of the day in order to detect God’s presence and to discern his direction for us. Try this version of St. Ignatius’s prayer.
Become aware of God’s presence. Look back on the events of the day in the company of the Holy Spirit. The day may seem confusing to you—a blur, a jumble, a muddle. Ask God to bring clarity and understanding.
Review the day with gratitude. Gratitude is the foundation of our relationship with God. Walk through your day in the presence of God and note its joys and delights. Focus on the day’s gifts. Look at the work you did, the people you interacted with. What did you receive from these people? What did you give them? Pay attention to small things—the food you ate, the sights you saw, and other seemingly small pleasures. God is in the details.
Pay attention to your emotions. One of St. Ignatius’s great insights was that we detect the presence of the Spirit of God in the movements of our emotions. Reflect on the feelings you experienced during the day. Boredom? Elation? Resentment? Compassion? Anger? Confidence? What is God saying through these feelings?
God will most likely show you some ways that you fell short. Make note of these sins and faults. But look deeply for other implications. Does a feeling of frustration perhaps mean that God wants you consider a new direction in some area of your work? Are you concerned about a friend? Perhaps you should reach out to her in some way.
Choose one feature of the day and pray from it. Ask the Holy Spirit to direct you to something during the day that God thinks is particularly important. It may involve a feeling—positive or negative. It may be a significant encounter with another person or a vivid moment of pleasure or peace. Or it may be something that seems rather insignificant. Look at it. Pray about it. Allow the prayer to arise spontaneously from your heart—whether intercession, praise, repentance, or gratitude.
Look toward tomorrow. Ask God to give you light for tomorrow’s challenges. Pay attention to the feelings that surface as you survey what’s coming up. Are you doubtful? Cheerful? Apprehensive? Full of delighted anticipation? Allow these feelings to turn into prayer. Seek God’s guidance. Ask him for help and understanding. Pray for hope.
St. Ignatius encouraged people to talk to Jesus like a friend. End the Daily Examen with a conversation with Jesus. Ask forgiveness for your sins. Ask for his protection and help. Ask for his wisdom about the questions you have and the problems you face. Do all this in the spirit of gratitude. Your life is a gift, and it is adorned with gifts from God. End the Daily Examen with the Lord’s Prayer.
Yes, the Lord’s Prayer does help us to put on our oxygen mask first. For Jesus loves our family members even more than we do.