That is the question.
It is a question that has come up relatively constantly in various forms over the past few months. When that happens, it’s like Jesus saying “Martha, Martha…” When the Lord gives you the same quandary over and over, you’d better sit up straight and pay attention!
Everything came to a head a few weeks ago when I was serving at the Community Care Center (CCC). Walking down a corridor, I encountered Michaela, a new employee, looking somber. Since she is usually an extraordinarily cheerful and even effervescent person, I asked her what was wrong.
“I don’t know,” she said. “I’m thinking I might not be a good fit for this job.”
I love working with Michaela, and she’s one of the best staff members I’ve seen in her position. As an added bonus, she’s a Christian and a dear sister in the Lord. So, with rising alarm, I asked her why she felt that way.
“My supervisor told me that the only way I’m going to be able to do my job effectively and not get burned out is to not allow myself to get involved with the residents. She said the only way to cope with the losses around here was not to let myself care personally about anybody.”
She was called away then, and we didn’t have time to talk, but her words kept coming back to me. I’m in a similar position, as are all nursing home chaplains. Ours is a life of nearly constant loss. We get to loving them and then they go away – either lost to dementia or gone home with family or into eternity. But what her supervisor said rubbed me the wrong way – especially when I saw the effect the advice had on her. So I sat down and wrote her a note. I think this is a question we all have to deal with at some level as we face difficult relationships, so I’m posting what I told her, and I’d welcome any comments you might want to send.
I was surprised to hear that your supervisor told you not to allow yourself to care about the residents in order to prevent burnout. I don’t often advise people not to listen to their boss, but I’m afraid this time that’s just what I’m going to say.
As you look around the CCC, there is nothing but need all around you. Often, this place and the people who work here are all the residents have left. But one thing they do NOT need is another person just doing their job. They have plenty of people who do that already. Having their basic needs met in an efficient and detached manner is not enough. Not nearly enough.
And as Christians we are called to a higher standard, you and I. The Lord never once says, “Protect yourself from loss.” He says “Love.” “Give.” “Care” “Forgive” “Bear one another’s burdens.” “Deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me.”
No, I’m afraid in our case it’s imperative to care, but at the same time to realize and remind yourself that you’ll eventually lose them. The secret, I’ve found, is to love them like crazy, but hold them with an open hand: the Lord gives and the Lord takes away.
Yes, it will hurt when they go, and yes, you will grieve for some of them. But how inestimably better it is that someone grieved their passing, rather than for them to slip un-lamented and virtually unnoticed into eternity, while everyone continues doing their job efficiently and guarding themselves from grief!
I’ve told you before that I so appreciate your warmhearted exuberance. Caring just oozes out of you, and that caring is not what will bring you down in the end. Forcing yourself not to care will take all the joy out of your service, and that’s what will burn you out, my friend.