Caregiving: A living prayer

Certainly you intended no disrespect, but if you’re a family caregiver, you’ve been tweaking the famous Benedictine motto.

Ora et labora,” the Benedictines say. “Pray and work.

Laborare est orare” is what you’re living. Day after day. Night after night.

“To work is to pray.”

Don’t be surprised if you never thought of caregiving that way.

Odds are you don’t have a lot of spare time — or energy — for fiddling with Latin phrases or pondering theological concepts.

And, odds are you feel guilty sometimes because you don’t get to Mass as often as you used to.

And, you can no longer make a weekly visit to your parish’s adoration chapel or attend its annual retreat or mission.

And, you haven’t opened your Bible since ... well ... you don’t know when? And you’re unable to say even a few decades of the Rosary without nodding off.

God knows caregiving is hard. You know how, at times, it’s overwhelming. Even unrelenting.

What you might not know, or might at times forget, is that you’re doing exactly what Jesus told his disciples to do.

“But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing, so that your almsgiving may be secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you. When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on street corners so that others may see them. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you” (Mt 6:3-6).

A private prayer

Yes, but “alms” means money, right?

It can. But it’s more than that, and sometimes that “more” is a lot harder than writing a check. The archaic definition for “alms” is a synonym for “charity”: “something (such as money or food) that is given to people who are poor, sick, etc.”

When it comes to caregiving, when it comes to helping your loved one, you well know that “something” is a long, varied and ever-changing list.

Most often, others aren’t aware of — aren’t privy to — the details of your caregiving. “The left hand” (others in the parish, the neighborhood, the workplace and even the family) don’t realize all that “the right hand” (you) is doing.

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But your Heavenly Father sees you. And will “repay” you. (Graces!)

And there’s more. Your actions and sacrifices — all that you do as a loving caregiver — are prayers. Most are “said” (done) in an “inner room” with the “door closed.” Not “in secret” if that means hiding. But “in privacy” out of respect for your loved one.

Your caregiving is a private prayer, known only to you and to the Father.

Jesus’ words on charity and prayer were the introduction to his teaching the disciples the Lord’s Prayer, the Our Father. And, as you also well know, at the center of that is: “your will be done, on earth as in heaven” (Mt 6:10).

That’s more good news for you, because — right here, right now — it seems his will for you is to be a caregiver.

A saintly example

Like St. John at the foot of the cross, you answered “yes” to God’s invitation to care for one of his precious sons or daughters.

It was after the Beloved Disciple became St. John the Apostle, but before he became St. John the Evangelist, that he accepted the role of St. John the Caregiver.

Caregiving is Pro-Life
It’s good to be reminded, or to realize for the first time, that caregiving is pro-life.

“When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, behold, your son.’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his home” (Jn 19:26-27).

God’s will. God’s request. Then, for John to help Mary. Now, for you to help your care-receiver.

St. John stepped up. And so did you.

Still not convinced? Try looking at your role this way:

It’s impressive how monks and cloistered nuns strictly adhere to a round-the-clock schedule as they pray the Liturgy of the Hours.

Up in the middle of night to head for the chapel, back again in the early morning, throughout the day and, finally, in the evening.

Prayer, prayer, prayer.

You’re doing the same, only it well may be that your schedule is enough to give a monk or nun pause and offer words of admiration.

Doing God’s will

For many caregivers, the obligation and attention needed is 24 hours a day. Some parts may be on a regular schedule (meds every four hours, for example) but sprinkled in there are doctors’ appointments, runs the pharmacy, trips to the ER or urgent care, and many other duties and complications.

As that person’s caregiver, each is an act of prayer. Of sacrifice. Of love.

Your days, your weeks, your months, sometimes your years, are nothing less than one prayer being overlapped by the next.

And your Father, “who sees in secret,” knows that.

Each time.

Every time.

No, you may not be getting to Mass as often as you used to. You can’t make it to the adoration chapel, the retreat or the mission. Perhaps you haven’t opened your Bible since ... you don’t know when. And maybe you’re still unable to say even a few decades of the Rosary without nodding off.

But ...

You’re doing God’s will for you right here, right now.

And your life has become a living prayer called “caregiving.”

Bill Dodds writes from Washington.

A Caregiver's Prayer
Heavenly Father, help me better understand and believe I can do what you ask me to do.