Editor’s note: This was originally printed in NACSW’s newsletter, Catalyst, in The Prayer Corner section (April, 2006). Its message is timeless.
As the deadline for submitting the next column for the Prayer Corner drew nearer, I was reminded of the advice given to Henri Nouwen by his spiritual advisor, John Eudes, during his seven month stay at the Abbey of the Genesee in Upstate New York. When Henri acknowledged anxiety over the amount of preparation that went into his public speaking, Eudes suggested he simply share what he was struggling with in his own life at the time.
My ongoing struggle as a Christian and newly graduated social worker in the mid-1990s is eloquently described in an article by Eugene Peterson entitled “Teach Us to Care, and Not to Care.” How do we find the right balance between not caring enough and caring too much? Are we in danger of erring on the side of too much professionalism and “expertise” both within and outside the Christian community? What is the key component in a healing relationship?
Rachel Naomi Remen, MD, in her best seller My Grandfather’s Blessings describes the blessing of service:
“A blessing is not something that one person gives to another. A blessing is a moment of meeting, a certain kind of relationship in which both people involved remember and acknowledge their true nature and worth and strengthen what is whole in one another. ……
We do not serve the weak or the broken. What we serve is the wholeness in each other and the wholeness in life. The part in you that I serve is the same part that is strengthened in me when I serve. Unlike helping and fixing and rescuing, service is mutual. There are many ways to serve and strengthen the life around us: through friendship or parenthood or work, by kindness, by compassion, by generosity or acceptance.”
In a society which increasingly outsources family, church and community roles to the professionals, let us pray for discernment to determine whether we are in danger of forfeiting the “blessings” that basic services provide to both the giver and receiver when it is done in the context of parenting, friendship, neighbor or fellow Christian as part of Christ’s body. Also, let us prayerfully discern when it is appropriate to “return to our roots” in social work and provide care as described in the parable of the good Samaritan or when we are asked to go “beyond” as in the parable of the prodigal son, and give fellow human beings the freedom to “come to their senses” in their own time and way while we prayerfully and non-judgmentally wait.”
My Grandfather’s Blessings by Rachel Naomi Remen, MD, published by Riverhead Books New York,2000, quote taken from pages 6,7
The article “Teach us to Care, and Not to Care” originally published in Crux, no.4 (December 1992)
Magda W. came to social work as a second career and is currently retired. God continues to use her in the role of spiritual friend and mentor. She has been a member of NACSW since 1999.