Demanding More than We Can Give
“The human person is a good toward which the only proper attitude is love.” – Pope St. John Paul II
This year my husband has become somewhat of a hobbyist at having surgery. Afflicted with various health problems, he submitted each to medical experts who responded with, “We need to operate.” Patients and caregivers alike know intimately the physical and emotional toll of going under the knife. There are tears of concern and hope, as well as tired hearts and minds. There’s rearranging your calendar, coping with the inability to function as normal, and keeping track of post-op medication—all added to the challenge of waiting for recovery.
Let me clarify: between the two of us, I know my husband had it worse. Not only did he deal with all of the above, he also had to do recover in a small house with five kids buzzing around. The struggle was real and he was a total hero.
But I’m going to focus here on my experience. In short, Andrew’s post-op begged more of me than I had to give. After each surgery, I charted his meds, kept up with his special diets, tried to keep him comfortable and maintained a quiet atmosphere so he could sleep. Our kids are homeschooled, and though there’s a degree of autonomy among them, they still need me. I began caregiving for Andrew with joy and enthusiasm, consistently happy to play nurse, lighten burdens and solve problems; but that zeal went out like a snuffed match.
Before long, I started feeling inconvenienced and a touch bitter. And it showed. I was dashing in and out of our room to slough a meal onto our bed while pressing my lips together in frustration when he asked for anything. My warmth was gone. All I wanted to do was what I wanted to do.
Aware one day that I was more salty than sweet, I sat down next to Andrew on our bed. My problem was that I stopped loving while I was offering care. I stopped seeing Andrew as a person—my person—and instead saw him as an obstacle to what I wanted or a task to check off.
“How are you?” I asked calmly. His face relaxed as he spoke. This part was sore, but that part feels a little bit better, and could he have a refill on his water? I listened and allowed myself to see that in front of me was a vulnerable human being in need of love. My eyes and heart opened.
Genesis 1:26 speaks of the creation of man. A brief glance at the text reveals that mankind, unlike the rest of His handiwork, is made in God’s own sacred image and likeness. We are the only creatures blessed this way and our nature reveals our calling: God wants us to imitate Him. God is love, St. John the Evangelist tells us, and since we are made to be like Him, love is intrinsic to who we are. We are made to receive love from the Lord then reflect that love on those before us. Jesus embodied this during His years on earth, healing people out of love for them. After pouring Himself out for others, however, He retreated to pray.
Living in general calls for making a gift of ourselves for others’ sake. Marriage and parenthood are consuming, at times demanding more from us than we feel able to give. The salve for this is not escaping into our own wills and desires (like I wanted to do so badly), but retreating into prayer. Reuniting with Jesus is rejuvenating. From Him our proverbial cup is filled so we can continue to make a gift of ourselves, especially when our spouses and children need us.
When you’re worn out, yet called upon, don’t turn yearningly to wishful thinking. Instead, orient your heart toward God. Ask for the graces necessary to love as He loves.
This article appeared in the October 2022 edition of The Catholic Telegraph Magazine. For your complimentary subscription, click here.