Tag Archives: Caregivers

Learning From Doris


Learning From Doris – I was impressed at her wit, her wisdom, and her deep love and compassion for other people, even those of other lands and cultures not her own. I was captivated by her desire to tell the stories of the plight of others, completely unconcerned about her own condition and health. I was taught not to see the disease, but the person, and to be focused on the moment. Listen and enjoy…


Author/Narrator: Dr. Tom Nuckels, Director of Spirtitual Care – Central Texas


“Lord, Keep Me Out of Your Way”

Tom Nuckels

Tom Nuckels

A friend of mine used to include as part of the wording of his prayer, “…and Lord help me do as little harm as possible today.” I often thought that it was sort of negative to pray this way. Why would I want to do anyone harm? Isn’t that a given? I should want to do good to others, …always.

But, it is true, isn’t it? We often do harm without knowing it. We can do harm through speech that doesn’t consider the feelings of others; through judging appearances or behaviors without taking the time to know another’s story; or through actions that are not demonstrative of Christ’s love.

Furthermore, in visiting the sick, I used to have the mistaken notion that ministry was somehow associated with performance. That is, when called to the bedside of another, I should do something; i.e., pray, talk (that’s what preachers do best), amuse, read scripture, and etcetera. Don’t get me wrong, these things are often needful, but the difference is perhaps in the motive of the doing. We do those things out of a desire to serve others, rather than our need to do something pastoral, and thus feel some pride in “getting our part done!”

Over the years, someone has helped me to understand that when we walk into a hospital room, we are walking into sacred space where God has already entered. He has been involved in the life of that patient and he will be there long after we leave. Our task is to get in on what God is already doing; to join in His work. Hopefully, if we do it right, we will cooperate with God in helping to bring comfort and genuine care and stay out of His way, doing “as little harm as possible.”

I like the prayer written by Chaplain Mychal Judge which was carried in his pocket as he ministered to others. If you recall, he was the first registered victim of the attack on the World Trade Center, September 11, 2001. It is the prayer by which he lived. May it by ours as well:

“Lord, take me where you want me to go;
Let me meet who you want me to meet;
Tell me what you want me to say;
And keep me out of your way.”

Author: Tom Nuckels

Creating a Caring Community (2)

Frederick Schmidt in When Suffering Persists has more to say about the “candid faithful” who just seem to know how to come alongside of others to encourage, to empathize, to be of genuine help in time of crisis and trouble. They are those who know how to speak an appropriate word to others who grieve or experience traumatic events. As those who brighten a room by their presence, they would teach the rest of us how to become a caring community. In a previous writing on this page, I have already cited some of these helps. Let me continue to paraphrase the final three points that these caring people help us to learn:

They resist being judgmental of the words or actions of those who suffer. We all say and do things that under normal circumstances we would never portray in our speech or actions. During stressful and traumatic times, we will experience a kaleidoscope of emotions, including anger, rage, disillusionment, doubt, discouragement, disbelief, and etcetera. Those who truly want to help will resist weighing the spiritual maturity or worth of those who suffer based upon that person’s response to their suffering. Those who struggle in times of suffering are not necessarily spiritually deficient, but may experience moments of disorientation and questioning. None of us are exempt. Recall the words of the psalmist:

Lord, listen to my prayer; let my cry for help come to you.
Do not hide from me in my time of trouble.
Pay attention to me.
When I cry for help, answer me quickly.

My life is passing away like smoke, and my bones are burned up with fire.
My heart is like grass that has been cut and dried.
I forget to eat.
Because of my grief, my skin hangs on my bones.
I am like a desert owl, like an owl living among the ruins.
I lie awake.
I am like a lonely bird on a housetop.
–Psalm 102:1-7

They will acknowledge and oppose unjust suffering. Some suffer because of disease or illness that is a part of our human experience. Some suffering comes because of our own choices. At times, however, there is suffering that is the result of human cruelty or callousness by the hand of others. Those who would be a caring community should be able to embrace the pain, anger, and despair of those who suffer; practice solidarity with the people who do; and oppose the cause wherever possible. There may be times when we need to candidly “speak the truth, in love” in order that others might “grow up in all things into him…that is, Christ.” We will do so, however, exercising great care and discernment.

They practice being present. Those who suffer, frequently testify to the healing, reassuring character of someone who was willing to be prayerfully present with them at a time of loss or serious illness. Schmidt says it well, “The reason, it seems to me, is deeply rooted in the relational world in which God has place us. Present to one another, we extend the presence of God, meeting a need that is more basic than any we might face in the moment of suffering. The ability not only to listen, but to create a gracious space where listening can take place, is a reminder of the larger relationship we share with God…Through simple presence we experience love and acceptance—the peace to “be”—whoever we are, however we are.”

Author: Tom Nuckels

Creating a Caring Community

“I can’t tell you what it feels like, to have your own sickness be the source of a false alarm. Everyone is making a big fuss and watching, and you bear the responsibility for wasting the time of professionals who might truly be needed elsewhere—and then there are the quick micro-glances of skepticism, the up-and-down evaluation: Is he really drunk or high? Is he being punished for yesterday’s pleasures?…Then, of course there were the Christian reactions…prayer is an obvious response to illness; and if illness is a broken leg or fever, it should not feel condemning. But if the sickness is part of your formation, it can also feel like a rejection of who you are, who you have to be…And those of us who were broken right from the start, we don’t know how to say any of this without being told that we’re wrong, wrong, wrong, we just want your healing.”

Fredrick Schmidt shares this story in his helpful little book, When Suffering Persists. He gives good insight into how well meaning people can be so wrong in their attempts to be helpful. Schmidt offers several ideas in order to assist those who would come alongside others to bring real encouragement and empathy. “Like the power of our bodies to heal wounds, those relationships have the power to bring us healing and peace.” I would like to summarize some of the points that he offers to those who would be, “the candid faithful” who teach us how to become a caring community:

They resist claiming to “know” what others are experiencing. Even though we might share similar experiences of illness or loss, each sufferer is unique. Suffering has an “irreducibly autobiographical character” shaped by the personal history that we bring to the experience of loss, bereavement, or tragedy. To comfort someone else requires careful attention to that autobiography, to the particular shape that it takes, and to the way in which grief, loss, and disappointment intersect in someone’s life. “To claim ‘we know’ what someone else is experiencing claims too much.”

They resist explaining away the agony of those who struggle with loss. As hard as it may be at times, try to remember that reactions shaped by your own discomfort are unlikely to be helpful to those who suffer. We’ve all heard them haven’t we… “God is teaching you_____;” “This_______ is part of God’s plan;” “She’s in a better place;” ad nauseam. Isn’t it arrogant to think you know God’s purposes in another’s particular crisis.

They resist easy answers. Inexperienced caregivers are paternalistic and are quick to give confident answers to questions of sufferers. A caring community will set aside its “need to project an image of competence and can content itself with the task of caring.” Just show that you care. Being quick to give reasons for another’s suffering may very well add “sorrow upon sorrow” if your answers do not ultimately “fix” the problem of their particular suffering.

They resist rushing the one who suffers to closure. Much has been written concerning the importance of making a distinction between “grief” and “mourning.” Grief can be described as something we experience through loss. Mourning, on the other hand, is the psychological process needed to adapt in the face of a loss. So, grief is something we may experience quickly, but mourning can be a lengthy experience that might not ever be “completed” in any absolute sense of the word. A caring community recognizes that one may work through stages of grief, however, “we can only emotionally and spiritually navigate a loss…it will not go away.” The need to mourn is a natural and necessary process.

Author: Tom Nuckles



Invites you to its Annual “Galaxy Gala” Benefit Dinner


Tuesday, October 6th, 2009

The Westin Galleria Houston
5060 West Alabama
Houston, Texas 77056

Reception: 6:00 p.m. – 6:50 p.m.
Dinner: 7:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.