An Unexpected Journey: Finding Jesus in Caregiving  Wilf Ratzburg

When we were dating, my wife, Heather, and I went on a day hike to Natural Bridge State Park in Kentucky. What was supposed to be a few hours turned into all day on a neglected trail without much water and no food. Thankfully, I had my compass and sense enough to remember my Scout skills. That was nearly 25 years ago when we took our first unexpected journey. On that journey, we found we could trust each other when things did not go quite our way.

Since our first unexpected journey, we have had quite a few others along the way.  Some I have chronicled here in public and others have remained more private, shared in my journal and with friends.  None come close to the unexpected journey of facing my wife's cancer but all of them have prepared us.

A friend posted this quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Lutheran pastor and martyr, killed near the end of WWII: "When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die."  Bonhoeffer's life is one defined by profound writings in his life.  It is also defined by his unexpected journey to stand up to the Nazis of the Third Reich.

When I read the quote, I heard this question: what or who are you willing to die for this week?  It is an invitation to an unexpected journey.

Much of our journey I have shared with a group of cancer caregivers.  You cannot read the stories without having your heart broken.  All of them are unexpected journies, similar but different.   This is what all are doing who are caregivers: they are dying to self.   Most don't get it because they don't do it, most of us are not willing to "die" for another.

Trust me when I say this: I do not want to do this, I don't want to be a caregiver.  If we could give it up, we would.  It sucks.  But I met Jesus on this unexpected journey caring for my wife as she continues to fight colon cancer and hope for healing.  Where did Jesus show up?  Well, I used to think the story of Jesus washing the disciples' feet had no corollary in our modern world but I was wrong.  I met Jesus, on my knees, while drying and putting lotion on my wife's feet.  

A number of Bible verses came to my mind which fit the situation but the one I heard most clearly was one I rarely consider:

“What do you think? A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’And he answered, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he changed his mind and went. And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go. Which of the two did the will of the father?"  They said, "the first." (Matthew 21:28-31)

Jesus, in this parable, gives hope to all the reluctant sons and daughters.  We are full of mixed motivations and we live like spoiled brats most of the time.  God KNOWS I do.  I am NOT saying I am even close to being like Jesus.  What I am saying is in the life of caregivers: mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, wives, husbands, cousins, friends, I have been living life among "dying" people. Some are Christians, some are Jews, some are Muslim, and some don't even believe in God but I can tell you these are the reluctant sons/daughters who live more like Jesus than others know. 

There are many ways to die to self; to the false self.  I think most of the spiritual greats we have never met or read precisely for this reason - they did not care to be known; they cared for another, even when they did not want to do it.

May I Ask: Are you willing to die for something or someone that brings you no glory or attention?  What is it? Who is it?  What are you waiting on?

May I Suggest: Who am I kidding here?  Just do what Jesus said: feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the prisoner, wash the feet of the sick.  Get over yourself and look for Jesus in the places you DON'T want to go.  You will meet Jesu on the unexpected journey.


rhymeswithplague said...

Ken, thank you for these beautiful words, wonderful words, wonderful words of life. They speak to me of why you are so loved at Bethelview UMC, because as under-shepherd you are our caregiver as well.

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