A reflection by Lindsey
Certain events have a way of etching themselves into one’s memory. I remember one day last April when Sarah was headed to work. We were finishing a conversation from earlier that morning as Sarah drove. Sarah had the phone on speaker in the passenger seat. I knew Sarah was approaching work and was only a few minutes away, but I was slow to get off the phone. Next thing I knew, Sarah was stammering frantically about another car speeding around the corner, seconds from impact. I heard the awful crunching sounds of a car accident. Less than 3 minutes later, I was driving with haste while hoping Sarah would call me back so I could pinpoint exactly where the accident occurred.
I couldn’t envisage anyone else living locally who knows Sarah well enough to be useful in a similar situation. Once I got to Sarah, we realized we needed to move Sarah’s car to a safe parking lot and take Sarah to the emergency room to be evaluated. While en route to the ER, I asked a bunch of questions to learn what happened. This proved useful after Sarah was triaged to the head of the line but then started to suffer clear symptoms of a mild concussion. I had watched Sarah’s memory go in and out. As I lingered in the waiting area while Sarah was being taken to a bed, Sarah began texting me with questions like, “What happened? Where are you? Why does my head hurt?” I found it comparatively easy to decide that I could be most helpful by sitting with Sarah through the doctor’s evaluation. It was not my first ER vigil with Sarah nor has it been my last.
Even though many people agree that caregiving is an integral part of family life, many fail to appreciate how caregiving deeply connects celibates to one another. On the one hand, I can appreciate the lack of understanding. I’m 31 years old and generally a healthy young adult. It’s all too easy for me to conceive of “health problems” as “things you deal with as you start getting older.” In my immediate circle of friends, chronic health challenges are comparatively rare. On the other hand, caregiving has been a central component of the life I share with Sarah. I understand that people deal with “people things,” and I do my best to avoid shaming anyone who happens to need extra support at a given time. I consider it a deep honor to help people with eating disorders feel safe while eating dinner and to accompany Sarah and others on various healing journeys. Such a sojourn connects me more deeply with my own humanity. I’m more likely to pray for my own needs when I’m praying for others.
To be able to provide care for another person, one must permit that person to be vulnerable. Vulnerability opens a mysterious door to intimacy where the connections defy easy categorization.
We’ve shared about how we draw a lot of inspiration for our life together from monastics. I’ve spent the last seven years trying to get to know people living in a number of monastic communities. Monasteries are great places to find people who can model purposeful celibate living that includes caregiving. Someone at virtually every community I’ve visited has taken it upon himself or herself to tell me a personal caregiving story.
Talking about caregiving as LGBT person is risky. I’ve spent many years in ex-gay ministries that blasted any form of caregiving as a place ripe for “emotional dependency.” Some people within addiction recovery culture have been quick to label me “codependent” or an “enabler” that seeks to protect Sarah from natural consequences of destructive forms of behavior. These people fail to realize that I constantly reflect on what good caregiving is and how it taxes my energies, rigorously question my own limitations, and try to help Sarah locate additional support resources when needed.
All of this causes cognitive dissonance for others when they realize that Sarah is a part of my family. People understand the value of putting family first and appreciate the importance of being there for one’s family in any range of circumstances. It’s worth noting that nearly all of the monastic communities I’ve visited describe themselves as a family, especially as it relates to the demands of caregiving.
Many people object to our using the word family to describe ourselves. At one point, a reader accused us of launching a “hateful attack” on true families for referring to ourselves with this term. Some people assert that there’s no way that we can be family because we’re celibate. Other people assert that we should talk about our relationship principally as a friendship and avoid the word family so as not to confuse and mislead. We wonder what these people would say to an elderly monastic in need of care. Should an aging nun be shipped off to a nursing home as soon as she needs more regular care? Or should she be able to rely on her monastic family? Is there any Christian who would object to this nun’s considering her monastic sisters to be her family? We wonder if Christians have taken any note of celibate LGBT singles who regularly express concerns about their potential needs for caregiving, either now or in the distant future. Continually, I’m struck by the interconnectedness of caregiving and loneliness: when one doubts whether one has the freedom to receive care from others, one is much more likely to feel lonely.
Caregiving is a tricky process. When caregiving is done rightly, it draws us into meaningful relationships with those for whom we provide care. Vulnerability gets negotiated such that one person isn’t always having to make the hard disclosures. Handled rightly, vulnerability becomes trust. I’d contend that only in an environment of trust can true caregiving happen. Serving others in love and humility and allowing others to care for us is transformative. Somehow, every rightly orientated care response draws us into healthy forms of interdependence where we become that much more alive to Christ’s work on earth. Every day I find myself praying for the wisdom to provide Sarah with true care that is sourced from how God loves each of us. In so doing, I become that much more human.
Comment Policy: Please remember that we, and all others commenting on this blog, are people. Practice kindness. Practice generosity. Practice asking questions. Practice showing love. Practice being human. If your comment is rude, it will be deleted. If you are constantly negative, argumentative, or bullish, you will not be able to comment anymore. We are the sole moderators of the combox.