We have four older people who are especially on our minds and in our prayers at the moment because they are either in hospital or under palliative care.
One of them, we are told, suffers terribly but bears it very patiently.
I can’t imagine the kind of strength that must involve, if there is pain or discomfort and utter dependence on others.
A slight headache is enough to make me complain and be irritable.
This winter I have very dry hands.
Everyone in the family knows about it and I keep showing everyone the chafing on my poor knuckles.
I’m still a child in the bearing with pain department.
But I hope and trust that when my turn comes to deal with more than a tiredness headache and winter chafing that God will provide, as he has in the past.
When I have been really unwell, or was otherwise limited in what I could do because of late pregnancy, one thing I have struggled with was feeling like a burden on others.
But being willing to lean on others, sometimes heavily if we need it, is part of our own growth in the spiritual life and the growth others as well.
For us, when we need help, it is part of letting go of our own will and placing ourselves more intensely in God’s hands.
For the people looking after us, it’s an opportunity to practise the charity Jesus spoke about, which God will reward.
We need an attitude which is open to the beauty of needing care from others, as well as caring for others.
It’s a beautiful symbiotic social relationship our society risks further damaging with legalising things like euthanasia and assisted suicide.
Married couples become holy by bearing each other’s burdens.
That also means being willing to be a burden to one’s spouse sometimes or in some ways, rather than striving in a relentless and spirit-draining way for self-fulfilment or perfection.
In our wedding booklet we placed a quote from St Thérèse of Lisieux: “I know now that true charity consists in bearing all our neighbours’ defects – not being surprised at their weakness, but edified at their smallest virtues.”
At the time we chose it I thought it was just about promising to see each other in the best possible light.
But now I see that it is also about the way God perfects the love of each spouse through the weaknesses of each.
We should never feel ashamed of our weaknesses, bodily or mental or emotional or spiritual.
They are precious because they are very stuff God uses to make us better people in the end.
St Paul boasted of his shortcomings: “When I am weak, I am strong.”
Trying to be perfectly self-sufficient and being too hard on ourselves because of our faults or failings is anti-Christian.
Physically I’m enjoying the peak of this life, but in other ways God knows I am weak – prone to getting stressed, overly ambitious, impatient, irritable, arrogant.
I’m slowly learning that that’s all fine.
That’s why Jesus came, to redeem all of that, and to give us immediate help in the sacraments for whatever ails us at any time of life.