Care Capsule

Don't Do Too Much
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The process continued for about four months and Carole never complained once. Cheer radiated from her every time we met. She talked of how much she loved Mr.and Mrs. Spencer. But then one day, to my great surprise, Carole announced she had decided to move to Oklahoma where an Aunt lived. A short time later she was gone.

I think Carole moved away to solve the overwhelming condition she had slipped into. Good-hearted as she was, she could not admit she was resenting her servitude. She could not acknowledge that doing good had evolved into something bad. Her distress existed on the unconscious level, I believe, and quietly generated a legitimate way out—moving away.

Carole was the victim of doing too much because we failed to set limits

Carol and I neglected to define her job. We should have agreed, in advance, that she would limit her involvement to a narrow list of activities. The list may have included picking up a prescription from the drug store but almost certainly not cleaning the kitchen. Had we talked these ideas over in advance, Carol would not have spotted one thing after another she felt she should assist with.

Some forms of care and kindness can be offered without limit. The more they are spread around, the better the practitioner feels. They are health-giving for the giver and the receiver. Offering compliments is like that. The more we hand them out, the better we feel. They do not drain or tire us. Just the opposite. Such gift-giving energizes and restores the one who hands them out, and does the same for the recipient. Spreading compliments and words of appreciation is a win-win activity that may call for no boundaries.

Not all care is that way, however. Sitting with the broken hearted blesses the giver and the hurting but at the same time can be physically exhausting and spirit tiring. The care-full, good-hearted support-person is wise to set intelligent limits on the time and amount of such charitable activities.

Getting worn out in well-doing is not itself something to vigilantly avoid. Getting tired is not an incurable condition. Often it is remedied by a good night of sleep and a friend to talk with.

There is, however, something bigger at stake here than mere exhaustion. A serious danger about “doing good” is getting in further than your time, energy, or skills can handle. Then you may slip slowly into a depressed attitude, after having begun with joy and enthusiasm. For example, sometimes a well-intended helper can create dependency on the part of someone they have supported or befriended. Disentangling from one who feels they need you badly is difficult without creating hard feelings. Such knotty situations can lead to disillusionment and then resignation by a once enthusiastic care-giver.

Care and kindness is desperately needed by the world around us. Yet, we must take precautions to prevent burn out, giving up, and quitting caused by failing to set good limits. Goodhearted folks are needed badly to sprinkle and spread love and support. It is distressing to see any back away into care-giving retirement. Here are some cautionary thoughts that may be helpful to fervent people who love to care and help:

Seldom Offer Blank Check Invitations

Warmhearted folks are inclined to say to the hurting, “Call me any time. If there is anything I can do, just let me know.” Sounds good, but as Susan Bourne illustrated in our last edition [ “Do You Have To Be Asked”, Issue #23], most of the time, people who offer such “blank checks” are only offering words when they could be actually doing something practical that helps. Rarely does a needy person actually call back and ask for the assistance offered.
Sometimes these well-intended, unrestricted offers backfire in a different way. Spoken in genuine concern, the offer is made to “call anytime, I’m here for you.” But in this case, the invitee does in fact act on your invitation and your phone rings. He calls! You answer and there he is, needing to talk — and talk and talk and talk! An hour later you finally find a way to end the conversation. But the next night, he calls again and the same thing happens. And the next night — a repeat performance. Another hour! He does not have an “off” switch. He could go on indefinitely. You are growing weary of this and it is only the third call.

When this sequence of calling and talking continues, you begin to cringe when the phone rings. Then you start to have negative feelings toward the needy caller. Resentment builds. You feel guilty about that, and feel wrong about not wanting to hear from him and talk with him. Trapped, you start feeling depressed. You have lost control of your care-giving. The caller is in control. That fuels depression. The depression is the result of your anger toward him turned inward on yourself.

The warning we all need is not to offer blank checks to the needy or hurting. Limited acts of charity are excellent and are more likely to guarantee that you “do not grow weary in well-doing”, as the Apostle Paul advises. Leave more to others and leave most to God.

In the most well-known care and kindness story in history, The Good Samaritan, the big-hearted man, offers a great deal. He will pay all the bills incurred. But he did not delay his trip. He traveled on, leaving the hands-on care to someone else. He gave what he had plenty of: the money. He guarded his time and stayed on schedule. That is a good example of intelligent care-giving and limit-setting.

In most situations you, the helper, must retain the initiative. If you really want to help again soon, you make the call, or contact, on your own schedule.

Another personal example I recall involved a woman, Gertrude, who sought counsel from me and came to my office. After the usual formalities, we both sat. Small talk broke out and continued for a while. Many minutes passed and I realized the hour was going to go by. Finally she said, “Well, here is what I really need help with.” In the last fifteen minutes, we were finally where we should have been at the top of the hour.

I had not dared to stop the small talk. I figured she should start into her agenda when she was ready. I should wait. As a result, I, the professional, showed no capacity to direct the conversation in the way needed. I set no limit on the chit-chat. Gertrude did not come back. I had wasted her time, and my own, and may have deprived her of much needed counsel. Had she possibly been dangerously depressed, something drastic might have been averted if I had simply taken charge — as I should have!

Partially, my negligence was ignorance. I just did not know how to manage the personal encounters.
I thought I was doing it correctly but realized soon that something was wrong. The other dynamic seems to be carelessness about my own time. How could I allow so many precious minutes to be wasted? Setting proper boundaries is good stewardship of our finite number of hours, in addition to helping others.

Jesus life is an outstanding example of limit-setting and saying “no”. At times he pulled away from the crowd when the sick needed healing, and he went off to pray or rest. He did not heal everybody who wanted or needed relief or restoration. Occasionally, he avoided places where big demands or expectations would be more than he wanted to handle at the time. Jesus, the ultimate in maturity, did not rush around or extend himself to the point of exhaustion. He kept flexible limits that sometimes stretched — and sometimes shrank.

May Jesus example, and his loving Spirit, guide us and fill us all.

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