Love by Proxy is Not Enough Anymore!
Rev. Robert Fleischmann, National Director, Christian Life Resources
I suppose well-meaning Christians can differ with this title by arguing “love by proxy” is never enough. Be that as it may, the reality is that our society has steadily migrated to “supporting” love efforts to be performed by others on our behalf. I believe this all began innocently enough as a practical measure.
We show love for others in foreign lands needing the Gospel by sending money to the Synod through our mission offerings so that they can pay missionaries to do this work. Most of us do not have the resources to do this work alone so we pool our efforts to make it happen.
The same can be said about our support of pregnancy care centers of Christian Life Resources. This effort is expensive and requires a degree of skill that normally demands a pooling of our resources to get it done right.
But as with most things, we get carried away. The things we could do ourselves we sometimes leave for others. The frequency of that happening is often determined by its required level of inconvenience and sacrifice.
Showing love merely becomes an act of the will and pocketbook and not the body. If we can pay someone else to do it or simply leave it to the work of others with nothing more than our good wishes and occasional remembrance in prayer, then we will have missed something. Love not only benefits those who receive but also those who give it.
What brought this issue to the forefront was a report I recently read on the challenges faced in the nursing home industry. Nursing homes are reporting two major problems which should concern all of us. Problem number one is low staffing. There are simply not enough nurse’s aides on staff in nursing homes to meet the needs of all the residents. Horror stories are told time and time again of patients who must wait long periods of time to be cleaned up after having messed in their beds. Their cries for water, assistance or just plain momentary companionship must be left unattended until other more urgent concerns are addressed.
The second problem relates to the first: nursing aides are terribly underpaid. A recent study indicates that the average pay of a nursing aide is $6.84 per hour with little benefits. It’s hard to attract quality and long-term staff when you can get paid more flipping burgers at the local fast-food restaurant.
I propose that the time may have come for us to bring some of our loved ones back into our homes. I propose this not just because it might prove to be fiscally prudent as nursing home costs increase, but because perhaps in many circumstances love demands it.
There are four passages from Scripture that come to mind on this matter. The first is a reminder of our responsibility to care for all people. It reads, “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers” (Galatians 6:10).
The second passage brings this application a little closer to home. There we read, “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Timothy 5:8).
The third passage speaks of the spirit we have when looking at the needs of others. It reads, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3-4).
The final reference touches the issue of “what” we are supposed to do. Jesus provides us with this description, “‘For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me . . . I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me'” (Matthew 25:35-36,40).
The responsibility we have to care for others, especially our family members, begins with a personal accounting of our attitude. Do we consider others better than ourselves? Do we consider their needs and interests to be equal to ours? If the answer is “yes” to these questions then we must examine carefully how we care for those who need help.
I am personally a strong advocate of nursing homes. I believe they have served and continue to serve a valuable function within our society. But I have walked the halls too many times and visited with the staff and residents all too often to realize that for some people this kind of care has become love by proxy and nothing more. It is not enough to find a well staffed and highly qualified nursing home to care for a loved one. It involves regular visits, gifts, hugs, kisses and so forth that should come not just from a nursing home staff but from family members.
And if it is possible — and when I say possible I mean possible with some sacrifices — to care for a loved one at home, I encourage the thought to be pursued. If bringing a dependent loved one home means inviting a burden and sacrifice into life, is not life richer for it? Is this not a means by which to show love to God?
Unfortunately, our society values monetary gain and vocational growth high above personal sacrifice for the welfare of others. Someone like Mother Theresa becomes venerated in our society not for all that she did but for the uniqueness of the fact that she did it. How sad! Sacrifices for the care of others will seldom find mention in the local newspaper. You will probably not be congratulated for a job well done as you are given a promotion or pay increase. You may, instead, find that you must sacrifice some career advancement, a vacation or two or may even have to go deeper into debt just to be around. But if the nursing home industry is struggling to care for your family members and you are able to care for them, then do so.
The time has come within our Christian community that we laud not the advancements we make in this world, but the sacrifices we make for others. We offer praise, not as an incentive, but to illustrate that our treasure lies in service to God through serving others.
Some love is best shown by proxy when combined with the proxy gifts of others to do things we cannot do otherwise. But when possible, the best love is shown by our own hands. The best love is that which is rooted in a love for God and an eternal appreciation for the salvation He brought in Christ.
We may differ as to how deep or serious of a health care crises we have in this country. But there is no differing over God’s expectations of us to love one another. Please consider God’s love for you in Christ and how you can then show that love to others. If the answer is nursing home care then go for it and be sure that care reflects your love. And if the answer is to care for one at home, make it so. May your motivation be more about love than about economics or convenience.