For a number of months, now, David and I have been reading a wonderful little book about caring for others. We have been reading it devotionally as our evening meditation. Taking our time with Courage to Care, by Pastor Stanley Hagemeyer, has been changing us. We have found ourselves becoming more empathetic towards others, listening more closely to people’s stories, attuning ourselves to those notes that communicate what a person is feeling.
Stan Hagemeyer is a cousin in David’s large extended family, and something of the family historian. Just last week, we came home with a framed, century-old photograph of the original Hagemeyer farm site, that Stan had brought to the most recent family reunion. But Stan’s greater impact has been through his over fifty-year career as a minister and author in the field of pastoral care.
Each chapter of Courage to Care speaks to a theme in suffering and how you and I can enter into that person’s world with the kind of warmth and love that incarnates Jesus to that person. Page after page is rich both in the stories of real life people who have walked through some deep dark valleys of grief and pain, and in relational wisdom. Stan begins with the key points for that chapter’s theme, and concludes with questions for both personal reflection and group discussion. He gives his audience a path to follow, and ways to absorb and retain what he is teaching.
And anyone who works in the fields of caring—nursing, counseling, social work, teaching, elder care, pastors, chaplains, aides—knows how much we need others to walk alongside us, teaching us, helping us, encouraging us, and spurring us on. Stan does all these things.
Courage to Care begins with a chapter on learning how to appreciate suffering, and gives as its key points:
Stan Hagemeyer, Courage to Care, p15
- Suffering and pain are present in the lives of the people we see every day.
- Learning about someone’s suffering is an especially potent way to show love and respect.
- People who tell their stories to an attentive listener feel appreciated and valued and are helped toward healing.
With skill and an easy story-telling style, Stan relates the stories of people who had never told their story before. Even as a reader, we experienced how healing and rewarding it was for them to finally be listened to with real interest and empathy.
At the end of this first chapter, Stan asks,
Stan Hagemeyer, Courage to Care, p23
- People experience suffering in several forms: physical, emotional, relational, spiritual. Which have you experienced? Which has touched you most deeply?
- How do you feel when someone listens well as you describe your own tough times?
- What is one thing you learned from someone who told you about their experience of suffering?
Each chapter goes a little bit deeper into what Stan calls that “alien territory” of another’s suffering, explaining that simple gifts actually make a big difference, that the blessing of caring goes both ways. When suffering is shared there is healing, and the bonds of healing love reach into the lives of both the sufferer and the caregiver. We discover Jesus is present in that sharing, and that faith under pressure need not buckle when the bonds of love are strong.
Stan’s own story is woven through this book, taking us on his personal journey of suffering, discovery, and healing. He offers some startling insights about the conclusion God is making.
I have been meditating on Stan’s thoughts in his chapter on what happens when faith is under pressure. He outlines six levels of faith that, when I read them, absolutely resonated. I recognize those stages, who I was at each point, the questions I struggled with, and the things that I thought were most important to God.
Suffering was like a giant bowling ball knocking down all my pins of doctrine and theology, and the work of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ, was to get me out of the bowling alley and into the sunshine of life out in the wild. It’s the same work God did with Job, when Job finally demanded an accounting with God.
let me be weighed in a just balance,
and let God know my integrity!—
O that I had one to hear me!Job 31:6, 35 (NRSV, emphases mine)
(Here is my signature! Let the Almighty answer me!)
O that I had the indictment written by my adversary!
God’s response must have both startled and alarmed Job! Immediately, it seems, after God spoke, Job lost his nerve and clapped his hands over his mouth, but God had come for a purpose.
Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind: “Gird up your loins like a man; I will question you, and you declare to me.”Job 40:6-7 (NRSV)
It was time for Job’s relationship with God to go to the next level. In a series of questions and answers, God led Job through the wonders of God’s mighty acts, the scope of God’s responsibility as sovereign over all that is in the physical and spiritual realms.
As God revealed God’s creation, wisdom, reign, character, and attributes, Job’s faith moved from passive to active, from distant to near,
I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you.Job 42:5 (NRSV)
The suffering of Job developed his spirituality in ways that the blessing and favor of God would not.
Stan’s book, Courage to Care helps you and me discover how, and how to walk with those who are right now in that deeply shadowed valley, not seeing God preparing a table for them.
At the end of Courage to Care there are four appendices worth their own weight in gold
- Listening and Attending Skills
- Mutual Giving and Receiving
- Healthy Boundaries and Personal Coaching
- Nurturing the Caregiver
I do not usually recommend book studies for church fellowship groups, but this one is an exception. If you are part of a Life Group or Care Group, or whatever your church calls it, this is well worth sharing together, perhaps over a meal, and with plenty of time to participate on the reflection questions.