“When the seat belt sign illuminates, you must fasten your seat belt . .”
I’ve always been fascinated by the inflight passenger safety announcement given before take-off. No doubt years of experience and hours of committee work have gone into preparing this important briefing, what we should do should there be an emergency.
And it’s a succinct summary of how to handle life. More to the point, it is often counter-intuitive.
“In some cases, your nearest exit may be behind you.” In other words, don’t do the obvious thing – even if everyone is be moving forward, you may need to go back.
Or should we land on water, you have a lifejacket underneath your seat. “To inflate the vest, pull firmly on the red cord, only when leaving the aircraft.” Think before you act. Wait before you pull the cord. Stay calm.
But the best one is when the oxygen masks descend in the event of the plane losing cabin pressure.
“If you are travelling with a child or someone who requires assistance, secure your mask on first, and then assist the other person.”
Again, if you think about it, this is obvious. But if you are with a young child or a loved one with a disability, your deepest instinct would be to look after them first and then put your own mask on. However, in doing so, you are putting both of you at risk.
There’s a fundamental principle here. In fact, this week I found myself quoting this part of the passenger briefing to someone caring for their spouse. In order to care for your loved one properly, you need to care for yourself. A basic principle.
So often people care for their loved one, particularly if they are both advanced in years, to the point of exhaustion. Very simply, the carer needs a break. Even if you do feel guilty, it’s the right thing to do. You put your own mask on first.
This principle applies, as I have discovered, not just for carers but those in the caring professions. I recall going to a conference for hospital chaplains on burnout in nurses on special care baby units. Here burnout was defined as losing creative involvement – you turn up for work but you just go through the motions.
In other words on a special care baby unit, you care for the babies and you care for those caring for them.
Elena Delle Donne, speaking in a different context, explains: “That’s the thing: You don’t understand burnout unless you’ve been burned out. And it’s something you can’t even explain. It’s just doing something you have absolutely no passion for.”
This week I came across the DVD taken from the VHS recording of my induction as vicar of Christ Church way back in October, 1992. I am in the process of editing it and by clicking here you can see me being welcomed by members of the congregation. (I am the one on the left with dark brown hair).
I am hoping to do the same with the sermon preached by the then Bishop of Warrington, Michael Henshall. In effect, he is saying that in ministry, you need to look after yourself. No heroics. Take your days off, take your holidays – something I have taken to heart!
Jesus, of course, cared for himself as he cared for others. He took time out to spend time with his Father in prayer, even if – as Mark tells us – people in real need are demanding his attention.
It’s worth quoting in full: “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. Simon and his companions went to look for him, and when they found him, they exclaimed: ‘Everyone is looking for you!’ (Mark 1:35-37)
Other times Jesus was so tired he just sat down and let his disciples do the work. So John tells us how on entering Samaria, “Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by (Jacob’s) well. . . His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.” (John 4:6-8)
And at the very end of his ministry, Jesus prepared for the trial of his trial not just by praying in Gethsemane but more to the point, making sure his disciples stayed with him to give him their support. As it happens, they let him down.
However, there was one group of people who did not let Jesus down, the women from Galilee. Mark gives us their names: Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joseph, and Salome.
Mark explains who they are. “In Galilee these women had followed him and cared for his needs.” (Mark 15:40) Controversially, they may have needed Jesus but he needed them. And they did not fail him.
Relying on others is not a sign of weakness but simply the way God has made us. We care for each other – which can mean a sustained effort over time. And so it is essential that we do not exhaust ourselves in the process.
As Rosalyn Carter points out, herself a committed Christian:
“There are only four kinds of people in the world.
Those who have been caregivers.
Those who are currently caregivers.
Those who will be caregivers, and those who will need a caregiver.”