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Finding Harmony in Advent: Day 15

December 15, 2013


When Charity Means Lifting Your Loved One Onto the Toilet

“Love [originally charity] is patient, love is kind, it does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. … It is not rude, not self-seeking, not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.” (I Corinthians 13: 4, 5, 8).

When you think of charity at Christmas, most likely you think of all the organizations hitting your mail and email with appeals to support worthy causes, or the folks ringing the bells at the red kettles. And we need to support those kinds of charities as we feel compelled and called. Charitable giving. (Is there any other kind? I guess there’s also grudge or duty giving.)

But charity is also a synonym for love. One of my favorite Christmas songs puts it, “Love came down at Christmas”:

Love came down at Christmas,
Love all lovely, love divine;
Love was born at Christmas:
Star and angels gave the sign.
(Christina Rossetti, 1885)

Charity comes from the Latin word “caritas.” Many other languages have multiple words for the concept that English expresses with one word, “love.” A definition of charity in the dictionary says, “generosity and helpfulness especially toward the needy or suffering.”

In any case, it refers to self-giving love, not romantic or familial (family) love.

Charity is another old fashioned word considered to be one of the seven virtues and held up in many religions, including Christianity as already noted above in the first book of Corinthians, Chapter 13, often read at weddings. But the original intention of the word “charity” conjures up more the idea of God’s self-sacrificing love for us than the romantic/erotic love of married couples.

God loved humans so much that God sent his son to the world: this is the “love” that came down at Christmas in the form of the infant Jesus. Another way to express charity is “an unlimited loving-kindness to all others.” Unlimited means self-sacrificing, even to the point of death, and thus it was that God ultimately sacrificed himself because of that great love for us.

When I think of human examples of self-giving love I can’t help but think of dozens of men and women I know personally who have been called upon by necessity to turn the romantic love of marriage into the self-sacrificing love of caring for a spouse who is no longer able to care for him or herself, such as all these who I have known:

  •  a spouse’s personality and spirit twists into a different personality through the ravages of Alzheimer’s;
  • a wife shrivels into a 78-pound shadow of her former self through repeated bouts with cancer, and has to be lifted onto the toilet;
  • a beloved husband with dementia can’t get himself dressed in time to go to the doctor but mistakenly gets himself fully dressed in the middle of the night;
  • a husband watches his wife slip into and out of a mental illness and nothing seems to help;
  • a husband has to get up every half hour during the night because his wife dying of cancer needs a wet sponge put to her lips, or just to be assured he is still there.

All these spouses who stand by their loved one without running away are practicing Godly self-sacrificing love.

As one of these persons said, “I married for better or worse; we had better, now we’ve got ‘worse’.” And it is certainly “worse” to go through holidays in such situations.

If you find yourself currently in that situation, I hope you can take courage from the thousands and millions of others who have stood by their loved ones. When we show love to others, we are like God.

How do you practice charity? What gift of yourself are you giving this Christmas?


* My photos each day in this Advent series feature figures from a handmade advent calendar I picked up long ago at a yard sale. It quickly became the kids’ favorite, and a permanent addition to our Advent collection and celebrations. I hope you enjoy watching the parade of characters on this virtual advent calendar.

Our yard sale advent calendar

Our yard sale advent calendar


From → Faith, Family Life

One Comment
  1. Caro - Claire Wiles permalink

    A thoughtful message here today. We are at present upholding two different close families who are anticipating the passing of their loved mate at any time .
    There are many prayer being said on their behalf.
    These were touching examples you have given
    A sad time for so many people.

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