HOW PROVIDING PALLIATIVE CARE FOR CHILDREN WITH LIFE-LIMITING AND LIFE-THREATENING ILLNESS CALLS IN THE KINGDOM AND BENEFITS US ALL
“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted” Psalm 34:18 “The wound is the place where the Light enters you,” Rumi.
The Christmas season calls Christians to reflect on what we call the Incarnation, or God taking human birth in a little child destined to suffer and die at the hands of those whose power he threatened. This blog reflects on how we, as community members, can serve the Incarnation in the persons of seriously ill children and their families, bringing gifts, like the Magi, of ourselves, our treasure.
When I lived in San Diego, I volunteered as as a Spanish translator for the paediatric hospice home-care teams that served the Mexican and Central American immigrant communities. I was privileged to visit the (usually very humble) homes of families, often single mothers, caring for seriously ill children with not much time to live. My job was only to translate the words: the energy of love in the room needed no translation, since it was accessible to everyone present. In it they “lived and moved and had their being.” (Acts 17:28)
It is a rare privilege to be in the presence of such love.
For Christians, the unconditional love and tenderness children with serious and terminal illness evoke — whether they are our biological kids or not — is an intimation of God’s presence. Jesus referred to them in MT 25: 40, as “the least of my brethren,” to emphasise God’s connection with humanity, telling his followers that “the kingdom belongs to such as these”. (MT 19:14)
I think what Jesus was getting at is the fact that children’s natural trust and dependence effortlessly pry open the hearts of those who care for them. They accomplish this feat of spiritual mechanics by calling on us to mirror their virtues: trust, generosity, and unconditional love. Children’s hospices all over the world represent one vision of the coming of the kingdom that Jesus spoke of, which we intuit as “here, but not yet.” A world with sufficient palliative care and adequate pain medicine for all prefigures the kingdom, being illuminated by values of the common good that prioritise the most vulnerable.
The virtues of generosity, friendship, and service inherent in palliative care are universal though. They are hardly the exclusive property of Christianity. Ancient philosophers such as Aristotle considered them the core virtues of classical citizenship. Although immanent to all of us, as children show us so vividly, the virtues can’t be left dormant, or they wither. They must be continually practiced, enacted in community, to bear fruit. Caring for seriously ill children, whether as a clinician, a volunteer, or a fundraiser, allows anyone, whether they think of themselves as religious, spiritual, or non-theistic, to practice the virtues to benefit the community as a whole.
The Christmas story of Jesus’ birth in an outbuilding in Bethlehem reveals God’s solidarity with the most vulnerable. That solidarity is a particular type of love, or spiritual friendship characterised by self-giving. A pearl of great price. Our service to terminally ill children and their caregivers, who ideally include palliative care teams, participates in that solidarity.
The Little Stars films (http://www.littlestars.tv) intimately connect viewers with the love and solidarity that run like live current through the world of children’s hospice and palliative care. The films can be used as advocacy tools to bridge the vast gap between the global need for paediatric palliative care and adequate provision that is the target of the ICPCN NOW Campaign.
See http://www.icpcnnow.com for more information.