Anyone caring for an elderly parent at home should know the word “respite.” To know it is to love it. It is that temporary period of relief from doing one’s duty. There are people out there who offer respite for a living. This service is typically delivered on a particular day of the week, and when that day rolls around, the respite care provider’s smile is often met at the front door by an even bigger one on the family caregiver’s face.
Strangely enough, though, that front door can become a portal representing escape for both the respite provider and receiver. Although the provider is walking into the same situation from which the receiver needs a break, such workers often regard your loved one as a means of escape from their own difficulties.
We’ve seen our own respite provider come to our doorway with a smile but with eyes red from crying due to a serious illness in her own family. She obviously finds respite of her own by caring for the loved ones of others.
This mutual respite exchange at our door is the Holy Spirit at work. Both respite giver and respite taker work under the same employer and relieve each other by sharing the role of servant as described by Jesus in this Sunday’s gospel reading from Luke (Lk 17:5-10). In it, he implies that a master should not have to be grateful to a servant for that servant’s doing his duty.
“Who among you would say to your servant who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, ‘Come here immediately and take your place at table’? Would he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare something for me to eat. Put on your apron and wait on me while I eat and drink. You may eat and drink when I am finished’?”
As tough as that duty sounds, it still implies the servant’s right to respite once the job is done. Without keeping the faith that respite will come, we might bear more of a resemblance to the prophet Habakkuk as he voices his first complaint in Sunday’s first reading (Hab 1:2-3; 2:2-4) :
How long, O LORD? I cry for help but you do not listen! I cry out to you, “Violence!” but you do not intervene. … Then the LORD answered me and said: Write down the vision clearly upon the tablets, so that one can read it readily. For the vision still has its time, presses on to fulfillment, and will not disappoint; if it delays, wait for it, it will surely come, it will not be late.
Our front door, where respite giver and respite taker give each other strength, represents the vision that St. Paul reminds Timothy about in our second reading (2 Tm 1:6-8, 13-14):
For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control. … bear your share of hardship for the gospel with the strength that comes from God. Take as your norm the sound words that you heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Guard this rich trust with the help of the Holy Spirit that dwells within us.
The respite exchange at our front door doesn’t represent a changing of the guard. It is a spiritual meeting place where faith in a shared mission is richly rewarded.