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John W. Walton’s: Compassionate Care, Essay Example

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Introduction

Few challenges in life are as painful and as difficult as the call to attend to those suffering from extreme illness, or who are dying.  This is as true for the pastor as it is for the grieving family member.  The difference, of course, is that the pastor is turned to for the sort of care and support the ordinary person is often incapable of giving.  Called to the service of God, the pastor stands as a foundation of aid, spiritual and otherwise, and the responsibilities of the vocation in these regards are undeniable.  Then, there are endlessly varied factors which apply to every case of such suffering.  The physical and spiritual state of the individual needing care, the feelings and capabilities of those around them, and fears of death held by even the most devout all combine in different ways to render each circumstance unique.  Caring for the very ill, then, is one of the most daunting tasks any pastor must undertake.

That same level of challenge, however, goes to reinforcing the value of the care, and this is the thrust of John Walton’s  Compassionate Care: An Inspirational Guide for Caregivers of the Seriously Ill.  In chapter after chapter, and in a manner both removed and highly personal, Walton recounts many of the core issues confronting the pastor – or layperson –  in this arena.  The book is, as will be discussed, imperfect; Walton is a minister, first and foremost, and not a writer.  There are occasions when his emphasis misses the mark through overstatement, and he may also be repetitive.  What establishes the book as both valid and fully inspirational, however, is the undeniable commitment evident in every page.  Walton speaks from experience, and with a profound degree of sincerity the reader cannot help but trust.  While his book may not be a perfectly executed treatment of the subject, his dedication and innate spirituality eclipse any weaknesses.  Ultimately, John Walton’s Compassionate Care: An Inspirational Guide for Caregivers of the Seriously Ill is a highly worthwhile volume, one both enlightening and encouraging for anyone in need of guidance in this most sensitive and critical of human affairs.

Review

From the very introduction to his work, Walton begins a trajectory he follows throughout, that of maintaining an essential perspective, and providing the same to the reader.  He commences by pointing out, in no uncertain terms, the universal aversion, if not outright fear, most people feel when they are attending to the very ill.  We are all human, Walton emphasizes, from ordinary man or woman to respected and trusted pastor, and it is inevitable that we all seek to turn away when confronted with both suffering and the mystery of imminent death.  The perspective he offers is both subtle and absolutely crucial; for the ill to be tended to correctly and with true empathy and love, we are obligated to face our fears.  In admitting to them, we strengthen one another in this goal.

Consequently, Walton’s book serves both layman and pastor, for both require this communal reinforcement.  As the author makes clear in his introduction, the call to being a pastor by no means translates to an ability to properly attend to the very ill.  Many pastors, he claims, have expressed to him the extreme discomfort they feel when they must minister to the dying, and that years of seminary preparation do not enable them to adequately confront the challenges (Walton  xvi).  His intention, then, is to relay essential information that will help all concerned, including those who deal only with the physical issues of the illness.  More exactly, and with insight, Walton notes that there can be no real distinction between the physical and the spiritual, when illness threatens life.

From here, and following a rational course, Walton conveys exactly why it is necessary to learn how to care for the very ill, and he puts forth a very interesting reason as the first: that is is, simply, not as stressful a scenario as people tend to believe it must be.  It is true that his only rationale here is that few matters in life are ever as intimidating as we think they will be, but this is nonetheless an excellent point to assert.  Simply, the more we hold back from performing a service, the more power that service gains to frighten us.  Then, and equally pragmatically, Walton briefly and unequivocally asserts that we must care for the ill because that is the will of God.  To turn away from the sick person is to turn away from Christ, and there can be no more egregious sin.   There is as well the blatant fact that the sick require our help, and as much of it as we can give, and that this offering of the self renders us instruments of God.   In plain terms, as Walton claims, we represent God (20).   Another reason is the basic efficacy involved in caring.  When real compassion is present,those receiving are confident in the quality of it in the giver.  If we cannot cure the sick or prevent the illness from taking a life, we can still, through overt and sincere compassion, pass on to that person great reserves of strength, and by means of the Christian channel of authentic understanding.  Finally, and necessarily, Walton reinforces how good it is for the individual to act in this way.  It is impossible for the caregiver, in fact, to not be enriched in the process of giving, which goes to the heart of God’s injunctions to us.  If the reader could do without the series of illustrations Walton presents, ranging from analogies in sports to actual episodes known to him through acquaintances, the points are nonetheless solid.

Walton then proceeds to discuss motive, and he offers a highly valuable approach to it.  More exactly, he dismisses it.  This is ultimately a completely logical view to take because, as the author affirms, the process of giving genuine care to the ill must validate all reasons for doing it.

This then declares Walton’s true focus; he is not writing to educate pastors or inspire laypersons, but to encourage absolutely everyone to embrace the rewards inherent in caring for the ill:  “Title does not matter much; caring does”  (30).  Walton actually cites statistics here, to support that those in need of authentic care tend to require, not technical or therapeutic expertise, but only the care itself.  The very ill, in particular, are in need of attention paid to their innermost beings, and all persons are equipped to provide this.  Consequently, and importantly, Walton urges the reader to disregard motives.  What matters is the process, and making a human, and inevitably spiritual, difference in those lives.  In practical terms he strongly encourages hospital visitations, as there are limitless opportunities in such arenas for anyone to offer help.

Equally importantly, however, Walton by no means advises an unguided or unprepared entry into these situations.  He does not, again, believe that education or training is of great consequence for the caregiver, but there must be an understanding of each facility’s expectations and rules.  For example, in regard to hospices, some facilities will require that the patient’s permission be given before any kind of prayer is made (37).  Any respectable home, hospital, or hospice will have a policy relying on the patient’s rights, and these must be obeyed.  Similarly, the spiritual caregiver has the right to know everything that is expected of them, as well as the boundaries of their duties.  Walton wisely notes that we live in a litigious age, and even the most committed caregiving can go seriously wrong if forms are not properly followed.  The author here cites an incident from his own experience, when he was abruptly denied access to Intensive Care patients by the presiding chaplain, who seemed to feel that the ill there would be “over-ministered.”  Walton disagreed as to the concept, but understood the need to comply (41).  In a very real sense, this entire section of the book serves as a kind of job manual, and offers the type of guidance applicable to any new employment.  It is advised to learn as much as possible about the caregiving environment; identify both expectations and parameters, and in all regards of the visitation process; and generally maintain a professional, respectful silence until comfortable enough to share opinions as to procedures.

From these somewhat practical – and important – concerns, Walton then goes on to address a variety of issues confronting spiritual caregivers, chapter by chapter.   Attitude and expectations are addressed in interesting ways, because this emphasizes the intimate relationship between the caregiver and the sick.  These are situations wherein people who are typically strangers to one another connect, and at the most meaningful levels human beings may.  Walton also here discusses the actual physicality of these circumstances, as the spiritual is so inextricably bound to the physical.  This is especially critical, as Walton examines, in regard to how people in need actually perceive prayer.  More exactly, and very commonly, many who are desperately sick believe that a complete submission to the will of God must ease the illness.  Walton recounts that he has heard many patients complain that God ignores their prayers (70).  The author then offers a moving and clearly felt view of prayer, and this goes to reinforcing the true duty of anyone serving as a caregiver; namely, to remind the sufferer that it is beyond man to know the will of God, so it is wrong to challenge in this way how He attends to our prayers.  Here, it is implied by Walton, it is genuine faith, and not merely spirituality, that the caregiver must offer.

Other chapters devotes themselves to the caregiver’s need to maintain their own core of strength and spirituality, often severely tested in these extreme circumstances; dealing with the trauma of the terminally ill; and confronting death, both with the patient and with the loved ones. As elsewhere, each section seems to insist upon one core value within the caregiver, beyond that of Christian spirituality: honesty.  When, for example, the patient seeks to openly discuss their terminally ill state, the caregiver must acknowledge the reality, and not seek to “sugarcoat” it.  What is vital is attendance here, in that the caregiver asserts that they will be with the patient as this darkness comes (215).  There is also a consistent, and interesting, presence of hope, which merits more attention in this arena than Walton directly gives it.  He certainly validates its importance but – and understandably, in view of the major subject – his  emphasis is more on the illusory nature of it common in cases of desperate illness.  Nonetheless, Walton makes vital points.  For example, he discusses how fear is not removed from hope; it very often, in fact, is transformed into it (210).   Much of such a process, as with other functions and elements of the caregiver role, relies on the influences and commitment of the caregiver.   It is not, as Walton presents it, that the ill person is vulnerable, and therefore susceptible to taking in a real sense of faith; rather, a door is opened in extreme illness by which both sufferer and caregiver are enabled to enter into new realms of feeling and belief.

Ultimately, John Walton’s book succeeds, because its message is both consistently heartfelt and completely rational.  He accomplishes the exceptional task of presenting caregiving of the very ill as more of a privilege than a human obligation.  He furthermore asserts how all people may enjoy this privilege, and enhance their own beings in the process.  As noted, the book is not perfect.  In terms of writing style, and while Walton is usually direct and clear, he has a tendency to employ exclamation points, which lessen the force of what he is saying.  Then, he is repetitive, which goes to structural issues.  For example, he blatantly asserts that, since many readers “jump” chapters, he repeats key points and scenarios throughout the book (47).  This has the unfortunate effect of shifting the points of each chapter.  It is understandable, but it seems that a tighter form of editing would have produced a more streamlined, and consequently more powerful, statement.  These objections, however, do not significantly harm the book.  As the following will demonstrate, John Walton’s  Compassionate Care: An Inspirational Guide for Caregivers of the Seriously Ill offers virtually anyone a great deal to think about, in regard to  faith, individual  life, and relation with others.

Personal Perspectives

If it may be said that such a book could serve to enhance only the life of its reader, Compassionate Care actually deserves the claim.  This is due to the inescapable fact that the foundation of Christian faith reflects how service to others is of immeasurable service to the self.  Consequently, giving care to those in particular need more potently expresses this process.  Put another way, and equally in accord with Christianity, the self is best when it is turned from its own interests.  Jesus Christ represents the perfection of man, and this perfection may only be realized when the self is set aside for the good of others.  In turning from personal desires and ambitions, the true self is allowed top flourish, as the connection to God is made more clear.

There is, strangely, a perverse element in this.  No matter the degree of spiritual intention, and perhaps owing to mechanisms set in place by God, there is a tangible gratification achieved in knowing that good is being done.  There is no avoiding the strictly personal rewards in doing this kind of work and, if Walton does not convey them in an original way, they cannot lose their impact.  Caring for others who are sick and need help, simply, makes the caregiver feel good (22).  Most people have a reflex of this kind, in that a profound satisfaction occurs when they give of themselves and attain no tangible compensation.  It may then be said that the type of altruistic giving of self in providing for the very ill is, ultimately, selfish.  People like to feel good, after all, and any assured means to feeling good is them inherently attractive.  At the same time, however, it must be remembered that spiritual caregivers move in uncertain terrain.  More exactly, if doing good for others brings rewards in normal circumstances, these are not normal circumstances.  These are cases of profoundly deep commitment to those in dire circumstances, even if the care and commitment is extended to multiple persons in a hospice.  Any actual notion of attaining the reward of gratification, then, is made more remote.

This, however, then renders the work more compelling because it removes yet another layer of human thought or perception from a process that exists to serve God.  In caring for the seriously ill, multiple barriers must be removed and a mutual, and enhanced, sense of person-hood be granted.   In Christianity, there can be no greater reward than nearing God, or being more true to God’s intentions.  For this to occur, as much of the meaningless and peripheral matter with which people concern themselves must be stripped away, and it is difficult to conceive of a means of this occurring more readily than in attending to the sick.  This is the “privilege” component mentioned earlier; in moving away from material concerns, we move closer to Christ.  In turning aside from our own concerns and expressing real empathy and compassion for one suffering, we become more God’s creatures because we are doing God’s work.  Walton does not overtly say so in his book, but there is nonetheless the prevailing sense that caregiving goes beyond privilege; it is, in fact, something of an honor, and one that may be enjoyed by persons outside of an actual ministry.

Another facet to Walton’s book that is likely to be highly advantageous in anyone’s personal life is its reflection of the totality of existence.  Plainly, as the author discusses, the seriously ill individual usually has ties far beyond themselves.  Family, friends, and even the other practitioners of care are all intricately and intimately involved in the illness, the individual, and the repercussions.  Addressing how these relationships may be dealt with is important, and Walton consistently urges respect on the part of the caregiver, even when actual understanding is not present.  Extreme circumstances of illness and/or imminent death evoke equally extreme responses from all concerned.  The patient’s state often triggers in those near them suppressed fears, and questions of mortality and faith of immense proportions.  No caregiver is isolated with the patient.  Not only are there the worlds of the past living within that patient and infusing thought and feeling, there are those very real individuals reacting in their own ways.  Sensitivity is demanded, and just as necessary is the caregiver’s absolute commitment to the faith being translated in the situation.

Here, then, is a lesson applicable to all, and in cases far removed from actual caregiving.  More exactly, the demands of the very ill on faith illustrate the inherent power and value of faith to meet any of life’s unforeseen, and often frightening, developments.  A caregiver attends to a sick person, one likely dying of a wasting disease.  They they call upon the core of faith prompting the visit, to establish a compassionate and helpful bond, and the situation is eased.  The sufferer is exposed to layers of belief and feeling upon which they can rely, and which can provide strength.  The essence of hope is better understood, not as a fragmentary and fleeting wish, but as a comprehension of God’s power to make anything happen, even as His ultimate will is not for human eyes.  At the same time, the caregiver then shares in the uplifting nature of the experience.  It becomes evident that compassion creates change, and good change, and this reinforces the Christian impulses of the caregiver.  Equally importantly, it is then seen that the process rebounds to all.  Confronting so dire a situation with empathy and faith, the caregiver “spreads” the benefits, for compassion is a boundless quality.

In other situations in living, then, the same course must prevail.  Faith works to meet all conditions, from the most tragic to the least important.   The former, in fact, also places the latter in true perspective, and this is an enormous gain from caregiving.  In taking on the worst with courage inspired by God, it is consequently impossible to worry over the relatively meaningless problems that so concern us.  Walton, again, does not overtly make this claim, yet it resounds throughout his pages simply because of the severity of his subject.  It may be ironic, but in dealing with the worst that can happen to people with faith-based courage and real compassion, we attain a more full awareness of the scope of life.

This inevitably goes to the true impact of Walton’s book, aside from its practical and inspirational guidance.  It reinforces a reality too often overlooked, yet more crucial than any, in that faith is foundational.  People often view faith as an ancillary commodity, something to be summoned in crises or applied when calm and reflection are possible in the busy course of events.  Faith, on the contrary, informs everything the Christian does because faith is a primal element of that individual’s being.  This may be better understood by relating it to prayer, which Walton also and effectively addresses.  For many, prayer is an activity conducted to both express faith and to attain certain ends.  The reality, however, is that prayer absolutely relies on faith because true prayer acknowledges mankind’s limitations.  It is a communication between God and ourselves, yet it is one in which we must trust to His care and attention, just as we cannot hope to comprehend His reactions and interpretations.  With faith in place, however, there is an unalterable confidence.  We as human beings are failed creatures in many ways, but we are also the instruments of His will, and are therefore empowered to improve.

Conclusion

John Walton’s Compassionate Care: An Inspirational Guide for Caregivers of the Seriously Ill is by no means a perfect book. There are issues in the writing style, as well as in structure.  Nonetheless, it is a compelling and passionately presented statement that is of real value to anyone seeking to fulfill the role.  While Walton maintains his Christian presence throughout, he also addresses very real and practical issues within the subject, and he manages to do so in a manner that in no way discourages the reader.  On the contrary, the author’s plain and implacable sense of faith pervades the entire work, and truly serves to inspires.  This inspiration, not unexpectedly, carries into all the ways in which a true Christian seeks to live.  In caring for the very ill, we learn to near God ourselves in the service He requires from us, and we shape ourselves in ways fulfilling the best that humanity can achieve.  In the final analysis, John Walton’s Compassionate Care: An Inspirational Guide for Caregivers of the Seriously Ill is a powerful and impassioned volume, one that both enlightens and encourages the individual seeking to care for the very ill.

Works Cited

Walton, John W.  Compassionate Care: An Inspirational Guide for Caregivers of the Seriously   Ill.  USA: Xulon Press, 2009.  Print.

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