Mental Illness

Caregiving: Strength and Faith

It is not an uncommon sight on support forums to see people giving advice that centres on keeping faith with their deity of choice. Or praying for strength, and so on. In an odd way, the world of mental illness – and specifically with this series – caregivers, can lend itself to the “there are no atheists in foxholes” concept. The thing is, the flip side is true, too. There are people who turn to religion in times of difficulty, I’ve also seen many a caregiver give up their religio, in the face of their difficulties. I don’t think one person is better than the other: we’re all caregivers, and we’re all human.

Our family life is, as I’ve mentioned before, a Humanist one. I’m a born and raised Humanist. Mr. Juniper, as is his way, is a little more complex. He considers his view of deities to be agnostic, but lives as a Humanist. Given the way his mind usually works, I consider his views on religion to be somewhere in the region of delightfully uncomplicated. Our views as a family and a partnership can become more complicated when it comes to looking for support. The views we both hold are lifelong and we’re both very happy with them, and that can make it difficult when in another person’s mind, religion is all they can see as the ultimate support. Especially at, say, 3am, when a crisis is in the works.

It is the “give me strength” principle, and the idea of “faith” that come up most. Where others may place their faith in a deity and pray for strength, it’s not unreasonable to wonder what the Humanist may do. It’s hard, I’ll say that. And not because I have an issue with what I believe, but because I compare myself to others. For instance, someone might make a post about the difficulties they’re going through with their partner and say they continue to pray for the strength to cope, and so on. I end up thinking, “But it’s not that simple.” For that person though, maybe it is. Who am I to question how another person seeks strength? Especially when I don’t follow their belief system.

I end up putting more energy than I would like into considering where the plea of “give me strength” will get me, and where to place my faith. Faith is perhaps the easier of the two. I put my faith in humanity and the world. Sure, it lets me down on occasion, but its wonder is there for us time and again. Whether it’s the compassion of a pharmacist, the comfort of Juniper Puss, or sunshine during a crisis, instead of pouring rain. It is worth pointing out that I have also found faith in the bottom of an ice cream tub, before now. When it comes to strength, well, that is a little different. And in one respect, I’m not entirely sure how to articulate it. All right, scratch that. Mr. Juniper and Juniper Junior are in the midst of playing Lego Harry Potter so I asked,  “Where do you get your strength?” They both turned to look at me and said, “What?” Just the intellectual answers I’d been hoping for. All right, after a moment to get his bearings, Mr. Juniper said, “Family.”

So, strength. Mr. Juniper just said family. And perhaps it can be that simple, too. That isn’t to say that, oh, we have each other and our lives are just sunshine and daisies. It means that we have each other, and that whatever else is going on, we still have each other. For Mr. Juniper, he has said that it’s the importance of family. In that his illnesses impact parts of his life massively, but he finds strength in not wanting that impact to be detrimental to us as a family. Family is important and the strength of family can be seen in the battle Mr. Juniper wages every day. He doesn’t want the “badness” to win. I don’t want it to, either, for that matter. For what it’s worth, we’ve been having to do a lot of paperwork lately with regards to Mr. Juniper’s illnesses and while one of his therapists was trying to help him figure out some things, she asked him where he thought he’d be without me. I just about bawled when he got home and told me his answer. Family is important, and it is where my strength comes from, too. I don’t say a prayer, but I do say thank you to the universe for a wonderful husband, child, and cat.

This is a slight tangent, but I often say, “Bless you.” It’s a phrase loaded with religious connotations, but I’ve come to find a lot of comfort from it. When I say it, I’m trying to encapsulate the feelings of gratitude, and the hope that good things come to that person, too. My strength comes from the compassion and kindness of the world, too. So in a way, my strength comes from where I place my faith. My faith as a whole is in humanity and the world, and in a very special way, it is in my family, too. My strength comes foremost from my family, but also from humanity and the world. And I try to let the universe know that I’m grateful. I don’t see the universe as a being, but as a home to life, for which, if I may quote Aesop:

No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.


By Juniper

Rarely to be found without herbal tea nearby. Team Unicorn. Often in pyjamas. Also: TEAM KATNISS!

12 replies on “Caregiving: Strength and Faith”

I’m an agnostic, too (possibly more Humanist, actually? Must peruse @alex’s non-theists post again) and I like “give me strength”. In Ireland at least, it’s a plea, but it’s also an expostulation and a curse, used like “I can’t believe you just did/said that to me” or “I can’t fucking believe this has happened after all the other shit that’s happened”. I like the double meaning. I like “bless you”, too. Sometimes you’re just talking to life in general.

/semantic aside.

Humanism is really interesting when you look into it – The British Humanist Association website is a good place to start. (I also have a lot of love for the BHA because they’ve had – and currently have – female presidents.)

The other uses of “give me strength” feel familiar, too. It’s really interesting how phrases like that work in different circumstances. Love the comment of “talking to life in general”.

That was a lovely compliment, so thank you. I did try writing this out already, but P-mag ate it up. As always: everyone’s different and, as has been the case for Mr. Juniper, things have changed immensely over the years. There have definitely been points in the past where “faith” was a very difficult concept to contend with.

This was a wonderful read. Thank you for sharing.

While I can’t speak for all faithful folk, for my own self I think the, “Give me strength,” prayer is far more similar to you finding strength in your family than a solution in and of itself. I don’t think it’s insignificant that in my faith I refer to the deity in familial terms. As you said, it isn’t that I can say a few Our Father’s* and everything will be sunshine and roses, it’s just that I have faith that come what may, God is there, and my relationship to God will survive, and I find comfort in that.

*Actually in times of duress, I am far more likely to have the rosary beads out, so I guess it should be Hail Mary’s.

I’ve always thought that if people are willing to be honest and respectful, chances are good they’ll find a fair bit of common ground. It’s why I enjoy hearing about other’s experiences with faith and belief. It makes it easier to take the whole “family of humankind” thing out of the theoretical and more into the personal. Of course I also suspect I would probably be a Unitarian Universalist if I didn’t find such personal value in Roman Catholic ritual.

I think that’s a really interesting perspective to have. At the moment, my feelings on religion have taken a bit of a battering (reading too much about US politics, I think), but over all, I think you’re right  – that there can be common ground.

I can’t say I blame you for giving religion some serious side eye right now, particularly regarding it’s involvement in American politics. There are a lot of church leaders being super awful right now. I am, for all my faith, a vehement state secularist. Religion and politics tend to be horrible when combined. I really wish more people could be honest about that fact.

Indeed, religion and politics do tend to be horrible when combined. Great point about about people being aware of that, too. I find it helps to have the British Humanist Association on my Facebook feed – they usually respond to religious points in the media – and the balance is wonderful.


I’m a fan of Faith in Public Life for providing a view of Christianity that calls for more tolerance and working for society’s most vunerable, and news of religious leaders being good instead of awful for restoring some faith in the system. It’s also worth noting that inflammatory conservative things get tons of press, while say, 60 church leaders advocating renewing a tax break for families that helps a lot of people get their needs met, gets no press at all outside of faith groups. But I totally understand the need for someone to stand up and say “You cannot use your religion as a shield from all criticism. You are being a boil on the butt cheek of life right now. You cannot legislate your religious code.”

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