Rabbi Marc Gellman writes about religion for Newsday.
Q I am Catholic, but my sister became a born-again fundamentalist Christian 11 years ago when she and her husband moved to Arizona. Soon thereafter, our father developed Alzheimer's disease, and since I lived nearby, the burden of taking care of my parents fell on my husband and me. Dad died in my arms.
During the last seven years of our father's life, my sister came to visit him only once. Actually, she was passing through Long Island at the time, while helping her mother-in-law move to Florida. She stayed with him for a few hours and cried the whole time. Sadly, I don't think Dad remembered who she was. I have to say, she did call once a month to ask how things were going and offer moral support.
In all this time, I never asked my sister or brother-in-law for any physical help with our parents. I took it all on myself, but eventually I could no longer care for mother due to problems with our son. I called my sister and asked her if she could pick up mother and take her back to Arizona. with her.She asked me, "Do you believe in God? Because if you do, he'll help you get through this."
I lost it. I wasn't asking for help for myself but for my son. I couldn't believe she blew me off and threw God in my face. I've been so hurt by this I've been unable to even talk to my sister. How do I approach her and speak to her on her religious plane?
-- D., Long Island
A I don't believe in your sister, but I do believe in what she said to you. I believe that God does help us live through -- and ultimately overcome -- the burdens of life. I believe God does this through prayer, whereby we can come to realize that every day, even on our worst days, our blessings exceed our burdens.
I believe that God helps us by softening our judgmental hearts and urging us to forgive others so that we might also be forgiven. I don't believe from what you say that your sister did enough to help your parents -- and to help you help them.
However, she may have done all she was able to do with a smaller heart and a less generous spirit than the heart and spirit God placed within you. That is her spiritual problem, not yours.
Someday, your sister will have to render accounts for her self-centered life. It's not your responsibility or right to chastise her. You could have told her when your father first fell ill that you were unable to care for him without her financial and physical help. You chose not to do that, taking upon yourself and your family the sacred burden of home care for your father. God bless you. That should be enough for anyone.
Try to find your way back to your sister, your church and to God. The prayer I say in my darkest times is from Psalm 130: 1-6 (KJV). It always helps me to find my way back to light and love, and I hope it will help you.
"Out of the depths have I cried unto thee, O Lord.
"Lord, hear my voice: Let thine ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications.
"If thou, Lord, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand?
"But there is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared.
"I wait for the Lord, my soul doth wait, and in his word do I hope.
"My soul waiteth for the Lord more than they that watch for the morning: I say, more than they that watch for the morning."
Q I pray to God our Father, but feel I should be praying to Jesus, so I pray to God the Father, God the Son Jesus, God the Holy Spirit. Are God and Jesus two separate deities, or are they one and the same?
A The fundamental and formative Christian belief is that Jesus is God. Christ and God appear in different manifestations of the divine mystery, but they are in essence the same. The Gospel of John (1, 14) says it most clearly: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God ... And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth."
So, as a Christian believer, you can address your prayers to God or Jesus and be certain that they will get to the same place.