I have a pretty easy life. I have a job doing what I love. I’m part of a great church and a great community. I have two cats, three dogs, no kids and few restrictions on my time. I’ve got it easy right now. I can go to the grocery store when I want. I can go for a walk when I want. I can get in my car and go into Lexington to have Hoppin John at Alfalfa’s any time I want or see the Drive-By Truckers at the Dame. I’ve got it easy. Now before you climb all over me for bragging about the luxurious lifestyle that ministers have, I have to assert that I’m not carefree. But all the same, I know my life is easy because I know for those of you who are caregivers, life is not easy. There is little freedom. Simple activities are frustrating. Personal needs hardly enter the picture. Asking for help involves shame and guilt.
One in four of you all are caregivers, responsible for the well-being of others. You are the woman who cares for her aging mother in her home while trying to raise two teenagers. You are the wife who looks after her once strong husband now crippled by Parkinson’s Disease. You are the dad trying to raise the son with multiple sclerosis. You are the husband looking after the partner with AIDS. You are the elderly aunt tending to your aging sister. You are the grandparents who must now give full time care to their grandchildren. Maybe you did expect you would do so. But maybe, maybe you had no idea you would be a full-time caregiver. And you had no idea it would be so consuming.
Martha Evans Sparks writes in her book, Give Us This Day, that caregiving is a hidden ministry, but one that is known to God. Of course, for you as a caregiver, it does not always seem that way. Caregiving is exhausting and sometimes thankless. It can be isolating. It can feel like no one knows all that you are sacrificing and you carry the weight of this effort alone. Caregiving is draining. And the requirement to give can rob you of your self-worth. It is enough to break you down. It is enough to fill you full of conflicting emotions and frustration at the difficult decisions you must make.
That is why Martha advises us to think of caregiving as a ministry. It is a call, an expression of the grace of God. And in every moment of ministry, one needs to be equipped with resources and tools.
Find ways to rest. Respite is a necessity. Batteries need to be recharged and so do yours. Talk to your pastor, your friends, other caregivers who may be in the same boat. Find time for yourself and don’t let guilt talk you out of it.
Find ways to understand. Knowledge is power. Learn more about the disease or condition. Ask your doctor or pharmacist for information. Find a support group for those dealing with the same issues.
Find ways to recharge. Reconnect with God through prayer, reflection, Bible study. The scriptures are full of words of comfort for people who have been in situations just like yours. And now is a time when you will need all the strength you can get and all the love and forgiveness and patience that come from God. God knows you and sees you and is with you in all of this.
While caregiving is not easy, it is a ministry, a calling from God to love when love is needed most. As a caregiver, you are offering a sacrifice of love, spending precious time, being the face of God to another. Equip yourself. Gird yourself. This is your ministry.
Martha Sparks’ other publications include Strength for Today and Cherish the Days.