Practical Help and Spiritual Encouragement
by Lois Knutson
Copyright © 2007 - Book Excerpt
Caregiving Is a Spiritual Calling
I did not realize it at the time, but when I first began caring for Mom after moving back to Minnesota, my approach to caregiving was similar to that of a fire fighter. A medical, psychological, socioeconomic, or family crisis developed and I tried to "put it out" in the most effective way possible. As the number of crises increased, at times I became discouraged and knew that I needed something deeper to keep me going—in addition to my love for Mom.
Discouragement is a daily temptation when caring for a spouse, parent, or friend who needs extra help. Whether you are a first-time caregiver or experienced caregiver, live with (or near) your care recipient or provide long-distance care, are in the work force or have quit your job to be a caregiver, sometimes your experience is so stressful in body, mind, and spirit that you feel as if you can't do it any longer. Please don't give up. I have written this book to help you!
You may ask, "How do I not give in to discouragement?" I've found that my perspective on caregiving makes a big difference. View your caregiving as a spiritual experience in which you follow Jesus' threefold calling for your life:
"Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind"; and, "Love your neighbor as yourself" (Luke 10:27, emphasis added).
As we follow this sacred calling—to love God, neighbor, and self—God's peace tenderly boosts our spirit so that we do not give up, even when we are faced with the most stressful caregiving challenges.
As you reflect on this spiritual calling throughout the day, you will be pleasantly amazed at what a difference your spiritual focus makes! Your calling will help you to see beyond daily tasks and instead realize that you are following God's will for your life as a caregiver. Here's how it works.
The first part of your threefold calling is to love God ("Love the Lord your God . . ."), who created you in his image and proclaimed you to be "very good" (Genesis 1:31). God cares about you and assures you that you are precious to him. Take heart, God honors you and loves you (Isaiah 43:4).
God understands all that you experience as a caregiver. He knows that you are making personal sacrifices that people around you do not always understand, acknowledge, or appreciate. He recognizes that being a caregiver is difficult. He is pleased that you have accepted your caregiving role, and he promises to take care of you. You are God's care recipient just as your loved one is. God loves you both.
As you remember God's love for you, love God in return—with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind—and confidently cling to him every day. Remember, it is part of your spiritual calling to love God.
Love Your Care Recipient
The second part of your calling is to love your care recipient ("Love your neighbor as yourself"). Your care recipient is also your neighbor, because "a neighbor is someone who is near you and a person with whom you have something to do." Your loved one is near and dear to you, if not geographically, in heart and spirit.
Your care recipient is important to God, just as you are. She was created in God's image, just as you were. Both of you belong to God. God loves your care recipient with her imperfections, just as God loves you with yours. Your loved one's value does not diminish in God's eyes because, for example, her mobility is not as agile as in past years or her mind is not as alert—just as your value to God does not diminish because of your limitations in life. Love your care recipient with the same love that God has for both of you.
Loving your care recipient means:
* Offering her the same esteem and care with which you would want to be treated if the role were reversed and you were the care recipient. Remember the Golden Rule: "In everything, do to others what you would have them do to you" (Matthew 7:12);
* Reaching out to her with sacrificial compassion as Jesus teaches in his parable of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:29–37). You are like the good Samaritan in doing for your care recipient as Bible scholars state the good Samaritan did for his neighbor. "The Samaritan does . . . what the moment demands, taking care for the immediate future, no more and no less. . . . The Samaritan is the one who does what has to be done, and what he can do. This is what gives to the story its inescapable urgency." As you model the good Samaritan's care, allow the love and compassion in your heart to touch your care recipient's heart.
* Placing a spiritual focus upon daily caregiving tasks. For example, when your care recipient can no longer bathe himself and you begin to assist him, approach the task with the perspective that his body is God's temple (1 Corinthians 3:16). And when your care recipient becomes forgetful and it becomes necessary to remind him of what to do and when to do it, remember that his value is based upon his God-given worth rather than upon his memory (Galatians 3:26).
* Expressing kindness. For example, when speaking with your care recipient, constantly assure her of your love. Speak kindly to her. Frequently say, "I love you." Use positive words. Affirm her, build her up, and praise her. Remind her of her strengths, talents, and skills. Compliment her. Do not always correct her or put her down; this only creates tension, irritability, and depression. Bring out her best qualities. Treat her as a special person, not as a case, patient, project, or burden.
* Empowering him. Include him in decision making. Consult with him rather than arbitrarily making decisions for him. Ask for his help in areas of his capabilities. Everyone needs to be needed. Encourage him to share his strengths, talents, and skills with you. For example, invite him to help with kitchen and household chores and repairs, computer work, and informal child care for grandchildren as he is able. Ask him to share words of wisdom and family stories with you and others in the family. Allow him to do every personal care task of which he is capable, even if it takes him longer to accomplish than it would take you. Help him to maintain as much of his independence as possible; it is vital for his self-esteem.
* Combining past positive memories with your loved one's present situation. She was beautiful. She still is, even if she is less vital than in past years. She was your hero. She still positively influences you. She was the love of your life. You still love her dearly. She was your role model—and in your eyes she knew everything, could do everything, and helped you with everything. Now invite her to advise you about what is helpful and enjoyable for her as a care recipient. Just as your loved one's limitations do not diminish God's love for her, neither should they diminish your love for her.
* Sharing physical tenderness, if appropriate. Before you physically touch your loved one, ask for permission, especially if she previously was not one to be physically demonstrative. Offer her a tender hug; not too strong, because you don't want to cause physical pain if she is fragile. If she desires, offer her a gentle hand or foot massage (see chapter 5). Always make time for tenderness and affection.
Keep in mind that loving your care recipient requires more effort when you have negative memories from past years. When possible, remind yourself that the past is behind you. Accept God's forgiveness for both of you—and view your care recipient as one of God's loved and valued children.
Remember, it is part of your spiritual calling to love your care recipient.
The third part of your threefold calling is to love yourself ("Love your neighbor as yourself"). Loving yourself is a response to God's divine love for you.
Unfortunately, it is tempting for caregivers to be critical of themselves. This happens in many situations, including when we make inappropriate comments to our care recipient, such as, "There is no reason you can't do this" or "Why do you do that?" or "I told you that yesterday. Can't you remember?" After we make such regrettable comments, we usually feel bad, because we know we were insensitive, and we berate ourselves silently, saying, "How could I have said such a thing! I should be able to control myself better than that. She can't help it. I wish I could take back what I said." When we follow our threefold spiritual calling, comments such as these will be less frequent. We'll also be easier on ourselves when we remember that God wants us to love ourselves.
We will never be perfect caregivers. Perfection is impossible. The only person who is perfect is Jesus. But God forgives your shortcomings. Don't be harder on yourself than God is. God loves you. Love yourself.
Do not compare yourself to other caregivers. Doing so leads to feelings of inferiority. You are who you are. God has blessed you with talents and abilities to provide compassionate and competent care to your loved one. Speak well of yourself when you talk to yourself. Be as kind and loving to yourself as you would be to your best friend if that person were in your caregiving situation.
You are important. You are so valuable that God sent his Son, Jesus, into the world for you. Jesus says to you:
* "As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love" ( John 15:9). Be confident of Jesus' love, and be encouraged to love yourself.
* "Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy" (Matthew 5:7). Be assured of Jesus' compassion for you, and thereby love yourself.
* "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28). Be at peace and cast your anxiety on Jesus, who loves you. You can love yourself.
Remember, it is part of your spiritual calling to love yourself.
Don't Lose Heart
God has entrusted you with a holy calling: to love God, to love your care recipient, and to love yourself. Of course there will be days when you feel stressed out and consumed with caregiving challenges. Yet as you place a spiritual focus upon your caregiving role, God will fill you with inspiration and peace so that you do not lose heart.
This book provides many inspirational suggestions for how to have a spiritual focus in your caregiving as well as offers a multitude of practical tips for daily life situations. As you use these suggestions and tips, remember that you are not alone. God in Christ loves, values, comforts, and uplifts you. God bears witness to his love for you as his heart continually touches your heart with compassion and peace. Therefore take heart. Be at peace. God is with you.
"Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. . . . You are precious and honored in my sight . . . because I love you" (Isaiah 43:1–4).
Prayer for a Spiritual Calling in Caregiving
O God, help me view caregiving as part of my spiritual calling in life. Keep me mindful of the sacred nature of what I do. Help me to remember that as I love and honor my care recipient, I love and honor you. Fill my heart with your loving Spirit so that I do not lose heart. I pray in the name of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace. Amen.
Compassionate Caregiving: Practical Help and Spiritual Encouragement by Lois Knutson
Copyright © 2007; ISBN 9780764203718
Published by Bethany House Publishers
Used by permission. Unauthorized duplication prohibited.
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