Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and He will establish your plans. In all your ways acknowledge HIM and He will make your paths straight.
— Proverbs 5:3
— Proverbs 5:3
“Resilience” is the ability to respond creatively to stressful, pressure packed, anxiety-producing situations such as a caregiver might experience. A resilient person, rather than being deformed, diminished, or even destroyed by such traumatic, tension-filled circumstances, is able to engage those conditions in healthy, redemptive ways that bring some degree of wholeness.
St. Paul provides words from his extremely anxiety-producing situation. Consider his situation as he coined the words below. He was sitting in a Roman jail with no certainty that he would be release to continue this ministry or keep his life. In light of Paul’s circumstances, it would be wise to probe his advice. We read in Philippians 4:6-7, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus”. He opens the door to Christian resilience.
Caregivers need resilience. The person we are caring for need us to be resilient, to meet so many different challenges of caregiving with creatively, hope, strength, and wisdom. The problem is no one has all those qualities innately within themselves. We value ideas and suggestions from others who might have traveled a road similar to ours. We find new energy when we can share our load with others. Or better yet, when we find a word from scripture speaking directly to us, like God understands. Maybe we find a book from an author whose journey was similar to ours. Some can find that even 15 minutes of meditation or inspiring music gives us a moment of sabbath time.
Paul is suggesting a rhythm to life for a resilient Christian. First, Paul finds a rhythm in prayer. For Paul, prayer is like breathing, He does not see prayer as a negotiation with God to get a particular result or resolve an issue in a favorable manner. Prayer for Paul is a life giving, life transforming relationship with God. Prayer affirms that we are not alone.
Then Paul mentions supplication as an acknowledgement that we lack necessary resources to meet what confronts us and affirms that God has the resources to provide what is needed. Supplication is a deep inner awareness of our radical dependence on God, offering our selves to HIM.
The third declaration of Paul is thanksgiving, a word Paul mentions just before requesting. Thanksgiving is not the response to a fulfilled request. It is the hallmark of a heart abandoned to God, grateful for who God is for us.
God already knows what we need, so our request is not to inform. Our request is response to Jesus offer to cast our care, our burden our labor, in prayer, towards Jesus so that we might find rest and peace. Jesus invites us to ask, seek and knock. We are not abdicating responsibility, but making ourselves available to God to be with us and do whatsoever God leads us to do. Our desire is to become a means of God’s grace in this situation on behalf of our loved one.
When we find ourselves enmeshed in stressful, pressure-packed, anxiety-producing situations, it is often impossible to understand how we can deal with such traumatic, tension-filled circumstances in creative, healthy, redemptive ways. What we find is God can go beyond our understanding or expectation. We can be surprised by grace.
Paul’s redemptive word for us is not a “method” but a "mode" of being in God, in which all life is lived. It is not a “reaction” to circumstances but a rhythm of life hid with Christ in God and out of which circumstances are engaged.
Watching our loved ones lose many abilities, choices and self control over the time we care for them is painful. The last period of life for many is an experience of losing more and more of independence and personal functions. The reality of death is a legitimate topic of discussion to talked about and even embraced. It is not realistic to believe that our loved one would not die. So to hope that our loved one would not die at some point would be a false hope. Life can be filled with many false hopes. And false hopes will disappoint. Yet the human spirit needs hope for a better day.
Peter in his letter to a suffering people in the early days of the church spoke about a living hope, one that will not disappoint or be false. It was a hope in Jesus. A hope for a better life for our loved one through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. This was a very personal hope for Peter. He was a first hand witness to Jesus’s resurrection. He was there, ran to the empty tomb, saw Jesus appear in the upper room, saw him ascend from the earth. He remembered all the teaching of Jesus pointing to the kingdom of God. The living hope was Jesus, himself. He knew Jesus lives. He knew because Jesus lives, those who look to Jesus and confess faith in him will live with Jesus forever. He remembered Jesus saying he went to prepare a place for us and will come back to take us to be where he is, his home.
Stephen Covey teaches successful people begin with the end in mind. You need to know where you want to go to plan and do the steps that will get you there. Keeping the end in mind helps to order our daily tasks and attitudes. Having our living hope in mind helps us plan our tasks and shape our attitude in our daily challenges.
Peter talks again about this hope in I Peter 1:13, “Set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed.” Call it the big picture.
It is so easy to loose sight of the big picture when we are steeped in the worries of all the distractions in caregiving. The hurtful words, resentments and regrets along with the physical and emotional exhaustion involved in caring take its toll. We can easily loose focus and also hope.
Martin Luther wrote these words of encouragement to those carrying burdens. “Pray and let God worry.” That can be hard to do. Hopefully, as we gather together in our Christian Caregiver Support Group we find encouragement in the listening ear of other caregivers. Somehow, we feel understood and not alone. We might pickup up some helpful ideas. We might feel a sense of peace and relaxation in our restful sabbath time. We pray together and feel we are not alone in our worry. We leave with God’s blessing and strength for another day.
When Christians pray, share and look at God’s word, we experience the Body of Christ. In some way Jesus Christ is with us. Our hope is renewed. It is a Living Hope. The disciples talked about how their hearts were stirred when Jesus was with them That Living Hope stirs our hearts, also.
We may be uncomfortable talking about end of life with the one we love. Your loved one may want to let you know their wishes about dying and it may be your gift to listen. Be ready to give spiritual encouragement. Don’t neglect sharing the living hope that we have in Christ Jesus. Make your last conversations express love. Remember, we are spiritual people having a human experience. Strengthen the spiritual.
II Corinthians 4:7-9 But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.
I was thrust into caregiving for my mom following the death of my dad. My first step was getting through the “FOG” of many issues and assessments in hopes of gaining a foothold on the path forward in caring for my mom. My hope was to do everything “right”.
Soon I learned that I was a clay jar caregiver. Getting everything “right” was going to be very difficult-impossible. The variables, surprises, questions, communications, and relationships seemed all so complicated. And this was my first time dealing with many of these issues of complicated caregiving. Oh, I had seen others involved in these challenges in my ministry. Now it was my mom and my family. It felt so different.
My wife and I went to a conference on grief during this time. We heard a funeral director talk about the difference of helping others with issues of death and grieving and then having the experience himself. At another event, I heard a professional in the field of senior care who had helped many others with caregiving, express the frustration and feelings she was now having to experience within her own family.
Professional or not, all caregivers are clay jars.
But we, as Paul says, “We have this treasure in our clay jars. The treasure is the glorious presence of Jesus Christ. We are a vessel serving a special purpose and service, in HIS name, for our loved one. Some how and in some way God wants to use us; and through us, to share this treasure with our loved one. We want to share this treasure as we care for their physical, emotional, relational and spiritual needs. And this treasure is the all_surpassing power of God, and how deep and wide is His mercy, grace and love for all of us.
Families, and our other responsibilities, can press us from every side While hard pressed, we are not crushed. We may be very perplexed, to be at a loss on how to act or proceed, then we look to God for help and direction. We cannot give up. We are not alone. That is why a few chapters later Paul says in II Corinthians 12:10, “That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weakness, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, I am strong.” It was Christ who strengthened Paul. And Christ will strengthen you, also. In our weakness, let us let Christ shine through.
So, clay jar caregivers, keep your self relying on these everlasting arms of Christ. Stay close to Jesus so the treasure that is within you might guide and strengthen you in your calling as a caregiver. You need to take care of yourself spiritually as well as physically and emotionally.
Phillips Brooks wrote a Christmas carol we are all familiar with called, “O Little Town of Bethlehem”. He also wrote these words to encourage Christ followers,
Feed on Christ
And then go and live your life,
And it is Christ in you that lives your life,
That helps the poor,
That tells the truth,
That fights the battle,
And that wins the crowns.
Sue Brettmann RN has been devoted to Caregiving both in her career as an RN, Parish Nurse and caring for her aging parents through the last 40 plus years. She has experience in trauma, home care and hospice. Her strong faith walk and relationship with Christ has always been a part of her care and she is committed to helping others see the gift of Christ in their personal journey's.