How to Find Grace for Caregiving
- 2009 9 Feb
Editor's Note: The following is a report on the practical applications of Shelly Beach's new book, Ambushed by Grace: Help & Hope on the Caregiving Journey, (Discovery House Publishers, 2008).
Caring for a loved one like an elderly parent or chronically ill spouse demands constant sacrifice. It’s costly, yet it’s also valuable, because as you give to the person you’re caring for, God will give to you. The gift you’ll get from God is something of eternal value: grace.
Here’s how you can find grace as you care for your loved one:
See caregiving as journey into the character of Christ. Your experiences as a caregiver can change you in profound ways, helping you grow to become more like Christ by developing a strong character. Caregiving will reveal your motives, passions, agendas, and priorities while challenging you to live more like Jesus. As a caregiver, you’ll learn how to depend on Jesus for strength and discover how He will meet each of your needs. Recognize that, while caregiving is difficult, it’s also an incredible opportunity to be transformed into a better person.
Place your confidence in God. While your work as a caregiver is vitally important, don’t define yourself by the tasks you do or the services you perform. Instead, ask God to help you see yourself as He sees you and understand how your caregiving fits into His overall purpose for your life. Rely on God’s unlimited strength rather than trying to work out of your own limited power. Place your confidence in the fact that God’s grace and character never change, and He will always be there to give you the help you need while caring for your loved one. Let your love for God flow into all areas of your life and motivate you to trust Him.
Connect your story to God’s greater story. Your life tells the story of your own experiences. As you interact with the loved one you’re caring for, find points of connection between your story and his or hers. Then pray about how the two of you each play a part in the greater story God is writing for the world. Let your lives converge in moments of shared compassion, intimacy, and revelation. As you care for your loved one, realize that your work has the power to redeem your loved one’s story – changing it for the better in ways that will matter for eternity. Recognize the significance of the times you share with your loved one. When you both enter each other’s stories, you can make connections that will matter forever in the universal story. Even your most mundane work (like changing your loved one’s bed or driving him or her to the doctor) isn’t just physical; it’s spiritual.
Forgive. You must be willing to obey God’s call to forgive so you don’t block His blessings in your life. Let your gratitude for how much God has forgiven you for motivate you to forgive as He asks you to do. Forgive the loved one you care for when he or she hurts or offends you. Forgive other family members, like siblings, who don’t pitch in to do their fair share of the caregiving work. Forgive doctors who don’t take enough time to answer your questions. Forgive yourself for not being able to do everything you’d like to do as a caregiver. Regularly ask God to show you both your own sin and who you need to forgive. Then confess your sins, repent, accept God’s forgiveness for yourself, and rely on God’s help to forgive others. In the process, you’ll find that God gives you the grace to develop greater compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, and love. As you forgive the loved one you’re caring for, commit to act with his or her best interests in mind going forward. Let your thoughts, actions, and words about your loved one reflect that commitment.
Face the realities of your heart and tongue. The demands of caregiving strip down your soul to reveal what’s really on your heart. If you find yourself thinking and saying things that aren’t healthy or pleasing to God, you can take some simple steps to change your outlook. Magnify God by praising Him daily for who He is and all He has done. When you develop this habit, you’ll notice more of what He’s up to in your life on a regular basis. Express appreciation for God’s blessings in your life and for what other people do for you. Reinforce biblical truth by making the Bible – not your personality, opinions, preferences, or comfort level – the standard for your attitudes and behavior. Intercept negativity by refraining from speaking negative words if there’s no good purpose for doing so. Evaluate your motives before interacting with the loved one you care for and speaking to others about your caregiving service. If you recognize greed, self-service, martyrdom, self-protection, or pride lurking in your motives, confess it, and ask God to change your heart.
Deal with guilt. Ask God to help you discern whether the guilt you feel as a caregiver is true or false guilt. True guilt stems from an offense that you’re responsible for and gives you an urge to confess and repent of the sin that caused the offense. False guilt stems from self-condemnation or the weight of trying to live up to other people’s expectations. Fight false guilt by asking God to help you see yourself as He sees you and break free from a sense of condemnation. Also, make sure that you’re taking care of your own health while you care for your loved one. Get enough rest, respite, medical attention, sleep, exercise, time in prayer and Bible reading, and time with friends. Eat a healthy diet. Set your priorities in ways that protect the time you need to nurture yourself as you nurture your loved one.
Build boundaries. Setting boundaries in your relationships with others will protect you and foster a healthy sense of respect in your relationships. Negotiate clearly what you can and cannot do as a caregiver. Don’t feel guilty about protecting your own needs; you can’t take good care of your loved one if you don’t first take good care of yourself. If your loved one is still mentally alert and capable of making wise decisions for himself or herself, be sure to give your loved one as much autonomy as possible. If your loved one is hurting himself, herself, or others by making unhealthy decisions, however, it’s your responsibility to work out better decisions. Negotiate with your loved one to arbitrate difficult circumstances. Prepare, pray, get the facts, seek godly counsel, and look for options. Show concern and respect for your loved one in the process. Try to understand your loved one’s concerns, desires, needs, limitations, and fears. Search for creative solutions together through prayer and by evaluating options objectively and reasonably. Seek the best interests of your loved one and do all you can to build a relationship of mutual respect. Listen carefully to the thoughts and feelings your loved one expresses, ask questions, avoid judgments, and show empathy, and take your loved one’s concerns seriously. Be honest, speaking the truth in loving ways and doing what’s right in every caregiving situation you encounter. Establish clear expectations within your family so everyone will know how they should act and what consequences will occur if they overstep boundaries.
Give grace to others. Thank God for giving you grace every day by extending grace to others whenever you can. Ask God to help you see past people’s faults to the people God intends them to be. Forgive people when they hurt or offend you. Encourage them however you can. Affirm them instead of judging them. Speak positive words that communicate hope. Be especially graceful to the loved one you’re caring for, as he or she especially needs encouragement to deal with health challenges.
Cultivate a spirit of joy. You can find joy – the spiritual confidence that all will be well, even in the midst of your caregiving challenges – by trusting in God’s promise to work all things out for a good purpose in your life. Remember that God is always with you, even in the middle of the toughest circumstances. Let your sorrow lead you to joy by helping you discover God’s sufficiency in deeper and more meaningful ways.
Find strength for the long haul. Learn from the ways Jesus handled His own caregiving responsibilities while on Earth: He frequently spent time alone in prayer. He often prayed with His closest friends. He publicly thanked God the Father for what God had provided. He faced each crisis with calm assurance because He had placed His confidence in God. He delegated work to other people. He grieved the losses of those He loved with a sense of hope, because He had an eternal perspective. Look to Jesus as your ultimate model of a healthy caregiver, and follow His example in your own caregiving work.
Adapted from Ambushed by Grace: Help & Hope on the Caregiving Journey, copyright 2008 by Shelly Beach. Published by Discovery House Publishers, a division of RBC Ministries, Grand Rapids, Mich., www.dhp.org.
Shelly Beach is a freelance writer, public speaker, college writing instructor, and recipient of the 2008 Christy Award. She has published devotional, poetry, feature articles, and fiction. She is also the founder of the Cedar Falls Christian Writers' Workshop in Cedar Falls, Iowa. Shelly and her husband, Dan, have two children and live in Sparta, Michigan.
Original publication date: February 9, 2009