These days, my role as a caregiver looks different than it did ten years ago. I have two young-adult children who can basically fend for themselves. But, I can still recall with vivid detail the season of life where my caregiving duties were in much more demand. From chauffeuring my kids to games and practices, to packing their lunches for school, to helping them with nightly homework, my children needed me in concrete ways during that season.
However, even though my kids are grown and mostly independent, I will always be a caregiver.
When I think about how I viewed the term caregiving as a young twenty-something, newly married, I have to laugh. I would have said it was staying home with my kids. It certainly included that, but over the years I’ve come to understand this term more broadly.
Caregiving encompasses the whole person, their physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual needs. It isn’t limited to my immediate family. I can be a caregiver to my coworkers, my neighbors, extended family, and friends.
The opening pages of Scripture tell the story of a relational God. After speaking creation into being, God fashions Adam from the dust of the earth. Knowing that he does not want man to be alone, God creates Eve, making both of them “in his own image” (Gen. 1:27). From the moment we are born, hard-wired into our DNA is the desire to be in relationship with others. To be known and to know.
When we give care to others, we reflect the image of God.
When I stop and consider this, all of the tasks I do to care for my family or others take on new meaning. Something as seemingly insignificant as washing my family’s laundry matters. Making a meal for a friend matters. Sending a text or card to express love and care matters.
When our family left the Midwest to move to Vancouver, BC, to begin our graduate school adventure, it was the end of 2003. As we drove across the country, we endured a blizzard, interstate closures, and long days of driving before we rolled up to our new home for the next couple of years. To say we were exhausted is an understatement. Our dear friends who drove with us were also exhausted. Looking at our moving truck filled with all our belongings in front of our new house, I felt like crying. How were we ever going to unload all of our stuff? Recognizing I was close to despair, the guys sent Tammy and me, along with the kids, to grab some lunch. Sitting in the Subway, my phone rang. It was my husband, telling me that a friend of his brother’s, who lived nearby, along with her husband and their three teenaged children, had showed up to unload our truck. Words cannot describe the relief and joy I felt in that moment. By the time we returned from lunch, over half of the truck was unloaded.
God’s care for our family was embodied in the Pianki family and their help in our time of need. Over the next several years, we were the recipients of their care and friendship on many occasions.
Take a moment and think about the people you interact with regularly—be it in your home, your workplace, your neighborhood, your church. How do you express care for these individuals? Perhaps God will bring to mind someone else who could use a reminder of his love and provision as you do this.
For all of the joy and blessing we receive from caregiving, it has a shadow side too.
Anyone who cares for aging parents, a disabled child, or works in the caring profession knows this reality. This role can be exhausting and without an end date. It’s hard to find significance and meaning day in and day out when the work demands physical, mental, and emotional energy.
Which is why time to rest and recharge becomes so crucial. To assume it all depends on us is a dangerous line of thinking. We say, “If I don’t do it, who will?” At the root of this sentiment is pride, often masked by concern and a desire to help. We take on a God-like role, which clouds our judgment as we alone try to determine what really needs to be done and who needs to do it.
I once spoke with a friend about how to juggle all the needs and demands I saw around me and how I felt guilty if I said no to something. She told me that just because there was a need didn’t mean that God was calling me to fill that need. I have recalled her words of wisdom many times over the years. This doesn’t mean that there won’t be times when our plates are too full and we feel stretched too thin. God may be calling us to take on additional levels of caregiving and responsibility, but only for a time. This period cannot continue indefinitely. There comes a point where we step away and care for ourselves.
In Psalm 23, David paints a lovely picture of renewal as he describes green pastures, quiet waters, and refreshment to one’s soul. In the dailiness of caregiving, it can be easy to forget about God’s steadfast presence. “Self-care” isn’t merely a buzzword in today’s society. God created us with a need to rest and he commands us to do it.
If you’re finding your caregiving responsibilities are squeezing out time for God, and you are running close to empty, it may be a signal that you need to rethink your commitments. You need to ask yourself some hard questions about your role as a caregiver. Are your energy resources depleted? When was the last time you experienced joy or a sense of God’s presence? Have you committed yourself to too much? Do you need to speak up and ask for help?
First, don’t lose heart. Talk with someone you trust. Think creatively. Pray and ask God to sustain you in this difficult season. Reach out to a spouse, a friend, or family member. Walking alone when you feel overwhelmed and discouraged heightens the sense of loneliness and isolation. Call to mind the words of the psalmist from Psalm 55:22, “Cast your burden on the Lord and he will sustain you.”
Caregiving is exhausting work. There are days when the tasks before us feel too much. Thankfully, Christ’s words are true. We can cast our burdens on Him. He will lift us up, support us, invigorate us, cheer us, and supply all we need.
-excerpted from Everywhere God, “Encountering God as a Caregiver”