KATIE POLSKI | CONTRIBUTOR
While in my early thirties, my mom was diagnosed with a debilitating brain disease. I was told by the doctor that she would lose every ability “from her head to her toes.” Within months of the diagnosis, mom lost the ability to form words. Shouts, groans, and tears became her agonizing way of communicating. Not long after, she lost the use of her legs and hands.
My father passed away years before mom’s diagnosis, and since I was the only sibling who lived in the same town, I quit my job and assumed the role as primary caretaker. She lived for two years after the diagnosis, so between caring for my young children and keeping up with life’s ongoing demands, caring for mom often felt burdensome.
As I’ve watched friends face the inevitable challenges that accompany aging or ill parents, it’s become clear that my sentiment was not unique. But what I discovered amid the challenging journey, by the grace of God, is that the burdensome call of caregiving is also one that is profoundly and incomparably beautiful.
The Burdensome Exhortation
Scripture makes abundantly clear that we are to honor our parents (Deut. 5:16; Ex. 20:12; Eph. 6:2). Though short, these verses are layered with meaning, and it is easy to apply them in the way we see fit. It’s important, however, to take care to not interpret these words from God based on our own feelings or agendas. The Pharisees did this, and Jesus rebuked them (Matt. 15:3-6).
For us to obey this command, trust in God’s perfect Word is required. There are times when honoring parents is confusing, challenging, and difficult. And while honoring may look different from one situation to the next, there are no caveats given with these verses, though we sometimes wish there were.
One of the many ways we honor our parents is by caring for them in their time of need, and not because of what they have or have not done for us, but because sacrificial love has been demonstrated for us in the gospel:
“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:3-8).
In our sin and brokenness, the ability to love without selfish ambition can be challenging. And to care for another in such a way that requires ongoing consideration of their interests is often arduous. None of this can be done apart from the strength, patience, and wisdom that comes from our heavenly Father who loves with perfect selflessness. In Christ you have been given all you need to do what God has called you to do. Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, every spiritual blessing that is Christ’s is also yours.
This means that in the strength of Christ, you can trudge forward through the strenuous days of physical care. It means that during doctor’s visits, you have the wisdom of Christ to make difficult decisions. And it means that rather than reacting in resentment and bitterness, you can respond with grace because your gracious Savior is carrying you through. This is part of the beauty in the burden. As you carry your parents, your heavenly Father carries you.
The Profound Beauty in the Burden
How magnificent that Jesus uses the challenges of selfless care to draw us closer to Himself and to give us a deeper understanding of His love. But we need to be watchful for these beautiful moments as each begins to reveal God’s grander picture of work in and through us as caretakers and in and through our parents as receivers of our care.
A stained-glass window is not beautiful when you’re so close that your nose is pressed against the glass, but when you stand back and see how the colors fit together, there is beauty to behold. When we have our nose pressed into the details of caretaking, we only see the burden. But if, every so often, we stop and take note of God’s work even in the smallest details, beauty emerges.
I will never forget trying to feed my mom one afternoon. She was not interested in eating, so I watched her as she watched TV. With the physical distance between us, I thought of the many years I longed for her affection. Mom loved Jesus, but we were never particularly close. I knew she had to eat, so though weary of trying, I moved closer in one more attempt to get some food into her system.
With her arm, she pushed the hand that held the spoon, and began scooting toward me until she was able to lay her head on my chest. I put my arms around my mom and could not hold back tears. In those quiet moments, I thanked Jesus for our closeness and for His love which was so evident.
Though she has been with Jesus for years now, the memories of those weighty days surface often. Selfless care for another is difficult in every respect, but answering the call in the way that the Lord guides can be spiritually formative and profoundly impactful. And when you look for them, there are moments of inevitable beauty in the burden of caretaking.
Photo by Dominik Lange on Unsplash