Caring for a disabled or elderly family member is the highest demonstration of Christian love.
Hi, I’m Joni Eareckson Tada and sometimes, sometimes I feel like a burden.
And it happens, as we grow older, or a family member ages or sustains a life-altering disability, we can feel like a burden. An elderly parent or a mother who receives a diagnosis of MS may be quick to say, “I don’t want to be a drain on my family, and I will do everything I can to see that I’m not!” They assume they are doing their family members a Christian service, as if it were their duty not to have to depend on anyone for help.
Yet this is what families were designed for, especially Christian families. The Christian family showcases to the world that sacrificial service is normal service. Followers of Jesus are supposed to give, even when it hurts. We serve, even when – and especially when – we’re tired or weary. Christ calls us to look out for others’ interests before our own. And if we do feel we are put upon, then we find our example in Christ who “learned obedience from the things He suffered.”
This is easy for me to say. As a quadriplegic, I have been on the receiving end of other people’s help for many years. My caregivers and my husband are experts in giving, even when it hurts and often they are bone-tired. Now, part of me feels guilty about that, but God designed my disability not to make me ‘independent,’ but ‘interdependent.’ And so, as the recipient of my husband’s love, I do absolutely everything I can to support him and my caregivers with gratitude, as well as to pray for them in their weariness. I also look for ways I can lessen their load. It’s the least I can do. It’s the family thing to do. Gilbert Meilaender wrote this, he said: “Families would not have the significance they do for us if they did not, in fact, give us claim upon each other. We do not come together as autonomous individuals freely contracting with one other. We simply find ourselves thrown together and asked to share the burdens of life while learning to care for each other.”
You know, I have many friends with disabilities who have opted to go into a nursing home in order to spare their families the weight of caring for their needs. They don’t want to be a burden. But, I tell you, when this thinking becomes the norm, we stop living in the kind of moral community that deserves to be called a family. In order to grow in Christ, God presents us with inconvenient and unwanted interruptions to our plans; it could be a life-altering disability or dementia as our parent ages. Growth in Christ means learning how to deal morally and compassionately with these interruptions. Nowadays though, I wonder if Christians are too quick to institutionalize their elderly or disabled, rejecting the encumbrance of caring for their loved ones.
Friend, the highest Christian virtue is love. As a quadriplegic who is rapidly aging, one part of me doesn’t want to burden my husband, Ken. But the other part understands that this messy, inconvenient stage of life is supposed to reflect God’s highest purposes for us as a couple, and as a family. But that’s what Christian love is all about. And because Ken loves me, he will bear my burdens and thus fulfill the law of love. Besides, God has set quite the example. It’s why Psalm 68 says, “Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens.”
Hey, if this encourages you, come to my radio page today at joniandfriends.org and follow the link to an article I’ve written on the beauty of being a burden.
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