A caregiver is defined as “an individual who assists someone unable to care for his or her responsibilities and needs.” This might include help with finances, health care decisions, funeral arrangements, shopping, moving from a home to assisted living or a nursing home, Power of Attorney for finances and health care, along with numerous other challenges. I find myself involved in all of these matters.
As I researched what caregiving is and how it affects the caregiver, I found some staggering statistics.
- Sixty-nine percent of caregivers assist one person
- About half of that percentage gives care approximately eight hours per week
- 17 percent assists for 40 or more hours per week.
- The average length of caregiving is a bit over four years.
There have been times when I have been resentful and perhaps unloving regarding my caregiving responsibilities. When I find this happening, I go to Scripture to see what God has to say. Here are a few things I’ve learned:
- The person I am caring for is made in God’s image — as am I. (Genesis 1:26-28; Psalm 8:4-8);
- The person I am caring for has a body, heart, and soul (Genesis. 2:7; Ecclesiastes 12:7; John 3:6).
These aspects must be foremost in my caregiving. For me, this means checking my emotions, thoughts, motives, and actions to be sure they are meeting God’s standards. I need to be aware of my temptations (such as anger, fear, and indispensability). I have learned to ask myself questions about who I am angry at and identify false statements such as:
- “I deserve better than this,”
- “There’s no way I can do this for the long haul,”
- and some of my favorite ones,
- “Nobody can do it better than I can,”
- “No one cares about me except…,”
- “If I don’t do it, nobody will.”
There have been times when I feel God has put more on my plate than I can handle, so I also ask God every day for wisdom and power through His Spirit (2 Peter 1:3).
Burnout (something we must steadily guard against) is potentially a big problem for caregivers. Almost everyone is prone to it, some more than others. It can sneak up on you without you even knowing it’s happening. It is defined as “a feeling of emotional or physical exhaustion, which comes after we have had prolonged responsibilities with people and work situations that demand our time, strength, and energy.” Some of the indicators are:
- detaching self from other people,
- relational challenges.
- UNDERSTAND THE AGING PROCESS — I talk with my doctor and a counselor, if needed, about what to expect at certain ages, so I will not be surprised when things happen. This helps me be prepared.
- ATTEND TO MY OWN HEALTH — Set personal health goals. See my doctor, if needed. Amid His ministry, Jesus ate, drank, slept, and hung out with His friends. Ongoing physical fatigue, postponing my own health issues, and chronic tiredness does no one any good.
- EVALUATE MY OWN HEART — What are my desires, demands, fears, insecurities, wants, and expectations that show me where I am struggling and affecting my ability to give care?
- STAY IN FELLOWSHIP — For me, this means going to church and staying in fellowship with other Christians. I need to make time to attend Bible study and social gatherings (Hebrews 10: 24-25).
- REMEMBER THAT CAREGIVING IS A SACRIFICE — Often, I do not feel this way. I need to remember that when I am called to sacrifice, it is truly a blessing, albeit, sometimes in disguise.
- MY RESPONSIBILITY IS TO SERVE THE LORD — There are times I want to run away from the responsibility the Lord has given me, but my ultimate goal is to serve Him by being faithful to what He has called me to do.
- DEVELOP A POSITIVE SUPPORT SYSTEM — Don’t let discouragement creep in. When I start feeling discouraged, it’s imperative to call on my positive friends and family.
- I AM NOT PERFECT — As much as I would like to believe that I am, I’m not.
- I HAVE A TENDENCY TO BE A PEOPLE-PLEASER — My responsibility is to serve the Lord, not please everyone.
- CHECK MY “FIX-IT” STATE OF MIND — Sometimes my mind is in a real “state.” When this happens, I need to remember that my role is not to “fix” everyone and everything. My position is to serve Him.
- CHECK OUT COMMUNITY ORGANIZATIONS — Most communities have some type of respite care available, such as in-home respite care, adult care programs and centers, or short-term nursing homes.
- ASK FOR HELP — As it is with many of us, I find it very difficult to ask for help, but I need to do so. I realize “no man is an island.”
When I sense I am becoming resentful, angry, or discouraged, and feeling like there is no escape from what I feel is a prison of responsibility, I hang on to the fact that caring for my loved one is a privilege that Jesus has blessed me with.
At a recent conference, this acronym was shared which has been very helpful when I’m feeling like I’m in a prison of responsibility.
Resentful…bitter and angry
Isolated…lonely and misunderstood
Stressed…guilty and torn
Pray to have a servant’s heart. (Ephesians 6:7)
Realize that God has chosen you for a special assignment. (Romans 8:28)
Identify attitudes that may be blocking your ability to respond to God. (Psalm 51:10)
Value this opportunity, for it is only temporary. (1 Peter 1:6)
Invest your life in the life of another. (Galatians 6:2)
Learn to live one day at a time. (Psalm 118:24)
Exchange your weakness for Christ’s strength. (Philippians 4:13)
Give up expectations. (Proverbs 12:25)
Experience a deeper intimacy with God. (Psalm 139:7-10)
What a difference two words can make!
From my own experience, I have learned to be mindful of who I am and what I can and cannot do. As I get to know myself better, I get to know my limitations. When I find myself getting agitated with my loved one and critical of others, I know I need to take a mental-health break. It is also important for me to remember not to lose myself in feeling trapped in the constant demands of caregiving.
One of my biggest challenges has been finding the time for my personal quiet time with the Lord. I know that if I don’t stay in the Word, my strength (which comes from Him) will be limited, at best. I need to constantly work on my support system, not be afraid to ask for help, and not play the Lone Ranger. I need to find a friend or two and ask for assistance.
Most of all, I need to remember that God loves me and my loved one. Her care is a privilege He has given me and I need to be in the best place I can be with myself and my relationship with Him. I have learned, sometimes the hard way, that when I am down, all I need to do is look up!
*First appeared in Just Between Us magazine, Spring 2017 issue. **Published with permission.
SUSAN E. BUTCHER
Susan is a certified life coach through the American Association of Christian Counselors, grief counselor and freelance writer. Additionally, she is a seasoned speaker and Bible teacher. She lives in Milwaukee, WI.