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 50 percent of those help approximately eight hours per week, 17 percent of those assist for 40 or more hours per week. The average length of caregiving is a bit over four years. My involvement with my loved one has been going on 14 years, and for a while, I was caregiving for two family members at the same time.
There have been times when I have been resentful and perhaps unloving regarding my caregiving responsibilities. When I find this happening, I take myself to Scripture to see what God has to say. Here are a few things I’ve learned: first, the person I am caring for (and myself) is made in God’s image (Gen. 1:26-28; Ps. 8:4-8); and second, the person I am caring for has a body, heart, and soul (Gen. 2:7; Eccl. 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…,” and “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 Pet.1:3).
Burnout 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 happens. 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, headaches, tiredness, sleeplessness, depression, forgetfulness, and relational challenges. We need to make sure we guard against it.
Here are a few things to remember as you go through caregiving’s ups and downs:
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. Jesus, in the midst of His ministry, ate, drank, slept, and hungout 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 (Heb. 10: 24-25).
Remember that caregiving is a sacrifice.
Often, I do not feel this way and need to remember when called to sacrifice, it is truly a blessing, albeit, sometimes in disguise.
Remember that 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.
Remember I am not perfect.
As much as I would like to believe that I am, I’m not.
Remember that 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 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 with many of us, it is very difficult for me to ask for help, but I need to. 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 (Eph. 6:7)
Realize that God has chosen you for a special assignment (Rom. 8:28)
Identify attitudes that may be blocking your ability to respond to God (Ps. 51:10)
Value this opportunity, for it is only temporary (1 Pet. 1:6)
Invest your life in the life of another (Gal. 6:2)
Learn to live one day at a time (Ps. 118:24)
Exchange your weakness for Christ’s strength (Phil. 4:13)
Give up expectations (Prov. 12:25)
Experience a deeper intimacy with God (Ps. 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 own 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.
Some of my biggest challenges have been, at times, 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 and 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.
But 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 (justbetweenus.org) Spring 2017 issue. Used with permission.
SUSAN E. BUTCHER 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.
Radical hope. Compassionate change. Equipping those affected by chronic physical and mental illness through community and education rooted in Jesus Christ.