“Who takes care of you?” my husband asked.
My first thought was, “I’m fine, I don’t need anything.” But I know that thought isn’t true. A caregiver’s strength does not come from self—it comes from the Lord. The grace and strength to carry on year after year is a blessing the Lord gives to the family—but we carry that blessing in “jars of clay” as it were—and these vessels can become cracked and worn.
Seventeen years ago, my husband left his position as children’s pastor due to chronic Lyme Disease. His desire to serve and his shepherd’s heart still come out in questions like the one he asked me, but the ongoing joint pain, memory loss, confusion, chemical sensitivities, and other aspects of Lyme preclude that possibility.
Our children were one and three then—and now they are grown. Sometimes I marvel—how is it possible that we have made it through all these years? There is only one answer though—that the Lord has sustained us and provided for us through his work and through the hands of others.
Caregivers in our society are often held to unreasonable standards. Caregivers who stay by their spouse or ailing parent or special needs child are exalted as almost super-human or spiritual giants. The ones who leave spouse or family because they just don’t know how to cope are spurned and scorned. There is no middle ground, no room to be simply human as a caregiver.
Caregiver, you are human. Maybe no one around you understands that, and maybe sometimes you forget that yourself. You feel the needs intensely, the work of caregiving is all around you and never-ending, and you see that no one but you is going to fill those needs. So you do. And you might feel, as I did at first thought, that while you need everything because your world has fallen apart, you really need nothing that others can give. Who can be spouse or child or parent in your place and fill all the needs that come at a moment’s notice? Who can get up in the night or go to the doctor or come running when your loved one cries out in pain? Who can fix the broken dreams? When you look at those things, everything else pales and seems meaningless—what do you need?
But the seemingly little things are big things I find, and caregivers need to let others help. Do you have acquaintances who love to cook or clean? Let them send a meal occasionally or come help with a household project (or even mundane cleaning and organizing). Do you have a friend who can watch your children, or who can come spell you for a couple of hours while you get out of the house occasionally? Do you give specific requests when others ask to pray for you? Maybe you have a lot of people in your life who want to help—or maybe you are struggling to think of even one person who wants to help. Pray. Ask God to show you what your needs are and ask him to send help.
Sometimes I found that God sent someone to help—and sometimes I found that God instead gave me the strength to bear that burden.
“Though the mountains be shaken
and the hills be removed,
yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken
nor my covenant of peace be removed,”
says the Lord, who has compassion on you.
Isaiah 54:10 NIV
My heart often feasts on these words. My world fell apart, but God’s love had not changed.
Merry is the author of Invisible Illness, Visible God: When Pain Meets the Power of an Indestructible Life. She and her husband Dave have been married for 27 years, and have two children whom they homeschooled, Zach (20) and Anna (18).