It is no secret that I spend a lot of time caring for my grandpa. I am honored that God has given me the time, skills and ability to do what I do. I have been asked recently how I have the time or energy to do all of this. It is something that comes up a lot when discussing the topic. In truth, I am thankful for the praise and encouragement that comes with these type of questions. That encouragement is so helpful in keeping me faithful, especially when walking a hard path. However, I always feel the need to explain my motivation. You see, I don’t spend 30-40 hours a week with and for my grandpa because I love him, although I definitely do. I don’t make meals because he is a good grandpa, though we could argue that he is. I don’t shovel his driveway, pay his bills, change his bandages, massage his feet, trim his finger nails, or clean up messes because of him. I do all of these things because of Jesus. Everything comes back to Him.
Before I explain this in more detail, let me make a couple of qualifying statements. First, the amount of work that I do for my grandpa is not meant to be a rubric. All of this has been prayed over, reflected upon and changed almost monthly to reflect God’s leading and wisdom. Second, I am not advocating that we are called to work ourselves to the bone with no rest. This is about working from a place of rest where Jesus (and others) help carry the burdens I cannot.
Having said that, my passion for caring for my grandpa comes from my passion for the sanctity of life. Many people in my generation have disregarded God’s words about caring for our elders simply because it is inconvenient. It has become culturally acceptable to not care for older generations. Because this type of care disrupts the lifestyle people have imagined for themselves, precious human beings are relegated to isolation in the corners of society.
As Christians, we cannot limit the conversation of the sanctity of life solely to the issue of abortion. It’s true that our culture only values life in its prime, but we are called to live counter-culturally. The gospel beckons us to value all life — from the womb to the tomb. It is incongruent to say that we agree with God’s view of the sanctity of life, but then don’t serve the marginalized among us.
Sanctity of life is about yielding our will and our plans to the truth that God is the only one who can give and sustain life. Moreover, He is the only one who can give purpose to each life. It is not for us to determine the value of someone’s life, because God has already declared full value. Our response is to honor each person, knowing that God has given all human beings incredible value, regardless of what they can or can’t do. When God created human beings in His image, He bestowed upon them the distinct honor of reflecting Him in the world. We reflect Him by simply existing. Just as a beautiful sunset instills an awe of the Creator in our hearts, so should the existence of human life. When we stare in awe at a sunset, we’re not reflecting on the functionality of the sun. We are marveling that it’s beauty exists. Functionality is important, of course. But, it’s not the primary factor that moves us to worship.
To that end, what I do for my grandpa is an act of worship. Serving my grandpa is a way of honoring what is important and valuable to God. And the sacrifices are worth it! I remember, about seven years ago, when I was working almost full time and raising a mischievous red-headed toddler, I would only see my grandparents every few months. We had just found out about my grandmother’s dementia when my aunt died. Grief does some awful things to people with dementia. And, after talking with my grandpa, it turned out that my grandma was struggling way more than we were aware of. Prior to this, God had been preparing my heart for something big. So, that week I quit my job and started scheduling multiple visits with my grandma each week. We analyzed and overhauled everything in our lives. Billy and I decided to eliminate some of the things that were valuable to us. We cut and pasted our schedule, finances and goals to make it all work. By the grace of God, we were able to keep my grandmother home until her last hours of life.
I have considered all of the daily things I walked through with my family and have wondered if there is anything worthwhile to talk about. If you ask me about it, I have a million small things that tweaked this way and that helped us walk through dementia more easily. Advice to calm, encourage, and how to get the hard things done. Just like any caregiver, there are highs and lows that we could share. But, the point of this article is to say that, at the end of the day, the motivation is Jesus. It is only through Him and by Him that I can love and serve well. I do not serve because I am great; I serve because He is great. It is the way He sees people that shapes how I see people. I am not trapped in this service but I know the only other choice is deliberate disobedience. If I truly believe what God says about life (that it all belongs to Him), then my actions will reflect that. So, of course I quit my job; of course I rearranged my schedule; of course I go to my grandpa’s every day. It is my fierce honor to believe God in the way I act.
I am well aware that there are times when it is simply not possible to care for people. Over this seven year journey I have not shouldered everything. Sometimes we don’t have the skills or strength to provide the best quality of life. It is so hard when this is true. It breaks my heart when I cannot give the care someone wants or needs. But I am not Jesus, so I was not intended to be everything. We are called to surrender what we have and leave the rest to Him. My hope is that we reject society’s idea of elder care and wade into the beautiful mess of humanity with joy. In doing this, we stand firm in God’s words with our hands and feet. That starts with the way we view people. Are we being obedient by seeing people as beautiful reflections of the God we adore?