Life’s challenges seem to cry out as problems to be fixed. Those cries never seems louder than when we ourselves or a loved one is facing limitations, obstacles or hurts. God is our Supreme Fixer. But His approach to “fixing” things is always more creative and economical than our own.
Consider the maple tree. Sap flowing in the spring could seem bad — almost as if the tree is bleeding or under some great pressure. If we didn’t know how to tap the sweetness of the syrup, we might naively run to plug up the leaks! But the flow of that sap is actually good for the tree. And it’s great on my waffles!
Caregiving for our daughter Carly is intensely hard for me in some ways. I “leak” tears. Sometimes it’s so hard that I might as well be bleeding. Under the emotional overwhelm of certain pain and death, Jesus actually sweat blood (Luke 22:44). I have argued with God suggesting “I was not made for this!” I try to wiggle out of some responsibilities or just put them off. On many an occasion, I delay taking Carly to the restroom because snuggling with her on the couch is all the energy I can muster. But then the price is paid when a toileting accident creates an extra load of laundry.
There is a way to optimize our strengths in the caregiving role and get an adequate dose of rest. I know this because I’ve seen personal and family progress in over the two-plus decades with Carly. I’ve discovered some keys behind that progress by observing what works well in my family and others I serve in ministry —and what does not. I’m learning it is possible to find a caregiving groove.
Finding our groove starts with being intentional about our strategies as well as fully aware that God has designed each of us carefully, lovingly and purposefully. God is in the process of empowering me, Carly, my family and our circumstances for something valuable in His Kingdom. This is true for you too.
Each person on the caregiving team is unique. For example, some need a lot of interaction with people while others want fewer relationships but desire to connect more deeply in those relationships. Some caregivers draw energy from accomplishing the tasks and household chores at hand while others need time for deep thinking. Some are very good decision makers. Some are very independent and need space to serve alone. Others prefer to serve alongside others and work collaboratively. Some work well under pressure. Others are exhausted just thinking about deadlines. Some are leaders, some are followers. When it comes to caregiving, you might say, “It takes all kinds.”
There are no “good” or “bad” types of people in terms of how our souls are wired to thrive and contribute. Every one of us has different talents, passions and temperaments. Each of us is abundantly unique and wonderfully made. God calls us His masterpieces (Ephesians 3:10). In fact, by the creative hand of God, each of us has purpose and beauty.
We will spend a lifetime learning to understand and appreciate how the handiwork of God is woven into us. Being a caregiver puts us on a fast track, urgently needing to learn these things. Living and loving well involves discovering our strengths and how to lean harder into Jesus in areas of weakness. To be sure, every single one of us faces sin, weakness and times of hopelessness. There will be times when we are at our wits end. When the Apostle Paul faced that scenario, he said it was “so that he would learn to rely on God rather than himself.”
2 Corinthians 1:8-9
We were crushed and overwhelmed beyond our ability to endure, and we thought we would never live through it. In fact, we expected to die. But as a result, we stopped relying on ourselves and learned to rely only on God, who raises the dead.
Surely one of the reasons God allows us to see and feel our own limits — to come desperately to the end of our ropes — is to teach us how to experience Him more deeply. Another of His reasons is to put His perfection on display through interventions (I’ll call them miracles) in ways the are obviously His doing, not our own. I am rarely more encouraged by God or reassured of His power than when I’m at the end of my own rope and then see something Divine happen. God nearness is tangible to me when something unfolds well and unexpectedly despite my feeling helpless and powerless.
Every parent caring for a child with disabilities knows what it feels like to have complicated and insurmountable demands on our natural strengths and capacities. Every family caregiving team has felt stretched beyond themselves at times. There isn’t always an escape from the circumstances — a way to take a break or get help around the corner.
In order to thrive in life and relationships, we must ask God to demonstrate His power in our weakness and teach us how to optimize our strengths. The prayer of serenity helps me put this in helpful perspective: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.”
We won’t always have the benefit of serving only in ways that come naturally or most easily for us. There will always be times when sacrificial cooperation is needed. There will always be times when God’s revelation of strength will be very obvious.
These can be some helpful focusing questions:
- How did God design me for this?
Read Psalm 139 slowly out loud asking God to show you what you have to offer.
- Are the responsibilities I am carrying, really the ones I am called to carry?
Read John 15:1-4 slowly out loud asking Him to give you discernment about priorities, obligations and opportunities in your particular situation and current season.
- What does God’s sovereignty look like in your current situation?
Read the following verses slowly out loud: Colossians 1:16-17, Philippians 3:20-21 and Hebrews 12:12-13. Ask God to reassure you of opportunities for blessings in your situation.
Learning to be attentive is a process. We need to have compassion for ourselves and trust God to hold us securely in His love and grace. As we patiently persevere in finding our best role on the caregiving team, we can also release and empower others into theirs. No one person is the savior or rescuer of the person with disabilities. Only God can do that.
God Works Through Community
God does some of His most beautiful and transformative work in community. He may even use dire circumstances to show others around us that there is a great need to rally troops. When family caregivers keep their weariness private, they may be obstructing a work God is wanting the community to do. The needs and opportunities must be visible and known. That means caregiving families may need to be more transparent and vulnerable before God releases power in the form of help from others.
When my own church, family or friends have not responded to my family’s need for help, it has either been because we failed to make our needs known or because they have failed to step up to God’s call. Very often, it is a combination of both.
It serves families well to explore the division of labor from time to time. The implication is that responsibilities are meant to be shared. No one person can or should pull the load alone. The weight feels lighter when it’s carried from a place of strength and partnership. Cooperation and delegation are essential to the resilience of each caregiver. Sometimes the partnership comes from within the family but it often includes many from outside the household too. In any case, everyone wins by learning to optimize their own special role on the caregiving team, cooperate with others and remain attentive to the Holy Spirit. We can trust God to keep shaping and molding us — individually and as a team — in responding to the needs around us.
Caregivers don’t need to live at the end of their rope. The way we stay energized and effective requires a lifestyle of attentiveness to God. Jesus is our Source for purpose, confidence, reassurance and hope. When we keep going to Jesus to fuel our soul and align our lives with His design, the Holy Spirit equips and empowers us to live generously in love and service beyond ourselves.
LISA JAMIESON is a special needs family advocate and co-founder of Walk Right In Ministries where she serves as a caregiver coach and pastoral counsellor. Lisa and her husband, Larry, live in Minnesota with the youngest of their three grown daughters, Carly, who has Angelman Syndrome. Lisa’s books and Bible studies include Finding Glory in the Thorns and the picture book Jesus, Let’s Talk.