This post is the latest installment in a developing series for caregivers. We’re exploring what helps us find our “sweet spots” in the family that cares for one another amidst the challenges of disability. We hope today’s article encourages you and offers tips that help optimize your strengths.
The life of a caregiver can be socially isolating for a variety of reasons. And limited socialization has unique impact from one person to another. Some people simply don’t need a lot of interaction with people. Others have great need to feel loved, cared for and valued. One person may be grateful for weekly conversations with staff at the therapy clinic. A different person may be satisfied going weeks without so much as a trip to the grocery store or have little need to interact with neighbors while on a walk around the block.
Ultimately, the spectrum is broad and varied in terms of our needs and expressiveness in relationships. But this fact remains. Caregivers who thrive in community but do not experience adequate and consistent connectedness or associations are likely to struggle with energy levels, moodiness, discouragement, anxiety and unfulfilled longings to feel valued.
Here’s the good news! Intentionally cultivating community will keep your spirits refreshed and will energize you to care for your loved ones from a position of strength.
It can be very helpful to understand that not all connectedness or socialization is equal. It is simply not as straightforward as being introverted or extroverted. Our unique needs and capacities for relationships are actually quite complex and nuanced, aren’t they?
Consider these examples and questions:
You may be a caregiver who appreciates generous amounts of solitude but needs to feel seen and known by people.
You could be that person who enjoys getting to know something about almost everyone you meet.
Are you someone who likes to feel some personal connection to your child’s teacher, para, therapists or physicians? Do you know you mail carrier’s first name?
Do you feel deeply the sting of rejection when a relationship is strained? Or do you rather easily move on to a new friendship if a relationship isn’t satisfying?
Are you very selective about who you relate to? Upon walking into a crowded room, do you quickly scan faces to find the people you have interest in connecting with and move quickly past everyone else?
Do you tend to be understated in communication and hope people will intuitively understand you? If you are one of those caregivers who isn’t particularly expressive, you may feel forgotten or sense that someone is taking advantage of you.
As you ponder the nature of your own needs for community and relationships, consider how these tips may help you function from a place of strength.
TAP YOUR CAREGIVING STRENGTHS
If you’re energized by a sense of CASUAL CONNECTEDNESS in your broader community, here are some guiding tips for you:
- Seek a role on the caregiving team that allows you to be among people as much as possible (e.g., take your loved one to appointments, do the grocery shopping, run errands, go for walks together, attend sporting events such as Special Olympics, volunteer to help with a fundraiser)
- Identify people willing to connect spontaneously when you’re feeling isolated, lonely or disconnected
- Listen to talk radio or podcasts if forced to be away from people for long periods of time
- Put yourself in situations where you can interact with people when performing mundane duties (e.g., talk to a friend on speaker phone)
- Complete a task before indulging in pleasures
- Learn to deal with anger constructively and in ways that are pleasing to God
If you are energized by CONNECTING DEEPLY in your close relationships, here are some guiding scriptures and tips for you:
- Serve your family and caregiving team with frequent expressions of love, affection, appreciation and affirmation
- Maintain adequate pacing of rest and refreshment
- Keep fun activities, social dates and respite on the calendar so you can look forward to them on hard days
- Recognize your tendency to fill life with activities that bring attention to you or make you feel valued
- Learn to deal with intense emotions constructively and in ways that are pleasing to God
- Ask questions and learn about what matters to the people you care about
- Ask God to grow your bond with the person who has extra needs
- Develop intimacy with Jesus to meet your deepest needs for love and security
- Learn to experience a tangible sense of God’s nearness though prayer, scripture and worship music when feeling afraid or lonely
The Bible offers our best plumbline and an abundance of help for relationships.
Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other.
Each heart knows its own bitterness, and no one else can fully share its joy.
Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people.
God blesses those who are humble, for they will inherit the whole earth.
And “don’t sin by letting anger control you.”
Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry,
for anger gives a foothold to the devil.
There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
Lord Jesus, You created me for community. Even still, relationships are complicated. I am prone to disappointment when it comes to experiencing satisfying community. Search me and know my anxious thoughts. Just as my body needs food to survive, my soul needs to connect with others in meaningful ways. Lead me to grow in connections that matter from a Kingdom perspective. Help me to be intentional, strategic, humble and prayerful about who I associate with and how I develop deeper relationships. Help me to communicate my needs clearly. Show me how to love and encourage others well. In Jesus’ name, I ask you to provide adequate and satisfying community for me and for my family. We need practical help, a sense of inclusion, emotional support and places of belonging. AMEN
At Walk Right In Ministries, we pay close attention to people’s unique needs and capacities for relationships. We understand how important it is for caregivers and families impacted by special needs to cultivate community that is practically helpful and emotionally satisfying. We look to Christian temperament theology in helping families build their “tribe.” If you would like to explore God’s unique imprint on you and grow in intimacy with Him and others, please reach out.
Lisa Jamieson is a caregiver consultant, pastoral counsellor and author of popular books and Bible studies including Finding Glory in the Thorns and Jesus, Let’s Talk. Lisa and her husband, Larry, live in Minnesota with the youngest of their three grown daughters, Carly, who has Angelman Syndrome. Together, the Jamiesons founded Walk Right In Ministries in 2008, a non-profit organization building faith and community with special needs families. Lisa is the primary contributor on the www.WalkRightIn.org blog sharing practical and spiritual encouragement for parents and other family members caring for children with health and developmental challenges. She also serves on the Key Ministry writing team where she contributes monthly articles for special needs parents and church leaders. Her personal blog www.lisajamieson.org also provides encouragement for people who find themselves in challenging places.