This is the third article in a series exploring what puts family caregivers in their “sweet spots” when supporting a family member with special needs. Today’s focus is on how caregivers experience refreshment through affirmation, appreciation, respect and a sense of competence.
If you are a caregiver in a family impacted by special needs, you have a full plate! My hunch is that you feel a lot of pressure to juggle quite a few plates, in fact. Some of that pressure comes from the circumstances themselves. And sometimes there is pressure from others. Very often, caregivers experience an inner tension from their own expectations too.
I want to encourage you to have compassion on yourself (1 John 2:1-2). You don’t need to carry the whole load and you don’t need to carry it all perfectly. Sometimes you’ll long for things from others that you legitimately need but they are not capable of providing. You won’t always feel the things you should. Your responses aren’t always healthy or helpful either. You are human. You have weaknesses and you will fall short of God’s standard. That’s why you need Him! In fact, if you do your job too well, your spouse, your children and others may quit looking to Almighty God for their help too. After all, if their needs are getting perfectly met, they won’t think they need anyone else!
Whether or not the people in your world effectively tell you so, you are highly valued. You are an “essential worker.” I recently learned to use that phrase in referring to myself. I am a full-time home care provider for Carly who has Angelman Syndrome. She requires round-the-clock attention that includes developmental support and medical care. In the phases for implementing the Covid-19 vaccinations in my state of Minnesota, I am considered an “essential healthcare provider.” It may seem trivial, but it felt very validating to see myself and my husband acknowledged in that very first category.
Personally, I appreciate knowing my efforts are valued and that my sacrifices are respected. Since Carly is non-verbal, I’m delighted by her hugs and smiles. On some rare occasions, she will even clap in appreciation for a meal I prepared or because she likes how I brushed her teeth. Most of the time, however, the burden for keeping me bolstered with encouragement falls on other family members. For example, Carly has a sleep disorder that is tremendously complicated and resistant to medications. When I’ve been awake throughout a long night with her, it is very helpful to begin the day with affection from my family. I feel so valued when my husband greets me at breakfast with a long, empathetic hug and a simple word of appreciation for the rest I’ve relinquished. It also encourages me when one of my daughters simply asks, “how much sleep did you get last night, mom?” and then responds with “I’m sorry” when she hears it was a long night.
These kinds of things move me toward my “sweet spot” and help me get through an exhausting day.
We may not like to admit how important things like validation, encouragement and feeling appreciated are to us. It doesn’t seem very Christ-like to depend on the affections of others to keep our spirits boosted. But let’s be honest, we all have some degree of need to feel known, understood, respected, affirmed and reassured of our worth.
Our needs are not necessarily unbiblical. God wonderfully and uniquely created each of us with a body, mind and spirit (Psalm 139:13-14). Each of us has strengths (1 Corinthians 12:4) and weaknesses (Romans 3:23). Both are necessary. Our strengths are a gift to others. Our weaknesses keep us humble and dependent on God. They are a way for God to put His own perfection on display (Isaiah 40:29, 2 Corinthians 5:17, 2 Corinthians 12:9, Hebrews 11:34, ).
It is not weakness to need affection. God made us relational beings. The exchange of affection is essential for maintaining satisfactory relationships. The Apostle Paul found great encouragement from others. In Romans 1:12, he wrote, “When we get together, I want to encourage you in your faith, but I also want to be encouraged by yours.” Strong emotional ties are accomplished by sharing feelings of love, appreciation and affirmation. We can learn from the example in the New Testament letters. These apostles not only prayed for God’s people but also told them so through encouraging words (Ephesians 1:15–23, Philippians 1:3–11, 1 Thessalonians 1:3, 2 Timothy 1:3, Philemon 1:4–7, 3 John 2).
What is weakness is relying too heavily on others to keep us feeling affirmed. That weakness can lead us into sin if we start trying to get the need met in ungodly or unhealthy ways. God insists on being our first love. But He doesn’t deny us the exchange of love with others. In fact, he insists on it.
Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.
A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
You don’t need to apologize for needing encouragement. In fact, sometimes you’ll need to be direct with others and ask for it. Don’t expect people to read your mind and intuitively know what bolsters you. Educate your community about what encourages you then leave it to God to shape and refine them. Have compassion when people are slow learners!
The world will always fall short of meeting our needs to feel valued and protected. Loving relationships are a gift from God but they will always leave us incompletely satisfied. Only intimacy with God is completely satisfying. Only Jesus completely understands our longings and will interpret them for us (Romans 8:26-27).
Friend, God’s advocacy for you is without fail (John 14:15-21).
TAP YOUR CAREGIVING STRENGTHS BY KNOWING YOUR TRUE VALUE COMES FROM BEING A CHILD OF THE ONE TRUE GOD
If you’re fueled by receiving affirmation, appreciation and affection…
- Explain your need for more positive feedback to those you are close to
- Spend time with people who are expressive and encourage you toward a godly life
- Acknowledge expressions of love and appreciation from others with words of gratitude
- Remember you are valued by the loved one(s) you serve (even if they don’t express it well)
- Learn not to be jealous of time and attention your deep relationships spend with others
- Recognize when you are feeling rejected and renew your mind with truth about your value as God’s son/daughter
- Cultivate intimacy with Jesus to meet your deepest needs for love and security
Some people are more sensitive than others to feeling like they are being criticized or if their competence feels questioned. Most people will be more sensitive to feeling inadequate or rejected when they are stressed or exhausted too. And since many caregivers experience significant fatigue and pressure, is it any wonder that we can be vulnerable to perceiving disappointment from others even when it isn’t really there?
Here are some tips for those times when you may feel inadequate, incompetent or criticized…
- Get clear information about what is needed and expected of you
- Focus your responsibilities in areas where you feel familiar or confident
- Establish respectful boundaries where you feel pressure to perform outside of your capabilities (consider delegating, ask for time to grow and then learn something new about the care responsibilities)
- Find areas where there is freedom to work at your own pace
- Learn to be more direct in expressing your needs
- Learn to deal constructively with anger
- Develop trust in the Holy Spirit to equip you for every good work and be perfect in your weaknesses
- Learn to trust God with your life and your future to reduce fears of unknown
The Bible offers an abundance of encouragement and reassurance for caregivers. Here are some examples I hope will be of help to you:
Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other.
Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.
Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people.
When doubts filled my mind, your comfort gave me renewed hope and cheer.
May you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.
Lord Jesus, I confess that I am hungry to feel loved. I need reassurances that I am seen, known and valued. Forgive me when I misplace my focus on worldly things and expect too much from others. Above all, I am Your beloved child. I need reminding how much You love me. Thank you for loving me unconditionally to the point of death. I also want to thank you for the gift of my community and loved ones. Help us to love each other well. Show me how to be an encourager and teach me how to humbly receive what others have to offer me. Most of all, I am refreshed and energized to persevere in caring for my loved ones when I trust Your unfailing love for me. Amen
Tell us in the comments what works for you and your family!
Lisa Jamieson is a caregiver consultant, licensed 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.