Facing Eternity – Ready and Willing

Rev. Robert Fleischmann, National Director, Christian Life Resources

Ellen began to experience the slow passing of a generation. Her father died when all three of her children were in high school. It was sudden – a heart attack while he slept. It was hard to believe that 16 years had passed so quickly.

Her mother continued to live in Ellen’s childhood home, the last two years of which were particularly difficult. Mother fell on some ice the previous winter and broke her hip. She could no longer climb the stairs to the familiar master bedroom. The family converted her downstairs dining room into a bedroom and added a handicapped access shower to the powder room on the first floor.

Then Mom started to become forgetful and occasionally disoriented. The doctor suspected a mild stroke. It seemed too dangerous to let her live by herself any longer. Ellen and her husband wrestled with the issue of different living arrangements for Mother. Should they move in with her? Should she live with them? Was an assisted living center or nursing home arrangement a better option?

Willing to Demonstrate Love

The dilemma Ellen faced is not unlike one facing an increasing number of people. With advancements in health care and healthy living and an increasingly-older population, today’s seniors occasionally need help to get through the day. Ellen, however, was unlike most people – she saw this “dilemma” as nothing less than an opportunity to return the love she already knows.

You see, Ellen lived next door to Ann, who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. For more than ten years, while her children were in grade school and just getting into high school, she watched Ann’s husband, Jack, lovingly care for his wife.

Every day Jack would take Ann for a walk. He would run errands and get groceries. He did the laundry and insisted on hanging the clothes out to dry whenever he could because he knew that was what Ann liked.

As her own children grew, Ellen engaged their help in mowing their neighbor’s lawn, shoveling the snow, and bringing treats and an occasional meal to them. Ellen’s daughter got into the habit of stopping by once a week to give a full report on her school activities. It kept Ann connected with the outside world and kept Ellen and her family connected in practicing love.

Ellen’s family didn’t know it at the time but all this was a training exercise for what was to come. When it was time for Ellen to care for her mother she could not imagine it as anything less than an opportunity to demonstrate the love she learned from her neighbor and from God.

Willing to Bear Burdens

Her attitude sharply contrasted with society’s attitude that uses the word “burden” in a derogatory manner to describe the sacrifices people make to care for aging or disabled family members.

Jesus once said that “because of the increase of wickedness the love of most will grow cold” (Matthew 24:12). Today an increasing number of grown children grumble about the changes in their busy lives that take place when caring for aging parents. Conversely, parents do not wish to become “burdens” on their family should the maladies of old age require more attention.

Scripture is far from silent on this point. We are told, “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Timothy 5:8). Where in Scripture does it say it is bad or wrong to be cared for by others when it becomes necessary? Where in Scripture does it say it is worse for us to carry the burdens of others than to be free of burdens?

The reality is that the fabric of the family is strengthened by its ability to carry burdens. Scripture, in fact, calls for us to help those who need help (Matthew 25:35ff). Ellen learned from God and from her neighbor that burden-carrying is a wonderful thing. She had no false illusions that it would always be easy, but she lived the reality that caring for others, and in particular for her mother, was the right thing.

Although society understands the value of life by its productivity, the Christian faces the challenge of caring for life because it is life. Life is a blessing given by God. As a blessing it is entrusted to us as stewards. We watch over it, care for it, protect it, and never forget it comes from God.

Willing to Accept Help

The story of Ellen is also a story of Ellen’s mother. Independence can be difficult to give up. We enjoy doing our own thing. But even as children of God, we are not immune from the daily consequences of a sinful world. Health does diminish, and our freedom and independence erode with time.

For years Ellen’s mother cared for others. She raised a family, doted over grandchildren, and helped in everything at the church. Now she had to learn to be cared for. The transition was not easy. It is especially difficult for a loving and sacrificial parent to be cared for by their children. As parents we see it as “our role” to care, coddle, cuddle, and protect our children. We don’t think of it happening the other way around.

Ellen knew this would be a difficult time. She got her first hint of it a number of years earlier when her father was still alive. Ellen and her husband took her folks to dinner for their wedding anniversary. When it came time to pay for the meal, a small skirmish took place as Ellen’s parents wanted to “help out” with the cost. It was then that it hit her. She experienced what she called “the parenting complex.”

This happens to all parents, and it comes from years of providing loving care. At the time of this dinner celebration, Ellen realized she and her husband were married for more than 20 years, she had raised three children of her own, and worked in a nice paying job. Pretty much an independent person by this time! Yet, to her parents she was still their little girl. To her parents, the thought that someday Ellen might have to wipe their noses or clean their bottoms was unthinkable. Why? Because in our well-meaning practice of parental love we get lost in the illusion that parents only care for their children.

Ellen’s mother learned a valuable lesson – that is, the time may come for children to care for their parents. She had to face the loss of some of her independence. She had to be willing to accept help from someone she once helped. In so doing, she gave Ellen a wonderful blessing with the opportunity to practice what she had learned.

Each of us needs to be ready and willing to care for our loved ones and to be cared for by our loved ones. Yes, there are difficulties and challenges during a Christian’s journey on earth. Yet, as we learn from Scripture, it is that kind of sacrificial love that earns God’s praise and approval.

CLR NOTE: This is the last of a four-part series on end-of-life issues.


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