I met the couple in the hallway of the hospital where I had been visiting with the husband's ailing mother. As we visited briefly, he expressed a concern I have heard on many similar occasions. "Pastor, what do you think we should do with my mother?"
This is such an often-asked question that I normally would have responded with the assurance of prayer as they sorted through the decisions facing them. But on this occasion, I was startled not so much by its substance as by the manner and tone in which it was asked. He could well have been asking, "What do you think we should do with our old refrigerator? It doesn't work well, and it's in the way. You know, more of a nuisance than anything else. Got any good ideas? Can't just throw it away. At least, I'd rather not, anyway."
Admittedly, his was a dilemma with which many in our society are struggling. Longer, more healthy living, coupled with the astounding capabilities of modern medicine, has brought our society into uncharted territory. The term "sandwich generation" has now been coined to refer to the growing group of individuals who are simultaneously confronted with the responsibilities of rearing children (and sometimes grandchildren) while also tending to the growing needs of aging parents. What is the answer?
This is not the only problem confronting our society. Many others look similarly upon an unwanted pregnancy as an unnecessary complication. Citing "women's rights" and "freedom of choice" they are in full support of the booming business of abortion. Unfortunately, they most often fail to fully communicate the down-side to this gruesome practice, with the result that there are growing numbers of disillusioned, guilt-ridden, emotionally spent mothers who never allowed their child to see the light of day. Add to that an equally large number of fathers who are moving on with life as they please, a life devoid of any sense of personal responsibility for their actions.
And there is still another issue which is beginning to dominate the news (which, by the way, reports only the tip of the iceberg). Having decided that the unborn are dispensable and wondering if the aged should be disposable, the ultimate conclusion is that no one, at any age, should interfere with our "good times." Now the practice of child abuse, child molestation, and pornography are at all-time highs. In the minds of many, life at every age has lost its value. Other individuals are considered essential only as long as they serve the ultimate goals of the "good life."
Against this dismal and perplexing backdrop, members of God's Kingdom Family assert that all human life (at whatever age or stage) is a gift from God and of transcendent worth…deserving of self-sacrificial love throughout the entirety of their lives. Kingdom Family members are committed to honoring God by respecting human life.
But how does this play out in terms of the choices we must make every day; choices which impact how we respond to our family members, however old or indisposed? How can you give each member of your family, young or old, the attention, love, and respect God says they deserve? What do we do about the out-of-wedlock pregnancy? How can we respond properly to a parent whose physical (and perhaps mental) condition is fragile and in need of almost constant care? What principles should guide our thinking so that we handle life at any age or stage with the respect and love it deserves?
God Values Your Life … Infinitely
"Human life is a gift from God and is of transcendent worth" reads the Kingdom Family commitment. This is an affirmation which flies in the face of much contemporary thinking. Yet it is true! Listen to the words of the psalmist:
For YOU formed my inward parts. YOU wove me in my mother's womb. I will give thanks to YOU for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. (Psalm 139:13-14, emphasis mine)
Since human life is a gift from God and is of transcendent worth, it must be treated as such regardless of one's age or physical condition. To do anything less is to assume a role God has reserved unto Himself as Creator of life. There is not a point at which any human life is, more or less, important to God. Nor should it be to us.
A Living Example
While in college, I had the privilege of conducting a revival in a small town in Southern Arkansas. Prior to the service one evening, the revival team was invited to eat in the home of a faithful church member. I have rarely met such a gracious and genuinely contented woman. Throughout the meal, I was impressed with her joyful attitude and spiritual depth.
After the meal, this lady said, "I'd like to show you a living illustration of God's love." We had no idea anyone else was in this home so we prepared to go outdoors. She indicated that this "living illustration" was in a bedroom in the back of the house so we followed her there. Imagine our surprise when we were led into a room where a grown man was lying in something similar to a baby's bed. He could not communicate with us and, in fact, was unable to do the slightest thing for himself.
As we gazed, speechless, that lady said, "This is my son. He was born and has lived his entire life in this condition. I must tend to every need he has. As you can see, he doesn't have the ability to communicate so he can never tell me what he needs, nor can he express gratitude to me."
As her words and the child's plight began to sink in, she continued, "Many people encouraged me to place him in a state home for children such as this. I don't feel badly toward those who do. I have met some of those parents and feel that for them that is the best decision. But as I prayed, God showed me that He wanted me to keep my son here in my home. Have I questioned God about this? Certainly! Especially, after my husband died. But I must tell you that tending to his needs has been the greatest joy of my life. It has taught me to depend on God as never before. The doctors say that soon my son may die. I'll have no regrets, not even for one minute of the time I've spent with him. And, one day in heaven, we will walk and talk together about all we both experienced during these many wonderful days together."
I have heard similar testimonies from friends who have for years tended to the needs of an ailing spouse, child, or parent. Sometimes, because of the special demands of their situation, they have been in care centers, other times they have been in the home. But the most glowing testimonies come from those who realize as someone said, "Life is not just about me, my joy, my success, my happiness. It is about all of us and the plan God has for our lives!" God knows what's best for each of us individually…and all of us together. Our responsibility is to find God's plan, then lovingly and graciously commit ourselves to it.
At Every Age and Stage of Life
A great deal is being said and written these days about those who are in the latter years of life and the choices facing them and their family members. It has become far too easy for those who are emotionally detached from a situation to simply decide that an individual must not be capable of enjoying the proper quality of life. The nagging concern in the mind of many senior adults, for instance, is expressed in the question, "What will happen to me?" And many confess to the silent fear of being trundled off to a facility designed more for their death than their life. They know how easy it is for those who are out of sight to soon be out of mind.
Kingdom Family members know that God has the answer for this stage of life as well. Whatever the answer, it will be consistent with the persistent care God provides for His children. David's psalm continues to be instructive: Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? (Psalm 139:7). The bottom line for David was the omnipresence of God. He is present wherever we are … caring, loving, and sacrificing.
I have been taken by the thought that, by God's grace, an individual's utility, or usefulness, increases with age right up to the moment God calls us home. Some of the greatest sermons ever preached (and some of the greatest responses ever recorded) have been "preached" by the Spirit of God to family members gathered at the bedside of a dying relative.
My own mother lay comatose in a hospital bed for several weeks before her death. Each of her children has since shared that at some point, when alone with her in that bedside vigil, they made some significant decisions in light of her imminent death; decisions motivated by her love for us and the strength of her character. Her "utility" for God increased right up to the moment of her death.
We Should Care
If usefulness to God is sustained until the moment of our death, then we should care for our family members with that in view. In our church there are a number of families who have children with serious impairments to otherwise normal development. (As a matter of fact, we have a ministry to our local Cerebral Palsy Center.) I never cease to be amazed at the spiritual impact of these family members on their caregivers. One husband and wife, for example, have adopted and are rearing their own granddaughter who, as a "crack baby," was a prime candidate for abortion. Severely impaired at birth and neglected by her own mother, this young girl was destined to spend the balance of her life in an institution. But she was rescued by her grandparents and has, by their testimony, contributed more to them than they ever imagined contributing to her.
Recently, I visited in the home of one of our senior adult couples as they celebrated their sixtieth wedding anniversary. The house was packed with loving church and family members. Long ago, some might have suggested that the bride of sixty years should be placed in a care center. That day might rightly come, in fact. And if it does, the family will proceed with love, attentiveness, care, and dignity. But, for now, the husband and family just "love taking care of Mom." Her husband said to me with tears one day, "I'm enjoying fulfilling this part of my marriage vow."
The Law of the Harvest
It is important to remember that your concern for your family is a model for those who follow you. Your attentiveness, sensitivity, and faithfulness inspire them to the same Godly behavior. As a friend of mine says (somewhat jokingly), "I know that by the way I am tending to the needs of my parents, I am teaching my children how to care for theirs!"
We often refer to Galatians 6:7 as God's affirmation of "The Law of the Harvest." In Oklahoma we say, "What goes 'round, comes 'round." Whatever you call it, I saw it vividly illustrated one summer in, of all places, a worn down nursing home in a small Oklahoma town. I think you'll get the picture and the principle.
I had traveled to the town with a friend who had business there. Since we needed to visit about another issue, I had offered to come along for the ride. After he had completed his task, he asked if I would mind doing just one more thing before returning home.
"You see," he said, "there's a nursing home out here at the edge of town. When I lived here, I used to conduct Bible studies on Sunday afternoons. It was there I met Miss Pansy."
Over the next few minutes he described Miss Pansy as a legend in that small town. An American of African descent, she had woven her way into the heart of virtually every family in town, white or black. It was her constant, loving care coupled with her desire to stay "out of the picture" that had brought her to a position of quiet influence in a predominantly white community. He went on to explain that, whenever a family faced a need, somehow Miss Pansy was there to minister to them. When a death occurred, she would quietly knock on the back door and invite herself in to clean the house. If there was an illness, she would leave a jar of her famous vegetable soup on the back steps. If someone was out of town, she'd weed their garden or feed their pets. No one ever took offense because, well, that was just Miss Pansy's way.
But now Miss Pansy was in a nursing home, and my friend didn't feel he could leave town without stopping by to see what she might need. We parked the car out front, greeted several weary oldsters out front, and made our way into the darkened hallways of the home.
"Miss Pansy?" said my friend, knocking on the door. When there was no answer, he opened the door gently. Through the small opening, I saw a stooped figure in a wheelchair, facing the wall, hands folded in prayer. "Miss Pansy?" my friend said again, only louder.
At his last greeting, Miss Pansy turned her chair around revealing a kind, wizened face crowned with beautiful, snow-white hair. A smile broke across here face. "Why," she said, "Brother John! I was just telling the Lord I had need of seeing you. Lo and behold here you are. Isn't the Lord so good!"
Miss Pansy was reaping in her last days the very same kind of sensitive care and attention she had sown all her life. She had inspired others with the example of her life. Now she was reaping the benefit of that inspiration. It occurred to me that, elsewhere in that nursing home, there were probably people with hardened faces set toward the wall, cursing uncaring children and friends who never called. In truth, they really had no cause for complaint. Perhaps they too were reaping what they had sown … the neglect, the indifference, the unfaithfulness of many years.
The Bottom Line
If you have begun building with the first of the Seven Pillars of God's Kingdom Family by honoring God's authority, then you must erect the second: Respecting Human Life. After all, it is a gift from God and of transcendent worth.
Adapted from Unbreakable: The Seven Pillars of a Kingdom Family by Tom Elliff, published by Broadman & Holman.
Seven Pillars of a Kingdom Family
Honoring God's Authority
(Rom. 12:1-2; 1 Cor. 10:31; Eph. 5:21; 6:1-4)
Respecting Human Life
(Ex. 20:13; Psa. 139:13-16; Prov. 16:31)
Exercising Moral Purity
(Ex. 20:14; Job 31:1; Matt. 5:27-30; 1 Cor. 6:18-19)
Serving My Church
(Matt. 16:18; Eph. 4:11-16; 5:25; Heb. 10:25)
Using Time Wisely
(Deut. 6:6-7; Psa. 90:12; Luke 18:16; Eph. 5:15; 2 Tim. 3:16-17)
Practicing Biblical Stewardship
(Gen. 1:28; Prov. 3:9-10; Mal. 3:8-11; Luke 6:38; 12:48; 1 Cor. 4:2, 16:1-2; 2 Cor. 9:7)
Sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ
(Matt. 28:19-20; John 4:38-39; Acts 1:8; Rom. 1:16; Rev. 22:17)