Even though my mother-in-law is sweet and easy to get along with, I sometimes battle resentment over the circumstances of caregiving: feeling tied down, having strangers coming in my home at irregular times, etc. I’m guest posting today at The Perennial Gen about ways God is helping me deal with caregiver resentment.
If you’ve ever read one of those “Things not to say when someone’s loved one has died” articles, one of the phrases we’re advised not to use is, “They’re in a better place.” Though in the long run that is a comfort, at first it just rubs salt in the wound of their not being here. Another that bothers me is, “They’ll always be with you.” There is a sense in which that is true, and I know what the person is trying to communicate, but inwardly I want to scream, “No, they’re not with me – that’s why I miss them so much!”
When someone expresses loneliness, especially a single person, he or she is likely to be admonished that our relationship with God is sufficient, that we should treasure Him to the point where we are content in Him alone and don’t really need anyone else. But we forget that God Himself said, “It is not good that the man should be alone” and designed us for interaction with others. Yes, sometimes He brings us to a place of loneliness to teach us something or develop something in us, and sometimes the purpose is to draw us closer to Himself. But just as we would acknowledge Joni Eareckson Tada’s 50 years in a wheelchair as a hard thing, even though God has brought immense good out of it, so we should acknowledge the hard places God sometimes brings our loved ones to without being flippant about it.
And, of course, social media abounds with pat answers and knee-jerk reactions, often reflecting a lack of understanding of the bigger scope of the issue.
When someone says they are having a particular problem, our minds tend to race through the applicable spiritual principles or Bible verses we know so we can whip one out and slap it on like a spiritual band-aid. There. Fixed! All better now.
Besides making the person feel worse instead of better, we make them feel like they haven’t been truly heard and like it’s not safe to share what’s really on their hearts.
But aren’t we supposed to help our friends spiritually and turn their focus back to the Lord? Sure. But first we’re to listen. “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (James 1:19). And we’re to empathize. “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15). I’ve heard it said that Job’s three friends did more for him when they sat with him in silence for a week than when they misadvised and misapplied spiritual truth to him for the next several chapters.
Sometimes it’s best in the moment just to say, “That’s hard. I don’t understand it. But I am praying for you.” Or just squeeze the person’s hand or give them a hug. Then, relying on the Holy Spirit’s leading and discerning whether the person would be open to it, we can try to minister to them in other ways. And, true, sometimes we do need to share truth even when the other person isn’t quite ready to hear it, in the hopes that God will use that truth to speak to them. But we need to give careful, prayerful, thoughtful responses and not pat answers.
Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. Galatians 6:2.
A man hath joy by the answer of his mouth: and a word spoken in due season, how good is it! Proverbs 15:23.
Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers. Ephesians 4:29.
Joni Eareckson Tada recently passed the 50 year mark in her wheelchair as a result of a diving accident in her teens. I just cannot imagine – it would definitely take the grace of God to do that. I read a number of articles about this milestone, especially her testimony here, but this one had me thinking for a long while afterward, not just about Joni, but about her helpers.
The article mentions a wake-up crew who helps Joni get out of bed and ready for the day every morning. I can empathize with how hard that would be, even with joyful and willing helpers. We so easily take for granted the ability to use the bathroom on our own or brush our own teeth and hair.
But I thought of these helpers from this angle: many of us aren’t comfortable or don’t feel qualified to be the out-front people. We prefer to be behind the scenes, enabling someone else in their ministry. We can’t have the unique ministry Joni does, but we’d be overjoyed to have a minuscule part in helping her.
But what about those who need that kind of care and don’t have any kind of public ministry? Who don’t speak and seem less and less present every day? Like the thousands of contracted, shriveled, seemingly vacant forms in nursing homes. Like my own mother-in-law.
I’ve written before that I am not a “natural” caregiver like many people I know. I don’t think I could ever have been a nurse. But every angle we have looked at it over the years comes back to the conviction that this is the best place for her at this time (I’ve shared before our journey with my mother-in-law through assisted living, nursing home, and then to our home.) And, like Moses, Gideon, Jeremiah, and others who didn’t feel qualified to do what God was calling them to do, we trust Him for His grace to do it. And He provides, not in one fell swoop of “feeling” qualified, but in the day-by-day ministrations from Him through us.
Sometimes it seems like it’s all for nothing, this trying to encourage food into someone, cleaning up the results of eating, changing position, showering, keeping comfortable, watching out for skin breakage, etc., when there is less and less response or even recognition from the person who sleeps maybe 20-22 hours day for years now, only to do it all again the next day and the next. My aunt called it “the long good-bye.” My husband describes it as watching someone die one brain cell at a time. Sometimes we can’t help but wonder why God still has her here and when He’ll release her from this crumpled, silent body to her new glorious one in heaven.
I’ve shared before what one friend who cared for a mother-in-law with Alzheimer’s said, that sometimes God leaves them here not so much for what He is doing in their lives, but what He is doing through them in ours, showing us our innate selfishness, teaching us to love unconditionally. And I have found that to be true in my own life as well.
As I remind myself of the truths I know, I thought I’d share them with others who are caregivers now or will be someday, who labor behind the scenes, doing the same thing day after day during a long decline. The care you provide is not for nothing, because:
God has made everyone in His image and that imbues them with value.
Jesus said when we minister to others, we minister to Him.
We should treat others as we want to be treated.
“Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.” James 1:27
“God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love, which ye have shewed toward his name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister. Hebrews 6:10
Godly love is about giving and isn’t dependent on what the other can do for us.
“To do good and to communicate forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.” Hebrews. 13:16
“With good will doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men.” Ephesians 6:7
When our children were little, my husband and I often lamented that they wouldn’t remember the youngest stage of their lives and the fun things we did with them, but those years were the foundation of and a major part of the overall relationship. A baby can’t articulate what he needs or thank you for responding to him (at least until he can smile. 🙂 ) But how you care for him matters. He can tell a difference between loving touch and care or harsh treatment. I believe the same is true of the elderly. They may not be able to understand, acknowledge, or define it, but loving care contributes to their overall well-being.
There may be little to no response from the person in our care: some of my friends have even experienced a negative response. There may not be any obvious results from your ministry. But it’s not for nothing. Your loved one or patient would probably tell you how much he or she appreciates your care if they could think right about it and express it. And God knows right where He has you for now and sees your loving care.
I often think, “OK…what exactly does that look like in a ladies’ meeting setting?” Many times the writers say that want Bible studies or opportunities to share that really speak to the core of their Christian walk, where they can share what they’re really struggling with and receive advice and help without being judged. They say they can get craft instruction anywhere; they don’t need it at church. They don’t need scrapbooking or cupcake-making get-togethers. They remind us that every woman is not married or a mother, not every woman is called to be a wife and mother, and we need to minister to the whole spectrum of women represented in our churches, not just wives and mother. They want to discuss and participate in activities to change the world.
And those are all good points.
I’d like to make a few observations.
1. Most women ministry leaders would love to hear suggestions about what ladies would like to do (or they should be. We need to be open to new ideas and not just do the same things we always have). I was a ladies’ ministry coordinator for 9 or so years, and sometimes we’d send out questionnaires to the ladies of the church (to be answered anonymously) asking what they liked, didn’t like, would like us to do. We got very little response from those. A handful of ladies came faithfully; a great many didn’t, and I didn’t know if it was because they didn’t have time, didn’t like what we did, didn’t like us, or what. Plus, sometimes I scrambled for ideas that were new and fresh and that might appeal to a number of ladies. So that kind of feedback would be highly valuable.
2. Make suggestions graciously. Some of these posts have been quite harsh, feeling like a slap across the face or as if the writer is saying, “You’re shallow and I hate everything you do.”
3. Remember different people like different things. If you have two or more people at a church or a meeting, you’re going to have differences of opinion on what and how things should be done. Some women like the fellowship and the crafty things. That doesn’t mean they don’t like Bible study or are shallow. Sure, you can take classes at Michael’s or watch a YouTube video or peruse Pinterest. But often we don’t get to see our friends at church except at church or at these other functions, and it’s fun to get together in that way.
4. Sometimes the crafty things can be a ministry. At one church, we had different ladies share things within their expertise, so it was a way for them to minister when they might not be comfortable leading a Bible study or teaching a lesson. Plus the gathering was not only a basis for forming or growing friendships, it was also a non-threatening venue to invite lost or unchurched friends to. And often at meetings like that, or inbetween meetings like that, we had a woman in the church share her testimony. I remember one in particular in which a woman shared much about her early walk with God and navigating through her young adult years, dating relationships, etc., and was so sad that more of our single young women weren’t there to hear that.
5. It doesn’t have to be either/or. A church or ladies’ group can have informal, fun meetings as well as more serious Bible studies and service projects.
6. Proverbs 31 and Titus 2 do cover more areas than Bible study, though that’s the most important activity. In an era when women might not receive instruction and examples in homemaking as they did years ago, a ladies’ group can help support and instruct along these lines. Most women have a home, whether they have husbands or children, so some of these skills and principles can be helpful to all and can be used to minister to others and glorify God (see Edith Schaeffer’s The Hidden Art of Homemaking.)
7. On the other hand, there is much in those passages applicable to women in any setting regarding character and reaching out to the poor, and much in Proverbs 31 that could be brought out regarding single and working women (business savvy, interacting with merchants, making good quality products, industriousness, dealing with employees, etc.). We do need to make sure every meeting isn’t centered on marriage and motherhood, and, Moms, don’t just call ladies without children only when you need a babysitter.
8. At a time when marriage and motherhood are devalued and under attack, wives and moms need the support, affirmation, and encouragement of the church, and especially other ladies. But we need to remember that single and childless women are under attack in different ways and support, affirm,and encourage them, too. We tend to gravitate towards those in like circumstances and seasons of life, but we can learn from and support each other even when our lives are vastly different. (see When the Message Isn’t For Me.)
9. Deepness can’t be manufactured. Some people, introverts in particular, do like to “go deep,” but would be uncomfortable with a “turn to your neighbor and bare your heart on command” approach. You can have a good Bible study and make every effort for people to feel free to share, but you can’t force it. For some, that inclination will take time to grow; for others, that will only happen with maybe one or two close friends, not in a group setting.
10. Maybe you should go to your church’s ladies’ meetings anyway, even if they’re not exactly what you’d prefer. One of the purposes for almost any ladies’ function is fellowship among the attendees. Maybe a conversation started there will blossom into a warm friendship or an informal mentoring relationship. There’s nothing wrong with formal mentoring, but in my own life, it’s happened informally alongside hospitality and ministry situations. One conversation with an older lady that shaped my thinking about my kids’ teen years took place while we put up a bulletin board in a church hallway. Just being with older women gives you an opportunity to observe, soak up some of their wisdom, and sometimes ask questions.
Something that should have been said first is to pray about it. God knows what kinds of ministries are needed in a given place and the best way to go about them. And consider that if something is on your heat, maybe He is directing you to minister in that way. If you see a need reaching out to the poor, the elderly, single women, etc., perhaps God has brought that to your attention for a reason, either as a function of the ladies’ group or a separate ministry. Though I prefer ladies’ functions when the ladies of the church are all together, there are occasions for a smaller group with a specific focus.
I am at a stage in life when I can’t attend as many of the ladies’ functions as I’d like. With my husband’s mother in our home, I already leave him to take care of her alone most Sunday nights, and I just don’t feel right doing that much more than I already do, plus his work often keeps him from coming home in time for me to go anywhere. I do interact with her caregiver, the hospice nurse, etc., and try to remember to be an encouragement even there. And I admit, it’s cozy staying home on a cold dark night rather than driving a ways and spending an evening elsewhere. But I do strongly believe in women’s ministries and hope to participate in them more in the future. I encourage women to look past their differences and find ways to learn from each other and love each other and encourage each other in the Lord.
I’ve had this draft sitting here since last July, and had jotted some notes and spent a lot of thought on it even before that. I’ve (obviously) had a hard time bringing my thoughts into a cohesive and coherent unit. I thought about calling it form vs. function, or the mechanics of ministry, or using artificial means to accomplish spiritual ends. Finally what seemed most apt was manufactured spirituality.
I see this on three different levels:
1. To try to be more self-disciplined, we establish habits to aid in godliness, like regular times of reading the Bible or prayer, church attendance, etc. And that’s a good thing. But we all know what it is to have days when we’re just going through the motions, when our eyes are dragging across the page and we check “Have devotions” off your list of things to do for the day but haven’t really engaged with the text or been affected spiritually. Or we “feel spiritual” if we’ve crossed that duty off or don’t “feel spiritual” if we haven’t.
2. To try to minister more effectively as a church, we set up various programs or committees. But sometimes our routines and programs not only don’t accomplish the ministry for which they are intended, they can even hinder them. For instance, we’d all agree it’s a good thing for church members to greet visitors. But once when we were visiting a new church, no one spoke to us or even looked at us the whole time we were there – except at the hand-shaking time built into the service.They had squeezed all their greeting into that few moments, leaving visitors feeling awkward and not really greeted at all.
We can fall into the trap of thinking that when we show up for church visitation, then we’ve gotten our witnessing obligation in for the week, or because we have official greeters at church, none of the rest of us needs to greet new people, or because there is a committee to take care of x, y, or z, we don’t have to be involved.
3. We try to force results. For instance, we can feel that small groups would be good for the congregation to get to know one another better, and they work best if everyone participates. So we “make” the quiet person participate by putting undue pressure on them to say something, calling them out and putting them on the spot. Then we feel self-satisfied that the group went quite well today because everyone spoke, when we left the quiet person miserable and determined not to come back. Or, as happened to us once in a new church, whatever the pastor was talking about (I’ve forgotten now), at the end he asked everyone to break into family groups and discuss and pray right then and there about how to implement what he preached on. That seemed to my husband and me like forcing the issue or “making” people respond instead of letting God use His Word to convict and change. Another example: we want people to “go deep” in their conversations and relationships, so we have “turn to your neighbor and bare your heart on command” sessions instead of letting those opportunities arise in a more natural way. We’ve known people who made a profession of faith after a zealous Christian buttonholed them and would not back off until the person responded, yet there was no life change, no interest in the Lord afterward. By contrast, Jesus let people walk away sometimes.
Setting up good habits and routines and even programs can greatly aid us in our walk with God. But we have to keep in mind what they are for and not get lost in them for their own sake.
A book I read recently about getting more from our reading of God’s Word emphasized applying what we learn. That’s a good thing: we’re told to be doers of the Word, not just hearers. But his illustration went something like this: we need to apply God’s Word in measurable ways, not vague ones. So if, say, we come to a passage about prayer, instead of saying to ourselves, “We really should pray more,” according to this book, we should instead make plans to pray six minutes every day. As if God cared how many minutes we pray. The better approach, in my opinion, would be to stop and think about what I could and should be praying for. That in itself would generate a longer prayer list than I could probably keep up with (some people divide their prayer lists into categories over several days). Then the next step would be to study the prayers in the Bible, particularly in the epistles. Paul’s prayers in Philippians 1, Ephesians 1 and 3, and Colossians 1 are wonderful examples. Granted, that author probably intended that, if a person planned to pray six minutes and ran out of things to pray in three, that would lead him to these other ways of expanding his prayer life. But the emphasis on “measurable results” can lead to outward exercises without always the accompanying inward change. Similarly, if I read a passage and am convicted about needing to be more loving and less selfish, it might help to think of specific ways in which I need to do those things. But it would be wrong to check those off my list at the end of the day and think, “There! Done! Good work!” Sometimes instead I need to carry those thoughts with me all throughout the day and apply them in ways I couldn’t know I would need to when I first read them.
Years ago we were visiting my in-laws, and a couple of ladies from the church came by to visit my husband’s mother. I think it may have been her birthday, or maybe they were just visiting her as an “older” church member, but they brought a small plant, and, I believe, a card. She tended to be profuse in her thanks, and perhaps to counteract that a bit after she thanked them several times, one of them responded, “Well, you were on our list.” Wow, what a way to deflate any good feelings about someone coming to visit. She never said anything about it after they left, but it would have been understandable if she had thought, “They don’t really care: they just came because I was on ‘a list’ to visit.”
Our ministry isn’t boxed into a particular time, place, or group of people. Our programs don’t take care of all of our obligations. There is a sense in which we should always be “on,” always at the ready to serve. Even if there are official greeters at church, we can greet people when we see them or help a confused visitor find the right place. Even if there is someone designated to send cards to sick Sunday School class members, we can send one, too. If God has placed on our hearts that we need to help someone else in the church, we need to pray about how to do that rather than just dismissing it because our church has a benevolence committee to take care of those things. If there is trash on the floor, we can pick it up instead of thinking, “There is a custodian for that.”
On the other hand, I’ve known women who felt terrible for not “serving” in church when their whole lives were ministering in “unofficial” ways. One lady would often apologize for not being more involved in our ladies’ group, but she lived next to and helped her elderly mother, cared for a disabled son, was the go-to baby-sitter for the rest of the family. She sang in the choir and took an interest in people, yet felt she wasn’t really being used of the Lord because she couldn’t plug into some of the ministries. Another had to step down from a position for which she was uniquely qualified, and I watched and was blessed as she found various other ways to minister: greeting newcomers, inviting ladies over for lunch, and other ways that didn’t fit in with any particular official ministry in the church, but ministered very well to the people involved.
Habits, routines, programs help greatly in organizing a ministry, and we need to use whatever systems are set up (reporting a plumbing problem to whoever is in charge, signing up for taking a meal to someone so she doesn’t receive two or three in one night or receive something she’s allergic to, etc.). And sometimes we do need those systems and routines because we don’t always “feel like” doing what we need to. A former pastor once said that the best time of prayer he ever has was when he didn’t feel like praying and had to confess that to the Lord right off the bat. Sometimes just doing what we should whether we feel like it or not is the first step to feeling like it.
But we should seek God’s grace to serve not just out of duty, and not to check off all the designated boxes, but with a right heart. The mechanics of ministry and spiritual disciplines are tools, but not the main focus, not the end-all of our efforts. Routines, habits, programs are an avenue of ministry, not an end in themselves, and ministry doesn’t take place only within those parameters. On the other hand, sometimes we can perfectly follow all of our routines, and our programs can seem to be going swimmingly, but we’re unaware that we’re missing something vital.
The simplicity which is in Christ is rarely found among us. In its stead are programs, methods, organizations and a world of nervous activities which occupy time and attention but can never satisfy the longing of the heart. The shallowness of our inner experience, the hollowness of our worship and that servile imitation of the world which marks our promotional methods all testify that we, in this day, know God only imperfectly, and the peace of God scarcely at all. If we would find God amid all the religious externals, we must first determine to find Him, and then proceed in the way of simplicity. Now, as always, God discovers Himself to “babes” and hides Himself in thick darkness. ~ A. W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God
God created whole systems of programs and routines for Israel in the Old Testament. But there were times He told them He hated their sacrifices and feasts – the very sacrifices and feasts He had commanded them (here, here, and here, for a few). Why? Sometimes because they harbored sin in their hearts even while performing their religious duties outwardly. Sometimes because they missed the main point, like those who kept the systematic observations but failed to minister on a personal level, or like Pharisees whose religious zeal was wrapped up in keeping not just God’s law, but their additions to it. God said to them through Hosea, “For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings” (6:6). We’re no longer under those systems, but in the same way I think He would want us to implement whatever habits, routines, systems, or programs are helpful, yet not get lost or fixated on them for their own sake, and to keep in mind that the main point is to know Him and make Him known and minister to others in their need in His Name and by the power of the Holy Spirit.
And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. John 17:3
Not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart. Ephesians 6:6
One of the things that stood out to me in Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain was just how much society is set up for the extrovert, from schools to businesses. I don’t know if she mentioned assisted living facilities or nursing homes, but I found that they, too, were developed primarily with extroverts in mind.
Most activities at the facilities my mother-in-law has been in involved trying to get everyone together in the common room for some event or performer. We’d get a calendar of events every month, filled with exercise classes, bingo, craft times, magicians, movie nights, and various groups coming to sing. I’m sure many of the residents loved a lot of those opportunities.
My mother-in-law was always content with a small circle of friends. She never drove. Her husband got groceries and ran most errands. She enjoyed going to church and helping with Awanas there until she couldn’t hear well enough to continue. A big portion of her dislike of getting together in large groups had to do with her hearing. She has worn hearing aids in all the nearly 40 years I have known her, and she told me once that in crowds, the aids magnified everything, so it was not only hard to pick out the voice of the person you were talking to, but it was unnerving that everything was so loud (they may have improved on that aspect now – I’m not sure). But even besides the hearing issues, she preferred home to just about anywhere else. They loved to go visit family or a handful of close friends, or go and get wood in the hills for their wood stove. She didn’t have many hobbies besides reading, her favorite activity when her work was done. She and her husband loved to watch the Atlanta Braves baseball games together and tinker in their garden or around the house.
One of our reasons (not the main one) for having her in assisted living rather than in our home was so that her world wouldn’t be reduced to just us. But when any of the aides asked if she’d like to come for whatever was going on down in the common room, she’d politely say no, she’d like to just stay in her room and read her book. Occasionally they could get her to if they didn’t ask, “Would you like to…” but rather just said, “It’s time for…” If they started helping her out the door for something that she seemed to be expected to do, she wouldn’t protest, though she didn’t like it (you do have to be careful of that kind of thing, though, so that you’re not running roughshod over their wishes). But once when I walked in and she was out with the others listening to a church group, she couldn’t understand what they said when they were talking, but she could get enough of the melody of old familiar hymns that she could sing along.
Once when I was trying to encourage her to participate more and telling her it would be good to get out of her room sometimes, she said, ” I DO get out of my room three times a day for meals!” Residents had to go to the common room for meals and sit at a table with two or three others (unless they were sick, and then a tray was taken to their room). And I thought, that’s true, and that’s quite a lot of social interaction compared to her life before assisted living. So I didn’t urge her that way any more.
She enjoyed coming with us to my son’s basketball games and to our home and church. We would take her out to eat with us sometimes, and I could tell she was tense and not entirely comfortable, but as long as we ordered for her (so she wouldn’t have to) and stayed close, she was fine.
Now, of course, with her decline over the years, her lack of mobility and speaking, about the only place she goes is outside occasionally in her wheelchair.
I know it was more cost effective and needed fewer workers to do things as a group rather than have one-on-one activities. There were just a few individual activities they did that worked well. A couple of the places would bring in therapy dogs and take them to individual rooms for residents to pet and interact with for a short time. She always had pets until assisted living, so I think she enjoyed that. One activity director would come to her room and paint her fingernails. I don’t think she ever painted her fingernails in her life before that, so I never knew quite what she thought about that one. But at least it was one-on-one.
My husband and I often thought that someone could make a business out of being a personal trainer in those kinds of facilities. My mother-in-law was under a physical therapist’s care at different times, but eventually their time with a patient comes to an end, and they leave them with a list of exercises. My mother-in-law never did the exercises on her own and didn’t want to go down to the group exercise classes, but she would work with the physical therapist (as she declined, she needed my husband to be there for the first few sessions so they could learn to communicate with each other. He was from Croatia, and she couldn’t understand him, so he thought she was just being uncooperative, and she didn’t really care if he came back or not. But after just a few visits with my husband there to interpret for her and urge her on, and showing the therapist how to communicate with her, they got along quite well.) We didn’t want our own visits with her to be all about exercising, so it would have been nice if there was someone on staff, or even someone who worked with different facilities, to come in and help people with their exercises.
One lady who used to visit my mother-in-law used to read and discuss with her parts of the Reader’s Digest, her favorite magazine. Nowadays, visitors often read a part of the Bible to her, valuable since she can’t read for herself any more (it’s important to remember if you are reading to someone with hearing problems that you stand or sit where they can see you clearly and speak loudly). Other one-on-one activities that we’ve done and others could do are taking her outside (one facility had a lovely screened in porch) for a change of venue, looking through pictures or photo albums with her (people love to talk about their families), or show her things on the computer. Sometimes when we had her over for a meal, my husband would show her some of the family members’ Facebook pages, or use Google Earth to see some of the places where they used to live. We talked some about her life before I knew her (I discovered she had been the editor of her high school newspaper!), but I wish I had done that more and then written it down. I also wish I had come up with some bit of interesting news or information to share with her. Often our conversations would start out with, “Well, what’s new?” And I’d reply, “Well, not much.” When you visit someone almost every day there is really not much new every visit. I did share family and church news and sometimes current events, but I wish on those days when I didn’t have anything new to share that I had taken the time to look up or come up with something she’d find interesting. I also wish I had put some of her old photos in a scrapbook with her, not just for the activity, but to hear more about the people in them.
Although my mother-in-law would not have had the dexterity or interest in these, some might enjoy games or puzzles (although she did enjoy Scrabble sometimes at our home. We had to take it very slowly and she’d argue with us about words like “qi” and “xi.” 🙂 ). Some might even enjoy some of the group activities if they have a companion they know to go with them, at least the first few times.
The biggest help, though, both in any facility or in our home now, is just visiting with her personally. At different times over the years different individuals from our church would take it upon themselves to just go see her. Sometimes different groups within the church or community would make something for residents and bring it to their rooms, and that was nice, but really, the main help was just a short time of personal conversation and interaction.
When I was in college, one of the ministry groups I participated in for a couple of years was a “foster grandparent” program. There were other groups from college who would do Sunday morning and week night services at a nursing home, but our group would ask for names of residents who didn’t get as many visitors, and we would each choose two and then spend Friday nights visiting those two, just to talk and get to know them. I still have fond memories of “my ladies.”
Of course, staff members do not have time to do all of these things, and some are best done by family. But for those like the activities director who only painted fingernails, ministry groups, and individual visitors, these are a few ideas of things to do with one older person rather than a group activity.
Social interaction is important to every person, but introverts prize it on a smaller and more infrequent scale, with one or two people and quieter activities. That may be a little more time- and labor-intensive than group activities, but it can be highly valuable for both sides.
For more in the Adventure in Eldercare series, click the graphic below.
(Sharing with Inspire Me Mondays)
Some years ago it was all the rage to do spiritual gift tests. Spiritual gifts are those particular abilities that the Holy Spirit gives people when they are saved by which He wants to work through them to edify the body of Christ. You can find lists of them in Romans 12:6-8; 1 Corinthians 12:8-10, 28-30; Ephesians 4:11; 1 Peter 4:9-11. They have been taught about in almost every church we have been a part of, and in two churches we actually did the test during a church service, with one of them having a subsequent series about them.
The idea was to help people identify their spiritual gifts so they’d know how they best fit into the ministry of the church and not waste their time frustrated and ineffective in an area where they’re not gifted. And that can be helpful. When I first started going to church regularly as a teenager and then was recruited for various ministries, it seemed like a young woman was just naturally gifted for working with children, right? I was usually asked to assist and then later to teach in the nursery, Sunday School, children’s church, Awanas, etc. I could do it, I learned from it, I hope God used me in it, but it wasn’t until I was asked to take on a more administrative role that I felt I had found my niche and just sank into it with a delight and joy I hadn’t previously found in ministry. As other opportunities have opened up over the years I’ve had a similar response in a few different areas.
I think that might actually be the better way to discern one’s spiritual giftings: trying different ministries to see which one “fits.” The tests can help to a degree, but sometimes they’re more like personality tests; sometimes their definitions can differ from one another and/or from my understanding of what a particular gift entails. Sometimes the particular ministry I am in hasn’t really fit in any category I’ve seen on a test.
Another fault with the tests and perhaps too much of a focus on what *my* gifts are is the “That’s not my job” syndrome. I don’t have the gift of evangelism, so I don’t have to do that, right? No, we’re all supposed to be a witness for Christ in some way within our sphere of influence, though there are some who are especially gifted in that way. It’s the same with giving, showing mercy, extending hospitality, helping others, and many of the other spiritual gifts.
And then sometimes God drops us into a situation that we don’t feel gifted for at all: in fact, we feel totally inadequate. Moses, Gideon, Jeremiah, Jonah, and others didn’t greet God’s call on their lives the the attitude, “Sounds great! That’s just the kind of opportunity I was looking for!”
That’s where I am with caregiving. Someone I knew said of their daughter, who was training to be a nurse, that she was a “natural caregiver.” Another friend who is a nurse spoke of loving to use the talents God had given her to minister to people in that way – another natural caregiver. That’s not me. I want people to be cared for, particularly my mother-in-law. But I have never been good with or felt inclined to the hands-on type of caregiving she is in need of now, except with my own children.
Yet here we are. Do I tell God, “There must be some mistake here. Not only am I not gifted for this, but it’s keeping me from what I feel I am gifted for.” Probably not a good idea.
I was convicted by this sentence as well as other truths in the True Woman blog post “Serving in Church: When Your Spiritual Gift Isn’t Changing Diapers“: “This doesn’t mean my gifts aren’t important. What it means is that “sometimes the need for a servant is greater than my need to use a specific gift.” And from another article on the same web site, What About Your Desire to Do Something Great For God?: “When the desire to do for God supersedes the desire to obey God, it reveals that God is no longer the source of joy. A heart delighted in God desires to obey Him. A heart delighted in self desires to see what self can accomplish. A person delighted in God doesn’t care so much how God uses her, but rather that she is useful to God, the object of her delight. A person delighted in self cares deeply about how God uses her, because seeing the self she loves underused causes grief.”
Though we need to rely on God’s help, grace, and strength even for those areas where we feel He has gifted us, there’s nothing like being totally out of our element to make us lean on Him and plea for His enabling like never before. And though the main point of caregiving isn’t about me, but rather about showing love and ministering to my mother-in-law, perhaps one reason He has allowed this opportunity is to teach me lessons about my own selfishness as well as serving and loving others in the way they most need it, not in the way I am “comfortable” showing it.
Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many. Matthew 20:28
One of the first things I learned about caring for my mother-in-law was that I could not do it in my own strength. There are some Bible verses that I go to again and again. I thought I’d jot them down here both for my own remembrance and also for other caregivers. Of course, none of the lists is exhaustive, and I will probably add to them as I discover more.
The need to care for aging parents:
- Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee. Exodus 20:12
- And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, “Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban”’ (that is, given to God)— then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.” Mark 7:9-13, ESV
- But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. 1 Timothy 5:8, ESV
- If any man or woman that believeth have widows, let them relieve them, and let not the church be charged; that it may relieve them that are widows indeed. 1 Timothy 5:16
- Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets. Matthew 7:12
- As I have said before, this doesn’t mean that every Christian must care for elderly loved ones in their own homes, but they must see that they are well cared for.
The need to care for widows:
- Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world. James 1:27
- Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he was come from God, and went to God; He riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel, and girded himself. After that he poureth water into a bason, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded…If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you. John 13:3-5, 14-15
- Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many. Matthew 20:28
- For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in; naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. Matthew 25:35-36, 40
- Whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant: Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many. Matthew 20:26b-28
- Now we exhort you, brethren…comfort the feebleminded, support the weak, be patient toward all. I Thessalonians 5:14
- Whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water only in the name of a disciple, verily I say unto you, he shall in no wise lose his reward. Matthew. 10:42
- To do good and to communicate forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased. Hebrews. 13:16
- God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love, which ye have shewed toward his name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister. Hebrews. 6:10
- With good will doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men. Ephesians 6:7
- Well reported of for good works; if she have brought up children, if she have lodged strangers, if she have washed the saints’ feet, if she have relieved the afflicted, if she have diligently followed every good work. I Timothy 5:10
- Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ. Galatians 6:2
- A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. John 13:34
- This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. John 15:12-13
- And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us. Romans 5:5
- For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: And that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again. 2 Corinthians 5:14-15
- And I will very gladly spend and be spent for you; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I be loved. 2 Corinthians 12:15
- With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love. Ephesians 4:2
- In speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe. 1 Timothy 4:12, NASB
- And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savour. Ephesians 5:2
- May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ.
2 Thessalonians 3:5, ESV
- May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you. 1 Thessalonians 3:12
- Ye yourselves are taught of God to love one another. 1 Thessalonians 4:9
- Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently. 1 Peter 1:22
- Finally, be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous. 1 Peter 3:8
- Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins. 1 Peter 4:8
- If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 1 Corinthians 13:1-7, ESV
- Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another. No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us. 1 John 4:7-12
- And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him. 1 John 4:16
- Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord. 1 Corinthians 15:58
- We glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope: And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us. Romans 5:3b-5
- And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not. Galatians 6:9
- God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love, which ye have shewed toward his name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister. Hebrews. 6:10
Source of Strength:
- He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increaseth strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall: But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint. Isaiah 41:29-31
- Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness. Isaiah 41:10
- As thy days, so shall thy strength be. Deuteronomy 33:25
- The joy of the LORD is your strength. Nehemiah 8:10b
- But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Matthew 6:33
- The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusted in him, and I am helped: therefore my heart greatly rejoiceth; and with my song will I praise him. Psalm 28:7
- I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me. Philippians 4:13
- Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. John 15:4-5
- He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things? Romans 8:32
- Therefore seeing we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we faint not. 2 Corinthians 4:1
- And God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work. 2 Corinthians 9:8
- But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. Galatians 5:22-23
- But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:19
- Strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness. Colossians 1:11
- But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us. 2 Corinthians 4:7
- And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong. 2 Corinthians 12:9-10
I probably should have a section about selfishness, because that is what I wrestle with the most. But a lot of verses under Service and Love deal with that.
Linda has a different list here. Our lists overlap a bit, but her situation is different in that her mother has Alzheimer’s and can be verbally abusive sometimes, and some of her verses deal with handling that.
I hope these are as helpful to you as they are to me. Do you have particular verses that help you in loving and ministering to others?
For more about caregiving, see:
Last week when I mentioned the blessing of having a chunk of uninterrupted time in which to work on our church ladies’ booklet, someone asked in the comments what kinds of things I include in it. As I started answering and my answer became longer than I intended, I thought maybe I’d expand it into a blog post. I’m always a little wary of doing things like this – I know Scripture says we’re not to make a “show” of what we do for the Lord. But I enjoy seeing and reading about other people’s ministries, and I don’t ever suspect them of having wrong motives in sharing it. So I mean this in the same vein.
The booklets in each of those places has been slightly different. The one at my mother-in-law’s church dealt mainly with group news and activities, with a few inspirational poems or paragraphs here and there. These days with e-mail notifications that can get to everyone so easily and explain details fully and in a timely manner, there is less need of “group news” in a booklet or newsletter that only comes out once a month. But sometimes it’s good for that kind of thing. They also included recipes, tips, birthdays, anniversaries, and even a “classified” section for selling or seeking items. I’ve been hesitant to include birthdays and anniversaries in our current booklet for fear of hurting someone’s feelings by accidentally leaving them out. But if you have a way to keep on top of that, especially with new people coming in, that could work well.
I’ve written here before of how missionary biographies have blessed me. One former church whose ladies’ group had officers had a lending library for the ladies’ group, and the librarian used to tell about one or two of the books each month. So I incorporated that idea into the ladies’ booklets I have done, and each month have either a brief biographical overview of a missionary’s life or an excerpt or scene from their lives. I call that section “Those Who Have Gone Before.” I used some of those for the 31 Days of Missionary Stories and 31 Days of Inspirational Biography here on the blog.
In one of our ladies meetings at our church in SC, we had an open discussion about spending time in God’s Word. The fact that we all had various struggles with doing so – either making the time, or avoiding distractions, or getting into a rut, or engaging with the text vs. just running our eyes over the page, etc. – led me to start a column in the booklet called “Women of the Word.” Sometimes it’s encouragement in one of those areas, sometimes it’s a devotional or a result of my own Bible study, sometimes it’s an excerpt from a book or blog post along those lines. I’ve kept this and the “Those Who Have Gone Before” column in the booklet for our church here in TN as well.
After a few years of doing this in SC, I began to think we could use some encouragement along Titus 2 lines about our roles, responsibilities, and character as Christian women, so I started a column called “Christian Womanhood.” Some of the columns there dealt with marriage, motherhood, homemaking, etc. I haven’t kept that as a regular column in the TN booklet, but I do include some articles along those lines as I have space and feel led.
A big section of the SC booklets were correspondence. Our group sent out care packages for many years to missionaries (before it got too expensive to be feasible) and college students from our church, and we put the thank you notes we received from them in the booklet so that all the ladies could see them. The ladies group here doesn’t send out packages, so we don’t have that correspondence.
In SC I was asked/strongly urged to include a “helpful hints” section. I tried to get the ladies to contribute to this, but with little response (I think we all felt like we needed tips more than we felt we had any to share), so after I exhausted my own small repertoire, I had to go searching for that kind of thing in other newsletters, books, etc. Nowadays with Pinterest and Google, that kind of thing is so easily accessible that I only rarely include anything along those lines in the current booklet I do.
Usually on the first page I include a poem or quote about the season, the month, or an upcoming holiday…though I don’t usually have this much clip art. 🙂
When I started doing the TN booklet, we had a “question of the month” that I would ask in one booklet, and then ladies e-mailed me their answers throughout the month, and I compiled them in the next month’s booklet and then asked a new question. Some of the questions used were, “What’s your favorite household tip?”, “What characteristic did you most appreciate about your mother?” (in connection with Mother’s Day), favorite Christmas ornament, fall tradition, something bad in your life that God used for good, openings you’ve found helpful in witnessing, etc. I really enjoyed getting to know the other ladies better in this way, but after a while, the response petered out, so I discontinued it.
At the request of our pastor’s wife here, we included a section where we “interviewed” one or two ladies a month. I sent out a questionnaire asking about were they grew up, how they came to TN, how they came to know the Lord, where they went to school and what they studied, how they met their husband (if married), their children’s names and ages (if they have any), and then some fun questions, like their ideal vacation or day off, favorite restaurant meal, etc. This was originally designed to introduce new ladies to the group, but after a while we decided to include all the ladies, because of course the new ladies don’t know these things about the rest of us – and we don’t even know them about each other. This has been one of my favorite sections of the booklet.
I also started out trying to include a similar questionnaire about the wives of missionaries we support, but only a half dozen or so responded. I am assuming they were just too busy, understandably, or perhaps they were wary of sharing information with someone they didn’t know, though I tried to reference our church and pastor’s name. One year I emailed them about how Christmas was celebrated in their area, and we got quite a bit of response to that. That was fun to put together. I try to periodically put something in as a reminder to pray for them.
And lastly, I include a page of humorous items. Because what’s life without humor. “A merry heart doeth good like a medicine,” after all (Proverbs 17:22).
I “fill in” the empty spaces with poems or quotes. I have been collecting poems, quotes, jokes, anecdotes, etc., on all these subjects, ever since I started the first booklet, so I’ve got tons of files now. One of my biggest challenges is trying to keep track of what I have used before so I don’t repeat myself
Since I did the booklet for ten years in SC and have had a blog for almost ten years, naturally I draw on a lot of that material for the booklet I do now in TN. But I do edit, update, or revise it as needed. And sometimes I do write something totally new for this booklet – which usually eventually shows up in the blog. 🙂 Sometimes I end up compiling things I have read in books rather than writing anything of my own. I do try to pray before starting each month for the Lord’s guidance and direction in what to include and how to say it.
I use Microsoft Publisher to do these because the screen is laid out like the finished book will be. I do it in what they call the 1/2-letter size, meaning one sheet of computer paper, in landscape or sideways position, is 4 pages in the booklet, so your number of pages will be in multiples of 4. The finished booklet is 8 1/2″ by 5 1/2″. That seemed best to me so it could be easily tucked in one’s Bible, though I have seen other newsletters on 8 1/2 by 11″ sheets stapled at the left corner. I also like that with Publisher I can put a text box or photo box wherever I want them and move them around at will without having to figure out how to “wrap” the text around it. Before I started using Publisher, I used Microsoft Works (way back when!), but I had to print out each section and literally cut and paste the paper sections where each should go and then copy and paste the text on the computer so it all worked out right. Very tedious. Thankfully my oldest son had a copy of Publisher from the church because he did the youth group’s web site at the time, so I could also use it for the booklet. Years later either he or my husband bought me my very own updated copy of Publisher. You could probably also do this in a PDF file – I’ve just figured out how to convert my Publisher file to a PDF but otherwise I have no experience with PDFs. The ladies’ booklet at my m-i-l’s church was 8 pages; the one at my SC church could run from 12-20 depending on what all I included. The one I do now I keep to 12 pages.
I used to do the cover of the booklet with decorative computer paper from one of the office stores until the numbers we were printing exceeded the number of papers in the package. Then I started using frames, borders, and clip art included in Publisher. Then I expanded by finding free clip art online. I had a few CDs of clip art but some were hard to use.
Lately, though, I’ve switched to a full page picture – I think it looks a bit more contemporary. I usually search online for free wallpaper pertaining to the season or holiday of the upcoming month – wallpaper because it’s a bigger photo, and stretching a small photo to try to fit the page doesn’t always work. I always have to crop the bigger photo to fit, but that works out better than stretching a smaller one.
So….I think that is probably much more than you ever wanted to know about our ladies’ booklets. 🙂 I very much enjoy doing it. Sometimes I wonder how in the word l I ever got the privilege to do so or why anyone would read anything I have to say. 🙂 The couple of years in between leaving SC and getting settled here in TN when I wasn’t writing or compiling one, it was nice in a way not to have to think about it, but I sorely missed it as well, and I was very glad to be asked to do it again.
If you are interested in starting something like this for the ladies at your church, I think the first step would be to talk with the coordinator of your ladies’ group, if your church has one, and your pastor, about what you’d like to include, the format you’d like, etc. At our former church, there was a printer which would fold and staple the booklets, but we had to be selective in how much color we used. At our current church, a printer is used and there is no restriction about color (I’ve asked several times, especially when switching to a full page color cover), but we have to fold and staple them manually. You’ll have to work out the logistics of whether your church can print these. I have no idea about how much it would cost to take them to Office Max or Kinko’s or some place like that, but if your church doesn’t have a printer or copier that can print something like this, and you have money in your budget to take them somewhere to print, that might be an option.
To sum up the types of things you could possibly include:
Biographies of Christians “gone before”
Birthdays and anniversaries
“Interviews” or “Getting to know you” section
Depending on how big you want the booklet to be, you probably can’t use all of these, and you may change along the way as you see what works, what people have interest in, etc.
There used to be a site online that had missionary biographies that could be printed out as bulletin inserts that I used sometimes for the missionary biography section, but the url I have for those does not work any more. I found the text of a couple of them at christianity.com, like this one on Ida Scudder and this one on Anne Bradstreet (not a missionary, but a believer of note).
One word of caution: just because something is online doesn’t mean it’s free to copy. If it doesn’t specifically say you can use it, it’s best to ask. I’ve never had anyone tell me no when I have asked if I could use something online for a church ladies’ newsletter. And of course always attribute anything like that to its source.
We’ve always made these books available and about all the ladies of the church, not just whatever group meets together. But your ladies’ group will probably be reflected in your booklet. For instance, the ladies’ group of our former church was much more focused on our missionaries than the group in our current church (not that the church neglects our missionaries – our news of and ministry to them is just handled in a different way), so that emphasis showed up in the booklet. Of the ladies’ groups in the various churches I have been a part of, some are very seriously “all business,” some are more casual and social, so that will be reflected in your booklet as well. You might have various people contribute to various sections: I think the lady who took over this booklet from our former church after I left does that. Personally I find it easier to compile it myself – the times I’ve had others doing parts of it, there was some tension with getting things back in time, etc. I’m not opposed to making it a group effort rather than a personal one, but so far it has just worked out the way it has. We do have some group contribution through the questionnaires and used to through the “question of the month” section. I would be wary of making it an “open mic” kind of set-up, because you have people at various stages of Christian maturity in any group, and it might cause hurt feelings or worse to have to tell someone why you can’t use what they contributed or why you have to correct it.
I’d love to know if your church ladies’ group does any kind of newsletter, what you include, what programs you use, etc.
Sharing With Literacy Musing Mondays.
Younger and older women alike sometimes look at Titus 2:3-5 with varying degrees of emotion and sometimes more questions than answers:
3 The aged women likewise, that they be in behaviour as becometh holiness, not false accusers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things;
4 That they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children,
5 To be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed.
First of all, how old is “aged?” The ESV graciously says “older” instead. Sometimes women resist the admonition in these verses because they don’t want to admit to being an “older” woman (although I’ve often said we’re all older than somebody.) But being now on the far side of my 50s, yes, I have to admit I am probably getting there.
The second questions that comes to my mind is “How am I supposed to go about this teaching?” I don’t think the text means that older women are supposed to buttonhole younger women and lecture them. That would not go over very well at all!
I shared in a post on mentoring women that Paul probably did not have in mind classes or retreats when he wrote this. I don’t know if they had such things (as we think of them) then. We do have them these days, and they can be a great blessing. Even still, there would only be a small number of older women in an “official” teaching capacity. Are the rest of us off the hook? I don’t think so. I also mentioned there that some churches have formed one-on-one mentoring programs, or some women have specifically asked an older woman to meet with them regularly. For me personally, the best teaching I received from older women wasn’t necessarily done deliberately. As a Christian teenager from a non-Christian home, I mostly went to church alone unless I took my younger siblings. Another family in my church invited me over regularly, and God used them greatly in my life to show me how a Christian home operates. The wife, in particular, was a lovely example to me in every way: her relationship with her husband and children, her homemaking, her sweet spirit. But I don’t think they took me on specifically as a “project.” They were just hospitable, and their character and spirit came through everything they did. Similarly, often in the everyday activities of church life – nursery duty, baby showers, ladies meetings, ladies Bible studies, putting bulletin boards up, etc. – very often God would send me “a word in due season” from sometimes a seemingly chance remark by an older lady. One of the few times of specific instruction I remember was when a mom of teenagers was taking about one of them (favorably) while we put up a bulletin board and said something like, “When your kids get older, don’t dread the teen years. Don’t expect those years to be tense and rebellious. You can have a good relationship with your teens and they can grow a lot during that time.” That stayed with me through my own kids’ teen years, and I am so glad it did, because the worldly wisdom by then was that it’s a necessary rite of passage for teens to be rebellious and somewhat estranged from their parents. That lady’s advice probably saved our family from some grievous attitudes during that time. So, though there are other more official ways to teach, to me, to employ an overused phrase, “doing life together” is one of the best.
Then there is blogging and writing. Again, this may not be something Paul had specifically in mind, but it’s a great avenue to share truth in this day. Many of us won’t go on to write books, but we can share from our experiences through a blog. For me, again, some of my favorite blogs have not been specifically didactic, though I have learned from that kind as well. When I first started blogging, the blogging world (at least among the women I knew) was chatty and neighborly, more like visiting over the back fence. There wasn’t as much talk then of “branding” or finding one’s niche. Sometimes I consider whether I should make my blog a little more professional or focused, but for now, even though I do get a little teachy in some posts, I still prefer the “doing life together” aspect, and hopefully sharing a Christian view of handling life in the process. I do wonder whether that costs me some readers who don’t view a blog like this as a “serious” blog next to the didactic ones. I probably would never make any list of “Best Christian Women Bloggers Over 50.” But that’s not my goal. My goal is to blog about life and what God is teaching me along the way. As I mentioned, some of my favorite blogs were the same type. For example, my friend Dianna, who, sadly, isn’t blogging any more, wrote mostly about her home and family, but her sweet godly spirit shone through and was an example, and often a rebuke, to me, just in her writing about the course of her day or some project she was doing at home.
When it comes to what to teach, I am much relieved by what the text says. I don’t think this is an exhaustive list: I think older women can teach other women the Word of God in an expository manner and touch on other subjects than what is listed. Lisa Spence discusses this more fully in her post I am more than my motherhood. But what relieves me in reading about the specific topics listed is this: I don’t have to take sides in the latest “mommy wars” topic being debated or on any couple’s marital debate, but in my interaction with women, I can teach and encourage loving hearts and godly attitudes. I’m relieved that I don’t necessarily have to teach younger women how to raise their children, because I’ve been astonished at how much I have forgotten about some of the details, and some recommendations have changed over the years (even with my own three children in the nine-year span between the births of the oldest and youngest, I had three different official medical instructions about the position they were supposed to sleep in from the same doctor). Plus there is a lot of room for different opinions and methods even in Christian parenthood. I’m happy to share any specifics I might remember when asked or if I think of something that would be helpful. But above the details, I’m concerned with godly character.
I have read a number of times over the years the question from younger women, “Where are the older, godly, Titus 2 women?” More recently I’ve seen the question, “Where are the older women bloggers?” Lisa makes the point that older women can’t write about parenting their teens or adult children as they write about their 2-year-olds because we need to be circumspect about their privacy. They may not want Mom to share anything about their interactions, good or bad, even if it might be helpful to others. Sometimes older women hold back because they don’t feel qualified: they feel like they’d have to “have it all together” in order to say anything. Years ago at a ladies meeting when I wanted to set up a panel discussion and entertain some questions about how to love one’s husband, I had a hard time getting anyone to be on the panel for this reason: everyone felt their own need of instruction, no matter how old they were or how long they had been married. Some things I wrote in an earlier post, Why Older Women Don’t Serve (in the church), come into play here as well: sometimes older women in the “sandwich generation” are taking care of elderly parents or facing their own health issues. Sometimes, honestly, they don’t feel wanted. I’ve shared before that I was stunned when a younger mom shared with me that the younger women didn’t come to our ladies’ meetings because all the ladies there were “older.” My first thought was, “Well, of course that’s the case if the younger women don’t come.” I was admittedly hurt and my confidence was shaken. We weren’t that much older: this lady was in her early 30s and most of the ladies who attended the meetings were in their 40s and 50s. I wrestled for a long time with how to make our meeting topics and luncheon themes and decorations more contemporary and appealing to younger women, but I’ve always had a little hesitancy since then in dealing with younger women, feeling that they don’t really want to be around me. Aimee Byrd touched on the fact that older women bloggers are out there, but they don’t get as much notice because everyone follows after younger women bloggers (many of whom are doing a wonderful job.). Perhaps older women just need to be encouraged that we really do want to hear them.
So to younger women who are seeking Titus 2 women in their lives, I would say this:
- First of all, pray for God’s guidance, direction, and provision.
- Second, look around among the women in your church or family.
- Observe. In every stage and season of my life, God has placed ladies just ahead of me that I have learned much from just by observing.
- Interact with them, whether going to ladies’ meetings, talking with them at baby showers, asking them over for lunch or dinner, etc.
- Feel free to ask questions. They’re much more willing to share when they know their thoughts are wanted.
- Don’t expect perfection. You won’t find it. No one is faultless. In addition, sometimes an older woman will share something with you that offends you. Sometimes that’s because we are not willing to change in an area we need to; sometimes it’s because the older woman was not terribly gracious. In a post that has stayed with me for years, Courtney Joseph told about someone confronting her about modesty in not the most gracious way, but to her credit, Courtney took to heart the things she said because truth rose above the attitudes (her follow-up post here encourages readers to extend grace even when others have not acted graciously towards us. That’s what grace does.)
- Don’t expect a fairy godmother. In some source I forgot to note, one woman lamenting not having Titus 2 woman in her life wanted someone to come into her home, watch her children, help her with housework, answer all her questions, and solve all her problems.
- Be teachable. When I looked up the Greek word translated “teach” in Titus 2:4, the definitions listed were:
1. restore one to his senses
2. to moderate, control, curb, disciple
3. to hold one to his duty
4. to admonish, to exhort earnestly
Most of us wouldn’t mind that from a book or speaker, but would hold at arm’s length, or even be offended, at someone trying to do these things on a personal level. Incidentally, this is the only occasion this word is used in the New Testament.
- Glean. Sometimes you’ll get different opinions from different older women whom you respect and who both love the Lord. This was hard for me as a young mom until I hit upon the idea of gleaning – kindly listening and then taking from their advice what would best work for our family and leaving the rest.
- Read. I’ve probably benefited as much, if not more, from reading books written by godly older woman as I have from personal interaction, both books specifically designed to teach Titus 2:3-5 as well as biographies and even, in some cases, Christian fiction.
To older (however you define that) women, wondering how to go about living out Titus 2:3-5:
- Concentrate on being before doing. Notice verse 3, which we often gloss over to get to the rest, talks about an older woman’s character. Holiness, self-control, discretion, concern for others, truthfulness, and being willing to share with others are all a part of what we need to cultivate in our own lives.
- Be aware that younger women will probably observe your actions long before they ask you specific questions. Don’t do anything for “show,” but be mindful of your example, seek God’s grace to be a good one, and confess to Him (and anyone else involved) when you fail. Seeing how someone handles a failure can be as instructive as anything else.
- Pray for God’s guidance, direction, and grace.
- Remember the source of wisdom and the way He wants us to share it: “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him” (James 1:5); “But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy” (James 3:17); “But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption” (1 Corinthians 1:30).
- Don’t wait for perfection. That won’t happen til you get to heaven. Women need examples and instructions from women with the same struggles and faults they have so they’ll know they can seek God’s grace, forgiveness, and help with them.
- Seek ways to interact with and develop relationships with younger women. Show interest. Sometimes that might mean seeking them out at a church function rather than the friend you always talk to. Sometimes that might mean extending hospitality. A couple of women I know minister specifically to younger women, one by offering to babysit, the other by offering to help out at home for a few days after a baby is born. Those might not be your way of ministry, but God will direct you in what you can do. And He may not lead you into an “official” ministry, but just being available and encouraging, being a conduit for that “word in due season,” is a great help in itself.
- If you feel a younger woman does need confrontation in some area, pray much about it first and seek to have a gracious attitude. Don’t assume her motives are wrong: maybe she was never instructed or hasn’t thought about the issue. It’s usually best to speak from the position of a relationship with the person rather than from that of an acquaintance, to talk with that person privately, and not to discuss their issues with anyone else.
- Don’t fall into the trap of seeming as though the way things were done “in our day” are the only way they can ever be done.
- Don’t cross the line into being a busybody.
- Somehow we usually think of these verses in regard to newly married women or young moms. But don’t forget about single ladies and middle-aged ladies. I’d love to see more writing from godly women about handling an aging body, parenting adult children, being a mother-in-law, caring for aging parents, preparing for “old” age, etc.
- Realize that younger women do want to hear from you.
May God give ladies of all ages grace as we seek His will and interact and learn from each other.
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