In December 2013, my husband Jim had a debilitating stroke that took away the use of his left side, leaving him wheelchair-bound and in need of significant assistance with just about everything.
My husband’s sudden disability overturned our lives in every way. We faced overwhelming challenges and losses, from finances to housing to legal needs to health and insurance needs. We were forced to make life-and-death decisions under extreme emotional distress. Our family roles and marriage relationship had to be redefined. Vocation and retirement plans were shattered. Friendships and ministry changed, too. Jim and I had been the strong ones, the manager and the counselor. Now we were the ones in need of help. Our faith was tested in ways we never imagined we would experience.
Jim’s changes were frightening. He had been intelligent, organized, and highly capable, a strong decision-maker, and I had always depended on him. Now, in addition to complete life upheavals I had to face alone, he was suddenly physically and mentally dependent upon me. My role abruptly became more like a parent. Neither of us wanted that reversal and neither knew quite how to approach the change. I was unsure of myself, especially as needs became progressively evident. Physical strain was also a problem when he stopped improving and became increasingly difficult to transfer. We had to find creative ways for me to take him out for activities like church, concerts, or restaurants. I tried to stay cheerful and positive for him, but when exhaustion eventually caught up with me, it was all I could do to survive.
For my husband’s sake as well as my own, I had to accept God’s new path for us: a path of suffering that could last the rest of our lives. The major challenges we faced were deeply affecting me spiritually. I wanted Jim to get better; I wanted life to return to the order we had worked so hard to achieve; I wanted to feel safe again. When God didn’t answer those prayers accordingly, I lived with an increasing sense that he had cast us aside, and that it was my fault.
Caregivers like me believe we must be the strong ones, and we jump energetically into that role only to discover our insufficiency. Our experience seems to contradict I Corinthians 10:13: “…[God] will not allow the temptation [trial] to be more than you can stand.”
The truth is that God doesn’t expect us to be heroes. Second Corinthians 3:5-6 clarifies: “It is not that we think we are [sufficient] to do anything on our own. Our [sufficiency] comes from God.” He is the hero, and he wants us to acknowledge his supremacy by approaching our life challenges on His terms.
God intends our suffering to expose our frailty so that we will go to him. We realize we need him because we don’t have what it takes for this life (or the next) without him. In loving kindness, He makes a way for us to experience His love, grace, and care in ways that settle and satisfy our souls. But to the caregiver it doesn’t feel loving or kind, and the thought of God as harsh can be deeply distressing.
Perseverance is the theme of care giving, and the lesson comes at a high cost. Our unexpected role is unsought, disruptive, and perplexing. But through it God is asking us to dive deeply into relationship with Him to find that He is who He says He is. His strength, wisdom, provision, grace, and love are sufficient and available in our desperate need. He knows it’s grueling. He sees that we are tired and weak. But He has a purpose for it all: He is calling us to greater faith (or new-found faith) in Christ, and He’s making us stronger. So persevere, beloved caregiver. Be wise and steady in your care giving, and look to God for the strength and purpose you need to press on for the duration (1 Corinthians 15:58; Philippians 3:14; 4:1).
*Editor’s Note: Most of the content of this blog is from Sue Nicewander Delaney’s new Lifeline mini-book Help! My Loved One Had a Stroke, designed to help you decide how to care well for your loved one, achieve a workable balance in your life, and keep God at the center of it all.
*Kindle version available from Amazon.