Article I Wrote About Caregiving for Circuit Rider Magazine

ARTICLE FOR CIRCUIT RIDER MAGAZINE:

 

MINISTERING TO THE SANDWICH GENERATION

By Myra F. Smith

 

     “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.”  (Exodus 20:12, NIV Study Bible) 

 

     This is the fifth commandment, given by God to Moses, as one portion of His instructions to the Israelite nation.  This announcement was presented as an inscription on stone tablets.  The Bible tells us, “The tablets were the work of God; the writing was the writing of God, engraved on the tablets.”  (Exodus 32: 16, NIV Study Bible)

 

     I believe that the question for pastors of the Methodist Conference should be:

   

     How do God’s Words to the Israelites Impact Your Ministry Today?

 

    The answer, I believe, is that God’s word is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow.  His intention was then and now that children obey and honor their parents. When I was growing up in the fifties and sixties, caregiving was more of an extended family affair.  Both sets of my grandparents lived within twelve miles of my parents.  People visited each other frequently, and neighbors and friends were more involved in each other’s lives. I’m not suggesting that it was easy, but it involved, I believe, less physical, emotional, and financial stress than we experience today.  In most cases, less time was spent away from church and church activities, due to families living in more tightly knit communities.

     When my husband and I spent six years helping to care for his parents, we drove two and a half hours each way, during the week and on weekends. We bought supplies, medications that weren’t covered by Medicare, and other items they needed.  My husband spent time away from work, and both of us altered our schedules to include time away from home. Our burdens were the same as those of caregivers today.  And just who are these caregivers today, and what are their needs?

     Statistics show that thirty-four million people provide care to adults over the age of fifty today, and the cost to U.S. business due to lost productivity from caregiving ranges from seventeen to thirty-three billion dollars a year. Caregivers use more anti-depressant drugs than the normal population; their social lives are split between time with their children and their aging parents, and  they will experience more arthritis, heart problems, insomnia, depression, headaches and other maladies due to their caregiving responsibilities.

    

     Now, let’s address this question:

 

     How do I, a Methodist Pastor, Respond To The Needs of Caregivers?

 

 What should your personal response be to this group?

 How can you more effectively include them in the life of the church? 

 Which church committees might assist them with their needs?

 Finally, What Does God Have To Do With It?

 

THE PASTOR’S ROLE:

 

      What should your personal response be to this group? 

 

     As the leader of your church congregation, it is important for you to both identify and empathize with the caregivers in your church family.  Caregivers need a lot of love, and if they don’t obtain it from the right source, they may choose a dangerous alternative.  Remember that this group will experience negative behavior patterns, altered eating and sleeping patterns, increased use of prescription and non-prescription drugs, high levels of anxiety, overreaction to criticism, and withdrawal from normal activities.  (Area Agency on Aging 2005 Family Caregiver Education)  A pastor’s sensitivity can make the difference in a caregiver’s overall health.

     Allow them to vent their fears, frustrations, and concerns for their loved ones and themselves. Don’t hesitate to refer them to scripture readings, psalms or other Bible verses for comfort, but present these suggestions in a non-accusatory tone.  Never let a caregiver feel guilty about his or her emotions.  Assure them that their feelings are legitimate, and that God’s love and the love of their church family will always be available to them.

 

      How can you more effectively include them in the life of the church?

 

      Caregivers have less time for church activities, so long-standing committees with weekly meetings, choir rehearsals, teacher positions, or other jobs, will be on hold for now. Perhaps they can assist with the delivery of Christmas gifts for the prison or angel tree ministry; help out with limited amounts of baking, creative arts’ assistance, backstage dressing, or non-homemade treats needed for special events such as the Easter Egg hunt, festivals, spring brunch, Halloween dress-up party in the fellowship hall, or nativity scene on the church grounds. 

     Another idea is to ask caregivers to submit recipes for a cookbook.  When the book is finished, it could be sold at your church festival or other event. The money collected from the sale of the cookbooks could go to a special fund decided upon by the caregivers.  They might want to contribute to an existing church project or create a new “funds for fun” for themselves and other caregivers.

     If they have parents living with them, critical illness issues, or are participating in long distance caregiving, you might gently suggest that their normal church activities will wait for them while they use this time to care for loved ones.

 

      What church committees might assist them with their needs?

 

      Remember that it takes a Methodist village to respond to the needs of caregivers. The Education Committee, the United Methodist Women, or other groups in your church may want to sponsor a “Care for the Caregiver” night.  Caregivers can be sent a special invitation to attend a dinner in their honor.  Church members will be asked to bring a simple dish. It might be a coffee and dessert hour or soup and salad dinner. Remember to hire a babysitter, so the caregiver won’t have to care for their children!

     Another idea is for the Worship Committee, Sunday school classes, or other groups to set up a table at the front of the sanctuary, fellowship hall, or other location.  On that table, put pictures of your caregivers in action.  Along with the pictures, you could have a donation jar with a catchy slogan such as, “Adopt a Caregiver!” Ask members to donate to the jar, and at the end of that time period, the money can be used for a gas card to help with traveling expenses, a gift basket of “goodies for the road” with snacks and coupons from fast food places for a “pick me up” cup of coffee or mocha; a gift certificate for a massage, or a weekend of babysitting sponsored by members of the youth group.  This list is limited only by the imagination and generosity of your church members. Don’t forget that November is National Caregivers Month!

 

     What Does God Have To Do With It?

 

     God’s role is, as I said previously, the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. His words to care for the sick and honor our father and mother have the same meaning today that they had over two thousand years ago.  As leaders of the church, it should be both your duty and desire to share the good news of our Lord and His message of love, mercy, and grace, to the caregivers in your congregations.

     Encourage the members of your church to assist you in this endeavor, and, as God told Moses and the Israelites so many years ago, you and your congregation will experience a long and fruitful life of service.

 

     And now, I would like to conclude with a simple prayer of blessing I learned as a child in the Methodist Church and have repeated many times through the years:

 

     May God bless you and keep you, make His face to shine upon you, be gracious unto you, and give you peace.  Amen.

 

 

 

 

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