Senior’s Ministry Resources

6 Ways to Care for a Caregiver (from Numbering Our Days column on Substack)

If you’re reading this column, chances are you know a caregiver or act as a caregiver for a loved one. According to a 2020 AARP study, over 53 million people now act as unpaid caregivers in the United States. This study also revealed that caregiving can be hazardous to the health. We can help coming alongside caregivers and offering much needed comfort. Today we’ll consider six ways we can care for caregivers. If you are the caregiver, I hope you will consider telling others (including me) how we can help you.

1. Consider the caregivers’ story.

A person’s entry into caregiving can affect how they feel about it. Ask these questions of your friend or yourself to understand that story better:

  • Did you expect to become a caregiver?
  • Did you volunteer to become a caregiver?
  • What changed when you became a caregiver?
  • Did you feel equipped to be a caregiver?
  • What losses have you experienced as a caregiver?
  • What joys have you experienced as a caregiver?

Listening to the caregiver’s story can bring them peace and hope and understanding of their struggles. If you are the caregiver, journaling through these questions might help you in your own struggles.

2. Be aware of the emotional and mental losses that affect caregivers.

Common emotional and mental struggles include grief, anger, anxiety, depression, and guilt. As friends, we want to avoid giving quick-fix answers to the caregiver’s mental and emotional struggles. We can try to meet the caregiver with the love of Christ, who looked and listened and wept with Lazarus’ friends and family (John 11). We can try to offer the caregiver the presence of God, who had compassion for Job’s struggles, even as he firmly reminded Job who commands the cosmos (Job 38-39).

We can also encourage the caregiver to seek “common grace” ways of finding stress relief: seeking counsel, leaning into community, journaling, exercising, resting, and breathing.

3. Be aware of the physical losses affecting caregivers. 

An American Journal of Nursing study showed that caregiving can result in an earlier and higher mortality rate: “Caregiving has all the features of a chronic stress experience…” including “physical and psychological strain,” “high levels of unpredictability and uncontrollability,” and “secondary stress in work and family relationships.” (American Journal of Nursing).

A dangerous cycle often develops in which the caregiver forgoes her own needs to tend to the needs of the loved one. As Christians who have a theology of the body that calls us to care well for all God-given bodies, we can urge the caregiver to attend to her physical health.

We might offer respite care so our friend can go to the doctor or go for a walk or take a nap. We can also supply healthy meals to nourish the caregiver.

4. Recognize the financial struggles caregivers face and offer assistance. 

Paying bills, filing for insurance, and making plans for long-term care are among the myriad tasks that add to the caregiver’s heavy burden. We may be able to help the caregiver with financial tasks in at least two ways. The first, for those who have gifts in this arena, is to offer help or guidance with financial tasks. Second, you may be able to help the caregiver procure financial assistance or help them financially yourself for a season.

5. Offer wise counsel concerning end-of-life decision-making.

As a caregiver, I was grateful that I managed to convince my father to make an advance directive soon after his diagnosis with late-stage prostate cancer. Even with a directive in place, my family was faced with making decisions about care near the end of his life that provoked conflict and turmoil. Better communication about end-of-life wishes can help in such hard moments.

We can also educate ourselves and help others understand the issues regarding end-of-life decisions, bringing a biblical perspective to them. Additionally, we can help the caregiver gather information they will need in case of crisis (advance directive, power of attorney, passwords, etc.)

6. Pray for caregivers when you pray for the sick.

Pray for the caregiver, and whenever possible, pray with them. Call or visit the caregiver, and instead of telling them you are praying for them, go ahead and do it. A praying voice soothes frenzied spirits, for prayer is a river of life poured into a thirsty soul. In the same way, if you are texting or emailing a caregiver, consider writing out a prayer to send. When our son had to have four brain surgeries in a seven-month period, I sometimes found it difficult to form the words to pray. Well-thought-out prayers sent to me by friends gave me the vocabulary and the voice to petition and praise God.

Dear friends, we all know the strain and stress caregiving can bring. May we seek to care well for the caregivers in our lives.

Elizabeth Reynolds Turnage

Writer, Teacher, Coach

The Opportunity of Aging: 6 Ways Aging Can Grow Us

Disappearing Eyebrows

“Who are you?! Where is Elizabeth, and what you do with her eyebrows?” So goes a morning conversation I frequently have with my mirror. My fading eyebrows are just one of many daily signs that my body is succumbing to the erosion of aging.

Indeed, aging changes us, and not always for the better. Hair turns gray, hair disappears, hair grows out of our ears. We face new limitations: we can no longer drive at night, live at home alone, or stay up late. We experience startling weakness: we forget our neighbor’s name, we need help carrying a bag of groceries into the house. We endure new levels of loneliness: our loved ones die, our children live far away, we can’t get to church. And perhaps worst of all, our own death hurtles toward us at a frightening pace. When you consider the many losses of aging, it’s little wonder we fend it off fiercely or simply pretend it won’t happen to us.

What if, instead of trying to mask it with wrinkle creams and hair color and cryotherapy, we faced the “evening of life,” as one friend calls it, head on, inviting God to meet us in this space and reveal his purpose in it?

But it will. Whether we like it or not, we’re all aging by the second. What if, instead of trying to escape it, we decided to embrace it? What if we moved toward aging, pondering it and praying over it? What if, instead of trying to mask it with wrinkle creams and hair color and cryotherapy, we faced the “evening of life,” as one friend calls it, head on, inviting God to meet us in this space and reveal his purpose in it? What opportunities of aging might we discover?

The Bible gives us every reason to hope that as we enter the losses and limitations of aging, we will discover God’s profound purpose for our advancing years. Aging affords the opportunity to grow more dependent on God and others even as we grow less dependent on our own strength. Aging invites us to grow more humble in acknowledging that we cannot save the world or ourselves. Aging helps us to become more adaptable as we relinquish our trust in our own competence and control. As we embrace the opportunities of aging, we might discover as Alice Fryling, author and spiritual director, did, “I need to trust that while there may be less of me, there will be more of Christ” (Aging Faithfully: The Holy Invitation of Growing Older, xiii).

Will you join me in considering at least six opportunities aging affords us?

1. To become more fruitful even as we may be less productive. 

Fryling describes productivity as “tasks we accomplish” and fruitfulness as something that “comes from within and includes non-tangible ways I relate to others” (Fryling, 9).

Some of us enjoy our task lists more than others. Personally, I’ve always enjoyed my ability to be productive, and if I’m honest, I’ve even taken some pride in it. And yet, in the past twenty years, a joint hypermobility syndrome mixed with my years of athletic endeavors tore away at my body. Nine major orthopedic surgeries later, I’m simply unable to be as productive as I once was. When we need to move chairs at church for a women’s event, I have to excuse myself. When invited to lead a retreat in a faraway country, I have to say “no.” As I’ve become less productive, I have seen God  transforming my task-oriented self. He gently reminds me that he doesn’t love me for what I can accomplish, he simply loves me. Aging, when we can accept the limitations, can grow fruit, the fruit of patience, the fruit of kindness, the fruit of empathy for others.

2. To learn to care well for our bodies.

Sadly, many of us learned to devalue our bodies and some of us harbor outright contempt for them. Somewhere along the way in church we got the idea that the spirit or soul is what matters to God, not the body. And yet, the bodies we inhabit were created by God, exquisitely crafted: “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139: 13-14).

Our bodies, the temple of the Holy Spirit, have a purpose: to glorify God (1 Corinthians 6:19). As we age, we can’t get away with pushing them through eighty hour work weeks. God invites us into a new relationship with our bodies, to care for them as he does, with rest and good food and exercise and breathing and general gentleness. As we face the limitations of aging on our bodies, we have a choice—to curse them for not working the way they once did, or to bless them with tender care.

3. To discover that God is with us as we grieve our losses.

As we noted earlier, we suffer many losses as we age—physical, mental, relational. Rather than denying our losses or embittering our hearts, we can receive God’s invitation to grieve with him. Throughout Scripture we discover a God who is with people in their grief. Jesus wept with his friends Mary and Martha, even knowing he would raise Lazarus from the dead (John 11). God counts the tears we shed as we say good-bye to work we enjoyed and gifts he gave us for a season (Psalm 56:8). As we mourn the death of beloved friends and family, “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18). When we draw near to God in our grief over the losses of aging, we discover a God who has drawn near to us with his kindness and comfort.

4. To form new community in seasons of loneliness.

Sadly, many of us as we age will be forced to live somewhere other than the home we have known and loved. With the loss of our home comes a loss of community, neighbors, friends, and churches. This loss presents us with a choice—we can either close in on ourselves or reach out—to God and to others. A ninety-year-old woman in our church lost her beloved husband years ago, but she refuses to remain isolated. Weekly, she hauls her well-worn Bible to women’s Bible study; by her mere presence she bears the glory of God’s wisdom and grace. In addition to reaching out to community, we can also turn to the Lord, where we will find a new and deeper intimacy.

5. To prepare a legacy that guides and blesses those we leave behind. 

It is never too early to prepare for the day when we will no longer be with our loved ones. Rob Moll, a thirty-something journalist, while working at a funeral home for a season, insisted that he and his wife discuss the details they would need if one of them were to die or become incapacitated. They could not have known they were preparing for a day that would come relatively soon—Rob died in a mountain climbing accident at the age of 41, leaving a wife and four children.

We who are actively in the “aging” camp have a powerful opportunity to bless our loved ones by preparing our legacy. In addition to advance directives and wills and password information and end-of-life wishes, we can begin sharing our values and our stories now, the stories we want our loved ones to remember forever. We can “give with a warm hand rather than a cold one,” letting go of some things now so we might enjoy others’ enjoyment of these gifts. If you’re interested in a group coaching workshop to help you prepare your legacy, be sure to check out Organizing Your Life and Legacy.

6. To prepare to die well.

Before the advent of modern medicine, it was common for people to consider their deaths, to think about how to “die well.” Literature called the “ars moriendi,” (the art of dying) helped people perform the important tasks to close out their lives.

Dr. L.S. Dugdale, in her 2020 book, The Lost Art of Dying, describes an eighty-year-old woman who became enraged as she approached death, demanding of the doctor, “What happens to me when I die? I don’t know what I believe” (135). As Dr. Dugsdale pointed out, her patient’s anger likely masked her fear of the unknown. Christians have the assurance that death will be followed by resurrection, first of our spirit in heaven, where we will be in the presence of the triune God and all believers who have died before us. Later, Christ will raise our bodies and we will live forever in the new heavens and the new earth, a place where there is no more mourning or pain or crying or sin (Revelation 21-22). As aging shuttles us closer to the day of our death, we have the opportunity to grow confident and hopeful, to prepare to “depart in peace” (Luke 2: 29). We can do so by asking questions, raising doubts, expressing concerns, to a pastor, ministry leader, or friend. Many, including me, would love to walk alongside you in that normal fear of death.

Friends, be encouraged. Aging is hard and there is no escaping it, but as we embrace the opportunities, we will discover a God who is with us in it and who is changing us by it.

How about you? What opportunities of aging have you discovered, for yourself or as you observe others?

Elizabeth Turnage

Philosophy of Ministry: They Will Still Bear Fruit in Their Old Age

Pray for Me Campaign  How can we connect more adults with more young people more naturally than ever before? The Pray for Me Campaign was born out of this question. We believe every young person needs a team of Prayer Champions strategically praying for them. The Pray for Me Campaign creates a vast web of intergenerational relationships for young people and equips adult believers to pass on a sustainable faith to the next generation.

Cross Generational Ministry in the Church Videos

 

Finding God in My Loneliness by Lydia Brownback. Young or old, single or married, male or female—at some point in life, we’re all confronted with loneliness. We try to fill the void or change our circumstances so we no longer feel the pain. But what if our pangs of loneliness are meant to point us to something greater?

Making Sense of Suffering by Joni Eareckson Tada. Joni Eareckson Tada offers hope to people struggling with health and emotional challenges. Joni knows what it’s like to suffer chronic pain. Yet she has found comfort and meaning in the God of the Bible.

Walking with God through Pain and Suffering by Timothy Keller. Walking with God through Pain and Suffering is the definitive Christian book on why bad things happen and how we should respond to them.

Alzheimer’s Disease by Robert Smith. It starts out as small moments of forgetfulness that can be chalked up to simply getting older. But as time passes and symptoms accumulate, you are forced to face the fact that your loved one has Alzheimer’s disease. Now you’re wondering how the course of the disease will run and how you will provide for their care. How do you help your loved one when you feel overwhelmed by the diagnosis yourself?

When God Doesn’t Fix It by Laura Story. God may not fix everything. In fact, your situation might never change or get better, but you can get better regardless of your situation.

Ministering to Those Touched by Loss

A Necessary Grief: Essential Tools for Leaders in Bereavement Ministry by Larry Michael. A handbook to enable ministry leaders to help others through bereavement. Grief is a difficult topic that ministry leaders deal with on a regular basis. Do they have confidence in helping those who are suffering the loss of a loved one? Do they feel equipped to meet the differing needs that occur in the life of a survivor? Can they lead someone through a process of grief reconciliation? Are they able to plan and implement a bereavement ministry in their church or parish? Here is a book that can help leaders in a practical way to minister to those who are grieving. In addition, they will discover essential tools to deal with grief?s difficult questions.

Caring for Widows by Brian Croft & Austin Walker. Pastors and church leaders are responsible for countless things. Unfortunately, in many churches, ministry to widows remains largely neglected and forgotten. Highlighting the Bible’s recurring commands to care for widows with sensitivity and compassion, this book encourages church leaders to think carefully about how to serve the widows in their congregations and suggests practical strategies to that end.

Good Grief by Granger Westberg. Here is a volume to be kept close at hand. It can be used over the years as you encounter a wide variety of grief experiences or as you assist friends in moving beyond grief to “”good”” grief.  With gentle wisdom and acute insight into human nature, Westberg guides the reader through the stages of grief.

Helping A Friend: Grief by Joni Eareckson Tada.

Ministering to the Mourning by David Wiersbe. Addressing specifically difficult situations such as when the deceased is unknown to the pastor; signs of healthy and unhealthy grief, and how to help survivors cope. This new edition contains a chapter on ministering to victims of terrorism. It is also recommended for chaplains and hospice caregivers.

What Grieving People Wish You New about What Really Helps by Nancy Guthrie. When someone we love is grieving, we want to be there. But it’s easy to feel paralyzed, worried that we might say or do the wrong thing. Nancy Guthrie has personal experience dealing with pain and knows what words of encouragement are helpful and what words are harmful. Drawing from her own life experiences—including the loss of two young children—Guthrie has written this helpful resource for Christians who want to be better friends to those who are suffering. Practical and down-to-earth, this book includes examples and helpful tips from real grieving people who have been helped (and hurt) by friends who meant well, equipping readers to come alongside and comfort loved ones who are hurting.

Books for Those Touched by Loss

Becoming A Widow: The Ache of Missing Your Other Half by Elizabeth Groves. No matter whether your husband’s death was expected or sudden, your loss is a total shock. Your world will never again be the same. You wonder how you can go on without him. And how will you manage the details of a life you built together? How do you get through each day when the grief feels like a tangible weight?

Facing the Death of Someone You Love by Elisabeth Elliot. Elliot has walked this lonely pathway of loss twice. She learned first hand that even this grief is not too great for the grace and power of Christ. In this tract, Elisabeth Elliot shares “six simple things that have helped me thought this valley and that help me now.” Her practical words of comfort will guide others through their sorrow and reassure them that God will never abandon them.

Grief: Finding Hope Again by Paul Tripp. With compassion and biblical wisdom, Paul Tripp shows us how to think and what to do when death enters our door. He reminds us that God often brings the most wonderful things out of the darkest experiences, just as he did at the cross.

Grief Undone by Elizabeth Groves. Grief Undone is the breathtakingly honest, yet hopeful account of how Elizabeth (Libbie) and Al Groves walked with God through Al’s terminal cancer. Their true story—saturated with in-the-moment Scriptural reflections, blogs, and fervent prayers—paints a stunning picture of how faith transforms the human experience of suffering.

Grief: Learning to Live with Loss by Howard Eyrich. Grieving is an experience in connection with many life experiences-not just death. Learning how to deal with these lesser “griefs” prepares us to deal with the greater loss of death, and Eyrich uses biblical illustrations to show that not everyone deals with grief in the same manner. This fresh look at grieving also tells you in a personally applicable way how to work through particular grieving processes to emerge on the other side grown and matured.

Grieving the Loss of Someone You Love by Lynn Brookside. In a series of thoughtful daily devotions, this book offers wisdom, insight, and comfort that will help hurting people through and beyond their grief. Ideal for those struggling with the death of a family member or close friend, as well as those trying to help others deal with the death of a loved one.

When Your Family Has Lost a Loved One by Nancy & David Guthrie. All families eventually face the loss of a loved one. When it happens, it can place great strain on a marriage, as well as on other relationships. That’s partly because we don’t know what to do with our feelings and partly because every family member grieves in his or her own way. In this book, Nancy and David Guthrie explore the family dynamics involved when a loved one dies–and debunk some myths about family grief. Through their own experiences of losing two young children and interviews with those who’ve faced losing spouses and parents, they show how grief can actually pull a family closer together rather than tearing it apart.

Elizabeth Turnage has written extensively on the subject of aging, caregiving, and end of life.

She writes monthly on one of these topics and she also writes for the enCourage blog.

Elizabeth Turnage and Kelly Markham offer a workshop on Organizing Your Life and Legacy. You can go to their website for more information.

This is a work in progress as we try to gather resources from PCA churches across the country. If you have a resource you would be willing to share or a resource you would like us to develop, we want to hear from you. Email us.

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