I read this Andrew Murray quote the other day and it has troubled me since. I'd snapped a lovely phone photo of spring trees, and as I worked to create a word picture of Murray's quote superimposed upon that picture (see above), my sense of guilt increased.
I've read that we should treat one another as we would treat the Lord Himself, and I have failed. "As ye have done to the least of these, my brethren, ye have done unto me..." is how I remembered the Scripture passage from Matthew 25:40.
To make matters more uncomfortable for me, I'd read a blogpost by a beautiful lady who spends most of her time with her Alzheimer's mom cuddling and telling her how much she is loved. But she also said that she is fortunate to have several paid caregivers for her mother. I, on the other hand, am my mother's all-in-all. I bathe her, shampoo, cut, and curl her hair, change her soiled adult diapers each morning, remind her to take bathroom breaks every two hours during the day, prepare and serve all her meals, do the daily cleaning chores in her apartment, etc. etc. We do have respite care once a week so I can buy groceries, and my husband and I usually go out to lunch together on that day.
All this isn't as bad as it sounds; my mother pays me a small salary, the work is fitted to my stamina level, and I've been spared the sorrow of putting Mom in a nursing home before she was ready for such a placement. However, I'm firmly cast in the role of "needs provider" in my mother's mind, and this is not conducive to her seeing me as a loved one. She resents me as a child might resent a strict teacher. I rub her back with lotion, I see that she is bathed thoroughly, and I wash her feet, but the Lord sees the attitude of my heart. The actions may be loving but my heart does not feel kind, especially when Mom berates me as I carry out these ministrations.
I took my sense of failure to the Lord, and was blessed by His response.
First of all I felt the comfort of interpreting Matthew 25:40 a little differently than usual. Today it occurred to me that whatever I do for those in need, I do for the Lord rather than to the Lord. Instead of thinking of Jesus as the poor victim of Alzheimer's, I was led to think of Him as standing beside me as I minister. Mom often lashes out at me, and my attempts to think of her as I would of Jesus made me prone to receiving her condemnation as though I were receiving from the Lord Himself.
It helped me to think of Mom as being beloved of the Lord, and as though I'm caring for her on His behalf. It's as though He's standing next to me, giving instruction, nodding approval as I tend to her needs. And sometimes He gives me a hug of compassion when my heart gets hurt. On the occasions when she's crossed a line of verbal abuse to a degree I can't bear any longer, He's escorted me from the room, soothed my heart, and enabled me to go back and finish my assigned tasks.
The difference in this visualization keeps me from feeling chastised by the Lord. I had thought I was to imagine my ministry to Mom as being ministry to Jesus Himself. So if I lost my temper with her, or had to leave the room, I thought I was betraying the Lord. Even for those who don't envision ministering to the Lord, ministering to a parent carries some of the same hazards. We aren't supposed to feel negatively toward our parents. But if we think of the Lord as being our helper rather than our chastiser, the burden lightens.
Here is what I'd say to someone facing similar caregiving emotions:
The Lord is at your side. He is encouraging and helping you. When your heart is hurt, He feels compassion and love for you. He understands your sorrows, He supports you as you are being abused, and He is actively at work on your behalf. He sees that you have continued in ministry, even when it is difficult, for the sake of the love you know He holds for your care recipient. Minister, not so much on God's behalf, as in His strength. The Lord is with you.
For those of you who have graciously supported Mom and me with your prayers, I'll share that I believe we are drawing near the time that I will place her in the care of others. Please pray for us that at the end of Mom's Alzheimer's journey we can have a season during which we effectively communicate the emotional and spiritual nurture of loving one another in the Lord, unclouded by those inevitable caregiving tussles.