This is the final posting in the series entitled Decluttering your life. In Part one I wrote about decluttering your house. In part two I spoke about decluttering your relationship by fully accepting this new reality. In part three I spoke about running the marathon by laying aside the weight of unfulfilled expectations and unresolved conflicts. Today I will speak further about letting your rights go and becoming a servant caregiver to your loved one.
Since this Caregiving may go on for a number of years, I will need to draw upon those things that have given me strength throughout my life. Everyone has built their life upon some foundation from which they find strength, meaning, purpose, and direction. Hopefully, the foundation you’ve built your life upon is strong enough to bring you through this difficult, terrible time. For me, the foundation of my life is Christianity, and because of my background, I draw from a number of different traditions in the faith. However, the strength of Christianity is relationships; relationships with others in the church, relationships with people from around the world, and especially, and most importantly, is the relationship I have with my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
In the last post, I spoke about Harriet’s and my struggle with romance and our declining/nonexistent sex life. I wrote about this because this has been the biggest struggle I’ve faced thus far, and, on the FTD Spouse site I see this is a very common problem. The foundation I spoke about above naturally includes the Lord’s teaching about sex and marriage. For Jesus, and the early church, sexual activity was reserved for marriage. The teaching was unless you were married you were called to a celibate life. Jesus teaching is so strict that you have to conclude that he saw adultery as an intrinsically evil activity. In the Sermon on the Mount he says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” You might say, ”So what? Everyone looks lustfully at each other.” Jesus is telling us not to look upon another person as just a sex object. Everyone is created in the image of God and should be treated with love and respect. While it’s true that very few people keep Jesus’ teachings about sex perfectly, (I certainly haven’t,) that doesn’t mean we should dismiss them as of no real importance. Rather, our failures should drive us to prayer and confession. Jesus went on to say that we should do whatever it takes to gain the victory over sexual sin. “If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and throw it away; it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell…” You might wonder why I’ve included this paragraph in the blog; it’s to show how the foundation I’ve built my life on will help me through this time. If I continue to take seriously what Jesus, and the church, teach about marriage, divorce, and human sexuality, it will help me focus on being a caregiver rather than my loneliness, frustration, or grief. As a pastor I have spent the last 30 years attempting to help people draw closer to Christ. This is a part of my identity and the foundation my life has been built on. If, because of the effects of FTD on my marriage, I begin to think about finding a new partner, either as a second wife, or a lover, I would be denying everything I’ve taught. Not only that but I will be leading my new love away from Christ which is one of the most unloving things I could do.
So, the first thing to do is to examine your life, and the foundation it has been built on. What helps you through the day? What are the ideals that help you make the difficult decisions? What temptation might come to you because of the loneliness, and negativity of being a caregiver? What decision or action might you do, that while you can justify it, you will regret? What are the goals of your foundation? My foundation are the teachings of Christ and the goal is to live a life worthy of Christ and become more like Him.
The second thing to do is to, remember your wedding vows and commit yourself to your spouse every day. The wedding vows we took on the day we were married are another foundational thing, that gives me strength. We said we would love and care for each other, “In sickness and in health, when richer or poorer through good times and bad.” FTD makes this a sick, poor, and bad time; one which may last for many, many more years. God help us. The vows call for unconditional love and commitment. I’m not saying that this means no one should ever get a divorce. Some people are so abusive, so dangerous, that they really are impossible to live with. There are times when divorce is the only option left. However, this illness is not a reason to leave the marriage. You might think, I didn’t sign up for this!” but actually you did. The marriage vows are insanely foolish if you do not deeply love and care for the one you are marrying. Having taken those insane vows you said, I will stay with you, care for you, and love you, no matter what comes our way. That is, whatever we go through we’re going through it together.
Jesus said, “I didn’t come to be served but to serve and give my life as a ransom for many.” In another place he said, “If you want to be greatest in the Kingdom of God you must be a servant to all.” The foundation I’ve built my life on calls me away from self-centered living and towards the life of a servant. This is because the goal of the foundation is to become more and more like Christ. Therefore, whatever care I give to Harriet, God will use to help me to grow spiritually stronger. The reason this is so difficult is that it is a call to die to self. Jesus tells us, “If you want to be my follower, you must take up your cross daily, deny yourself, and follow me.” This is not a cross I would choose, but for some reason it is the one the Lord has placed before me. If I really am a Christ follower my only option is to pick it up.
Jesus said, “In this life you will have tribulation,” but he also promises, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” On January 1, 2016, I retired from my position as a Lutheran Pastor. Like most people I wondered, “What’s next?” I prayed and asked the Lord what he would like me to do now that I was leaving pastoral ministry. The impression I got was, “Write and take care of Harriet.” While I knew something was wrong with Harriet, I had no idea it was dementia and the idea of taking care of her seemed weird because she doesn’t like being taken care of. When the diagnosis of Alzhiemer’s was given I knew that the Lord had, indeed, been telling me to take care of Harriet. This has given me comfort because it tells me that God has our back. God knew about Harriet’s dementia long before the diagnosis. We haven’t been abandoned to this disease but God is with us to guide, strengthen, and bless. In the same way God is with you and somehow, he will use this for your spiritual growth.
The final way to get rid of excess baggage is to remember where you came from, what is the foundation you’ve built your life on and what is the ultimate goal of that foundation. For some of you it may be one religion or another, or no religion at all. We all know people who, because of one tragedy or another have had their lives spin out of control. They leave the foundation their life was built on and go into a time of temporary insanity. These poor people often destroy their reputations, finances, relationships and vocations. For them things have gone from bad to worse. This is not the time to go insane, rather it is the time to remember where you’ve come from and by drawing strength from that, become the best care giver you are capable of being.