Last week I wrote about ambiguity in our relationships with our Loved Ones. Two friends responded that they could see the guilt I was struggling with when I wrote about making plans that don’t include Harriet. Although it was a difficult article to write I didn’t see the guilt until the second comment came in. In fact, when the first comment came in, I was offended because I thought he was saying that I was struggling with guilt because of my neglect of Harriet. It seemed that he was implying that I was involved with another woman and my hope was in her. The blog was published on Wednesday, and Tuesday night I couldn’t get to sleep. I was awake until 4:30 am. When I read his comments, in my sleep deprived state, I was angry. I reread his comments later and could see I had misread what he wrote. He was really saying, “Live for today, enjoy this time with Harriet, and do not focus too much on the future.” Good advice, from a good friend.
The reason for thinking about, and/or planning for the future, without our loved one, isn’t because we want them to hurry up and die, so that we can have fun again. Our motivation, for making plans beyond this time of Caregiving, is because we plan to live beyond their death. Therefore, we do not want depression or despair to get the upper hand in our lives. Once the thought, “This is never going to end, I wish I were dead,” becomes a constant mantra you are in deep trouble. It somehow, becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. If we’re going to fight against an early death, we need to over come despair. This can be done by having a good vision of our future.
We see how important, having a vision for a good future, is from the story of Abraham in the Holy Scriptures. Abraham, following God’s direction, had moved from Ur to Palestine, and God promised to give him the land and from him make a great nation. However, years go by and he still doesn’t have any children to pass this great inheritance on to. The story continues in Genesis 15, “After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” 2 But Abram said, “O Lord God, what wilt thou give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Elie′zer of Damascus?” 3 And Abram said, “Behold, thou hast given me no offspring; and a slave born in my house will be my heir.” 4 And behold, the word of the Lord came to him, “This man shall not be your heir; your own son shall be your heir.” 5 And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” 6 And he believed the Lord; and he reckoned it to him as righteousness.’” Could you hear the despair in Abram’s voice? Abram says, “Promises, promises, what good are promises without any children to pass the inheritance on to?” It is probably true that Abraham had no idea about eternal life or rewards after death. It seems that, during Abraham’s time, many people thought of eternal life as your life, continuing, through your children and grandchildren. From our perspective we see the promise fulfilled as from Ishmael, and Isaac come mighty kings, powerful religions, and great nations. Abraham is considered the literal and/or spiritual father to Jews, Muslims, and Christians.
However, at this point Abraham has no idea of what is to come to pass. He cannot see any future fulfillment of God’s promises. God, knowing how Abram is being overtaken by despair, comes to him, to give him a vision and a hope. God tells him, “Step outside and count the stars, that is what your offspring will look like in years to come.” By the end of his life Abraham will come to realize that with God nothing is impossible and for good or ill, God always keeps His promises.
Abram hasn’t yet, come to that conclusion, so God says, “Step outside and count the stars. So shall your offspring be, a people beyond counting.” Abraham catches the vision and believes the promise. A positive vision for the future, is so important because, hope for the future gives you strength for today. I like that so much I’m going to repeat it, Hope for the future gives you strength for today. The opposite is also true, Despair about the future robs you of strength for today.
In the same way that you need oxygen, food, water, and shelter to live, so too, you need hope. Do you recall the story of Viktor Frankl, and how he survived the Nazi Concentration Camps? Viktor developed an inner, spiritual life, often reflecting on, the love of his life, as she was before they were sent to the concentration camps. He also tried to see the small beauties found in nature day by day, and a vision of his life once the imprisonment was over. It was a combination of small pleasures, with the vision of a positive future that empowered Frankl to survive. He found that the most important thing, for survival, was hope for the future. He said that this hope is much stronger than mere optimism. Indeed, optimistic prisoners would say something like, “I am sure the Allied troops will free us by Christmas.” Christmas came and went with no hope in sight. The optimistic person would go into such despair that they would curl up in their bunk, and soon they were dead.
On the other hand, Frankl tells of two men who were saved from death when they decided to focus on the future outside the camp. They came back out of despair and lived until the allies arrived. Viktor writes, “Forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing, your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation. You cannot control what happens to you in life, but you can always control what you will feel and do about what happens to you.” I love his testimony to the power of hope in the face of death, abuse, and loss of all things. I am absolutely sure that what Viktor Frankl writes about is true, but it is not easy to carry out.
The New Testament would agree with Viktor’s idea. Years ago, people would say that St. Paul was like a Timex Watch; He took a licking and kept on ticking. (That was the Timex ad slogan in the 1950s) We see an example of this in, chapter 16, of the book of Acts. Paul and Silas are arrested for causing civil unrest. The police strip their clothes off and beat them with rods. After that Paul and Silas are put in jail with their feet in stocks. If you read the story you would see how unjust their treatment is. What would you do if this happened to you? Me? I would be moaning, groaning, crying, and complaining. My prayer would be, “Why did you let this happen to me Lord!!?” The scripture says, “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing praises to God…” (italics mine). WHAT!!??? Remember what Viktor Frankl said, “Forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing, your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation.” In spite of what happened to them, Paul and Silas have chosen to pray and sing. The question is: in our day after day caregiving, with all its frustration, sadness, loneliness, and poor treatment, how can we live a positive, hopeful life?
In the letter to the Philippians, St. Paul shares the secret of Godly contentment. He writes, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Phil 4:13) This strengthening is done through a consistent prayer life. St. Paul teaches us how to have peace in our lives regardless of the circumstances. He writes, “Have no anxiety about anything,” (Phil. 4:6 italics mine) Right now you may be thinking, “He’s got to be joking.” However, St. Paul lived this, so his advice isn’t some crack-pot idea. He goes on, “but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” I break his teaching down in the following way:
- Am I anxious? Yes
- Tell God through prayer and supplication the situation and my needs. (Be specific)
- End the prayer time thanking God that He will deal with the situation.
- You should have a supernatural peace -Yes? Sing praise songs
- No? repeat steps 3-4
- Still No? Sing praise songs anyway since the Lord is always worthy to be praised.
When one of my sons was in the county jail, facing a very long sentence, I slid into a deep, deep depression. Being a pastor, every morning I would enter the church and pray before the altar, if I felt like it or not. One day, I was more depressed than usual and wanted to lay in the front pew instead of praying. I felt like I needed that peace that passes understanding, more than a nap. I went through steps 2-5 twice and still didn’t have peace. So, I went to step six, and began singing praise songs to Jesus. I can’t explain what happened next, but suddenly all my depression, anxiety, anger, and fear were replaced by such joy. Nothing had changed at all; my son was still in jail with a terrible future, but the Lord gave me so much joy and peace. This is the peace that passes understanding. Why would I have peace when nothing had changed? Only because I took my burdens to one who loves me more than life itself. This is why I am passing this on to you. I am a satisfied customer.
Since God realized the Abram needed a hopeful, life-giving vision of the future to overcome despair, I believe, God wants us to have a hopeful vision of our future too. In the Lord’s prayer we say, “Your Kingdom Come, Your will be done,” which means, Jesus, be my leader and let what you want for me come to pass. After praying that perfect prayer, I allow the Holy Spirit to guide me as I think about my future without Harriet. What will I do after the grief lifts enough for me to do anything? All my plans are conditional on God’s will for my life. If the Lord allows it, I will travel across Europe and the United States. Since I have never lived alone, left my parent’s home and got married at the age of 19, I can’t imagine travelling alone. One of our children and a couple of Grandkids have already volunteered to go with me.
I realize that despite all my plans, and efforts Harriet could still live longer than I do. But I want to do everything in my power to see that it doesn’t happen. May the Lord’s will be done in my, and your lives.
Please continue to pray for me and be assured that I am praying for you.
HELP NEEDED Dear Caregivers, we need your help. The, I Am Not Alone Monday, is in need of more Caregivers willing to fill out the form and send it back to Martha Garmon. Click on the I Am Not Alone post, read Charlie’s article and you can download the forms. Thank you for considering this for me.