Beth McLeod, caregiver and author of “Caregiving: A Journey of Love, Loss, and Renewal,” once noted, “In a culture defined by short attentions spans and sound bites, family caregiving demands investment for the long term, often an abrogation of dreams and a wholesale reconstruction of the future, one slow brick at a time.”
In other words, caregiving is a journey that is arduous, timely, and consuming. So consuming, in fact, that being a caregiver can very well be another spiritual discipline in and of itself. But, like many journeys, this pilgrimage is best accomplished with a community of like-minded people, one friend at a time.
Caregivers are good at caring for others, but many wonder, “Who cares for me?” Community provides the compassionate embrace that reminds caregivers that they are not alone and that others care. Hebrews 10:24-25 says, “Let us consider how we may inspire one another toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together…but let us encourage one another.”
This is difficult for caregivers who do not have the time to journey with others outside of the caregiving role. Some spend all of their time with loved ones, while others can only socialize when help is available. Yet others do not connect with a community because they are too tired, or they use free time to simply “get away.”
These reasons are important ones in the lives of caregivers; however, these reasons are usually what lead to loneliness, exhaustion, and depression. It is important to connect with others, even if only once a month or a few minutes each week.
God is very much concerned about the relationships we keep. Community is a priority in Christian spiritual formation, and “koinonia” fellowships (or divine communities) are what sustain fellow believers over the long haul. In community, we grow as individuals because we spend time with others who encourage us, built us up, empower us, and care for us.
Aside from Sunday morning worship or Sunday school, one of the ways to seek koinonia is to join a small group or weekly Bible study. A variety of churches offer such groups, including book clubs and hobby-focused groups.
Another effective way to grow in koinonia is to join an online community. There are many forums that emphasize discipleship and spiritual growth. A Google search for “online Christian community” garners over 28.9 million hits. Though an online community is not ideal for building intimate relationships, it can provide some respite while you’re home or have a laptop handy.
A third way to connect with others is to join a support group or prayer group specifically for caregivers. Such groups provide safe, friendly environments that allow caregivers to share feelings with others.
These groups are wonderful avenues for growth because they also provide caregivers the opportunity to meet others who are going through similar situations. Though caregivers serve different individuals, they all share common feelings and stresses.
There are groups that currently meet in Decatur, Lilburn, and Stone Mountain. Trinity Baptist is starting a support group on Thursday nights, beginning September 30th, at 7 PM (a second group is starting Thursday afternoons early October).
As caregiving becomes more necessary for our aging population, I want to invite you to actively pursue God’s presence in your life, pray honestly about the struggles you face, and connect with people who will walk with you on your journey. Churches throughout our county stand ready to help; its just a matter of reaching out and letting your pastor or friends know how they can respond to your needs accordingly.
Trinity Baptist Church is hosting the open house of the Center for Caregiver Spirituality on September 30th, 7 PM. Click on the link for more details.