There is no dismay quite like it. That crushed look in the eyes of a child when they proudly present their latest masterpiece for mounting on the refrigerator and Dad asks, “what is it?” “Can’t you tell?” responds a quivering little voice. And immediately parental stammering and backpedaling begins.
I learned long ago, after many parental fails, to ask “tell me about this one?” This little bit of painfully acquired wisdom has served me well. As I visit with those who are suffering long-term illness and look at the pictures displayed around their homes – pictures that tell their story and that of their family — I ask “tell me about this one?” Just as our children’s masterpieces are often unrecognizable to us, so the appearance of friends may become nearly unrecognizable as long-term sickness takes its toll. I have noticed that even the best Hollywood makeup artists cannot quite capture the withering effects of prolonged illness.
But the one who is sick is not the only one who suffers. Caregivers keenly feel the effects of their “labor of love.” Often, I have asked a primary caregiver, “your loved one has you to care for her, but who is taking care of you?” Sadly, more times than not the reply is “no one” — the caregiver had no caregiver. And it shows. Weariness of face and weariness of soul is hard to disguise. And the effects are devastating.
But this is not only true for those caring for the physical needs of others. The burdens of spiritual care are wearying to those who bear them. Paul lamented that he wrote to the Corinthians “out of much affliction and anguish of heart and with many tears.” And in Romans, Paul wrote that he had “great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart” because of the unbelief of his fellow Israelites. And in Colossians, we read of Epaphras who was frequently “wrestling in prayer” for his congregation. Spiritual caregiving is strenuous and takes its toll on pastors and elders. But who cares for the caregivers? The answer Scripture gives is surprising.
In the Pastoral Epistles, Paul instructs Timothy in how the church is to behave as the household of God. Following up on his commands regarding the support and care for widows, Paul gives important guidance about how the church is to care for its caregivers – its elders, especially those that labor in the word and in doctrine.
In the United States, on average, over 1700 pastors leave the ministry every year. 70% report suffering chronic depression and 80% believe that pastoral ministry has adversely affected their families. Burnout is epidemic and extreme loneliness is characteristic. Who is caring for these caregivers? Paul’s admonition is that this is the collective work of the congregation. Just as the congregation bears the burden of care for widows, who in turn have cared for the congregation, so the sheep are to provide care for the shepherds who have tended and fed the flock.
Join us this Lord’s Day, March 10, as we examine 1 Timothy 5:17-25 and consider the practical ways in which congregations care for their caregivers. We meet on the square in Pottsville, right next to historic Potts’ Inn at 10:45 am for worship. Get directions here or contact us for more info. We look forward to seeing you.