Transcript: Christian Caregiving Chat with Dr. Mast

Denise

Transcript: Christian Caregiving Chat with Dr. Mast

Denise
clouds-16089_640Last Thursday, we held a chat with Dr. Benjamin Mast, Associate Professor & Vice Chair, Psychological & Brain Sciences, Associate Clinical Professor, Family & Geriatric Medicine, University of Louisville. Dr. Mast is also the author of Second Forgetting: Remembering the Power of the Gospel during Alzheimer’s Disease.

I enjoyed our discussion so much that I wanted to share our transcript for anyone who missed it. My questions and Dr. Mast's answers follow.

Denise: Q1. What inspired you think about faith as it relates to caregiving?
Benjamin: As you know, I wrote another book a few years ago that was intended for health care professionals. After I wrote that I found myself wanting a book I could recommend to caregivers and family members. As I began writing that book I realized that I was writing a book about how to live with dementia and how to provide optimal care. I then realized I couldn't honestly talk about how to live optimally without incorporating my own faith and belief. As I have found encouragement from the Scriptures regarding dementia and caregiving, I have wanted to share it with others. That is the essence of my book, Second Forgetting.

Denise (Mod): A follow-up to Q1. We know that many, many family caregivers turn to their faith during caregiving. Has this been your experience as well, Dr. Mast?

Benjamin: Although we have had dementia in our family, I am not currently caregiving. But, we are all trying to make sense of these difficult experiences and trying to find hope! It has been the experience of many caregivers who I've met in writing my book and in my clinical practice. Many are asking questions about caregiving and faith.

Denise (Mod): Q2. What does the Bible teach about caring for family members?

Benjamin: The Bible is filled with calls to care for one another. I'll mention just a few.

John 15:12-13: My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

1 John 3:16: This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.

We are called to love God with our whole lives and to love one another. But, what is more unique to caregiving is that God calls us to a sacrificial love

Ephesians 5 speaks of loving each other sacrificially as Jesus Christ loved and gave himself up for the church

Romans 12 encourages us to honor others above ourselves

There is a sense in which the sacrifices a caregiver makes in service to others is a clear example of what God calls us to as a sacred form of love.

Denise (Mod): A follow-up: Does the Bible share any instances of our care for ourselves as we care for others?

Benjamin: Good question. I think sometimes we can hear this call to sacrifice on behalf of others and forget to care for ourselves. This is also important. The Bible calls us to be sacrificial and a humble service, but not a savior. We can't do everything. We have our limits. Even Jesus (who had no limits) still took time away to rest and to pray. Why should we think we don't need to?

Denise (Mod): Can you share some examples of when Jesus took time away?

Benjamin: The Bible says that Jesus would rise early to pray (Mark 1:35). When the crowds became too much, he would go out on a boat and the crowds would still try to follow. Before the cross, he was the garden alone praying, with friends nearby (but he left to pray alone several times). Jesus also recognized the value of the sabbath day of rest. Clearly rest and time away is a good that strive for, but can be tough to achieve in caregiving

Denise (Mod): Q3. Which Bible passages can encourage us during our most difficult moments?

Benjamin: I'll share a few favorites.

In John 13, Jesus demonstrates his humility and service by washing his disciples feet, then tells them to go do likewise. One caregiver told me, "If Jesus can wash his disciples feet, I can wipe the food from my mother's chin". Jesus humbled himself and told us that whoever wants to become great must become a servant.

If he can do the lowest acts, then it offers us an encouragement to do some of the more unpleasant parts of caregiving.

Benjamin: I also love Jesus' call to him when we feel burdened. Matthew 11:28-30 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Denise (Mod): I often think of caregiving as doing God's work here on earth. Often times, we are managing the "holding pattern," caring for others here, preparing them for the journey home.

Benjamin: Yes! That brings me to one of my other favorites in Matthew 25:40: "Whatever you have done for the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you have done for me!"

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ 40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

I rephrased this for caregivers in my book:

What might the Savior of your life say when you stand before him? When I was forgetful, you remembered for me. You answered my anxious questions even though I had asked them many times already. When I was lost, you helped me find my way. You helped take care of my money and gave me my medications when I couldn’t. When I lost my judgment, you kept me safe. 
You even changed my clothes and helped me bathe. “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

I also love Romans 8 for dementia and caregiving. God groans with us in our suffering and the Holy Spirit intercedes in prayer on our behalf - so encouraging! God is with us and praying for us - a profound and beautiful mystery.

Denise (Mod): Can you share some ways that we can know of God's presence during our day?

Benjamin: Let me share a thought that a caregiver shared with me in my book.

“During my last visit, mother and I attended church there at the facility where she lives. The pastor was passing the communion elements and when he got to my mother, she had no idea what to do with the small cup of juice or cube of bread.  How many times in her life had she taken communion? Countless. And now she did not know what to do! The reality of that made me cry, right then and there. Graciously the pastor placed the bread in her mouth and assisted her with the cup.  As the service went on, she looked like she was sleeping. We got to the hymn after the sermon and do you know she sang every word of all the verses with her eyes shut?

It was as if God were saying, 'What you can see with your eyes is not the way it is!' She looked asleep and seemed out of touch, and yet she sang every word of praises to her God. God didn't need to provide that for me, but He did. Does that change my thoughts about her spiritual connection and ability to remember? Absolutely.”

Denise (Mod): Family caregivers can often feel forgotten by family members, friends, communities. How can we be confident that God remembers us?

Benjamin: One thing I was amazed at in writing my book was how often the Bible mentions remembering. God calls us to remember him over and over (he must know we are all prone to forget). He calls us to remember his faithfulness in the past, his presence in the present and his promises for the future. But, what is even more striking is how often God promises that he will never forget us.

Denise: Can you share an example of God's promise to not forget us?

Benjamin: Isaiah 49:15 “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!"

The next verse talks about how we are "engraved on the palms" of God's hands, never to be forgotten.

Hebrews 13:5: “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”

Denise (Mod): Caregiving can feel like an experience of suffering. We suffer. Our caree suffers. As a result, our faith can suffer. Why do you think suffering is a part of life?

Benjamin: That is the million dollar question, isn't it? Ultimately, we won't know why any one of us suffers. We don't know why our loved one is plagued with Alzheimer's. We don't know why we have to carry the burdens we do. But, we do know that this world is very broken and we can look at Jesus' response to that brokenness.

His response was to step into this suffering and take it on himself. Although we can't ultimately explain why any one person suffers, I don't think we should try to explain suffering without recognizing that Jesus took on suffering for us in love and that he promises that one day this suffering will end. In Revelation 21, we hear about what that might look like. Let me post a portion.

This is Revelation 21:3-5: And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

Suffering is still a mystery, but again, when we can't explain it, we can at least see that Jesus voluntarily suffered for us and for our ultimate good.

Denise (Mod): Q4. How can we practice our faith during such a time-consuming time, like caregiving?

Benjamin: It is obviously a challenge to continue to operate as we did before the caregiving journey began. We are short on time and on energy, and it is tough to find time alone. I think it looks differently and the caregivers I've talked to confirm this. They may breathe short prayers in between tasks. They find ways to give thanks for the small things. They might even ask someone to help give them a break so that they can get a short time alone to pray, read the Bible, share with a friend, or attend a church service.

I like the encouragement of 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 to rejoice always, pray continually, and give thanks in all circumstances.

Some caregivers have told me that although the journey is very difficult, when they take the time for short prayers and to look for small things to give God thanks for, it makes a big difference.

In Luke 10, we read the story of Mary and Martha preparing a meal for Jesus and his disciples. Martha gets very frustrated because while she is busy getting everything ready, Mary is sitting at Jesus feet.

Jesus says to her, “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Jesus essentially says, take a moment and sit at my feet. It recalls his statement to come to him with our burdens.

It also recalls God's words in the Old Testament, "Be still and know that I am God." Sometimes practicing our faith in caregiving may mean that we need to pause for a moment and know that God is in control and he loves us, even when things are hard.

We need to ask ourselves, given our situation, what does it look like to sit at Jesus' feet? “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

How can we learn from Him today? That's the question each of us must prayerfully ask

You can purchase Dr. Mast's book in our Caregiving Book Store. The book's Kindle version is available at the discounted price of $5.99 in November in honor of National Caregiver Month and National Alzheimer's Disease Awareness Month.

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EllysGdaughter

Thank you Denise for this transcript! I came looking for the interview when I missed it last week, I even recommended it for a friend! I too will come back to this conversation!!!

jan

That was a very helpful conversation, Denise and Dr. Mast. It was full on content and not vague wishful thinking. I appreciate the questions you asked, Denise. I shall return to this again and again for help.