The former First Lady Rosalyn Carter said that there are only four kinds of people in the world:

  • Those who have been caregivers
  • Those who are currently caregivers
  • Those who will be caregivers, and
  • Those who will need caregivers

Caregiving can be both an opportunity and a burden. It’s often a long journey with no end in sight. Few people face more daily challenges or overcome more obstacles than caregivers. During the COVID pandemic, the challenges of caregiving have been exacerbated for many who receive care and those who provide it.

In the fall issue of Generations —a journal of the American Society on Aging — Josephine Kalipeni, executive director of Family Values @ Work in Washington, DC, wrote:

“The COVID-19 pandemic happened in the exact manner the need for caregiving often happens – suddenly and overnight. You go to sleep peacefully and wake up to realize your world has shut down.”

Caregiving and the need for caregiving may be compounded by its suddenness and the lack of knowledge and resources available.

Caring for someone who is struggling with a chronic illness or disability is difficult. If caregivers feel they have to handle every aspect of caregiving by themselves, it is easy to feel quickly overwhelmed. Yet no one lives in a vacuum or is completely self-reliant. The reality is, throughout our lives each of us has to depend on others; it’s not possible to survive totally by one’s own skills and wit.

With the Christmas season and the many special family holiday traditions and church worship services and festive programs, caregivers can feel overwhelmed, discouraged, and depressed. Caregiving is not simply an extension of our normal routine, especially during the Christmas season. Long-term caregiving by a loving spouse or adult children can be physically, financially, and emotionally burdensome. And, while many men provide care for the failing health of their spouse or aging parent, the reality is that women are the primary caregivers in our society.

Realizing that each caregiving situation is unique and every family makes decisions based on what is best for them, below are examples of practical things you and your congregation can do to provide help for caregivers in your community of faith:

  1. Remember both the care receiver and the caregiver in prayer — both need spiritual support. I have attended countless worship services where the leader offered prayers for persons receiving care but nary a word was offered up for the caregivers.
  2. Church leaders should consult with caregivers in their faith community about what would be helpful for them. Engage in active, compassionate listening.
  3. Church leaders can play an advocacy role by providing information about health, nutrition, and available resources and services for care receivers so that caregivers can be more effective
  4. Congregations can train volunteers to be visitors who provide help when the caregiver is absent or needs help. Some churches have a formalized Stephen Ministry in which lay ministers serve as a lifeline for caregivers.
  5. Congregations can take love offerings to help caregiver pay bills
  6. Congregations can develop a volunteer support network for providing transportation, home choir service, and minor home maintenance and repairs
  7. Sponsor and/or provide a place where caregiving support groups can meet
  8. Develop a telephone reassurance ministry that makes daily contact with caregivers
  9. Start an adult daycare ministry where care receivers experiencing memory loss can go for a few hours each day or a few times each week. If your congregation is not able to provide this ministry on its own, join with neighboring churches or community agencies to create a community-wide adult daycare ministry.
  10. Many churches have a parish nurse ministry (community faith nursing) offering health fairs, health education, blood pressure checks, and visitations.

A Caregiver’s Prayer

by Dr. Richard H. Gentzler, Jr.

O merciful and loving God, hear me as I pray for (name). Wrap (name) in your blanket of love, ease the anguish that (name’s) sickness, infirmity, or aging brings, and fill (name’s) heart with comfort, serenity, and peace.

O God, you know my struggle, suffering, and pain. You know the frailty of my human spirit when I am faced with the difficult challenge of being a caregiver.

Let your healing love bring endurance and your power overcome despair, so that my faith in you may not weaken. Help me to find the courage, wisdom, and gentleness of heart to be faithful and loving in my caregiving.

Grant me the assurance of your tender care. Use me and mold me to your will, knowing that I rely on your promise of eternal love, for this day and all days to come. Amen.