Approximately 34.2 million Americans have provided unpaid care to an adult aged 50 or older in the past 12 months. The majority of caregivers are female (60 percent). Most caregivers are taking care of one person (82 percent) and providing care for a relative (85 percent)—most often a parent or parent-in-law (49 percent), according to the AARP and the National Alliance for Caregivers.
These statistics reveal that at some point in our lives, most of us will be faced with the decision to care for a loved one—sometimes sooner than we expect. Making that choice will depend greatly on individual family circumstances, financial concerns, family dynamics, logistics, availability, and ability to properly care for a loved one. One of the biggest concerns, though, will inevitably be: “How will caring for my loved one impact my career?”
I had to wrestle with these choices in my early thirties when my sister and I received the devastating news that our mom had a progressive terminal illness called COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder) and had one year to live. With such a short time left to spend with our mom, we wondered whether we both needed to move home to care for her.
At the time, I was living in the Washington-D.C. area working for a college ministry, and my sister was in South Carolina working as a school therapist. My mom lived in North Carolina. We both had to make our own tough decisions.
As I reflect on my decision to move home (now seven years ago), there are a few thoughts I’d like to pass along.
Seek Advice from Others, but Be Discerning
As I was seeking counsel on what to do, many people told me not to “mess up my life” by moving home to care for my mom. I was told that to up-end my life, leave my community, church, and friends, and move to rural, western North Carolina where she had retired was foolish and short-sighted. Plus, how would I find community and friends in a rural, retirement community? I was told I was in the prime of my career to make money, advance in work, and save for retirement. While much of the input was pragmatic, it lacked a biblical perspective.
I thought about the warnings of my advisers. I would indeed be radically changing my life and altering my career. But I kept thinking that mom had only one year left, after which I would return to D.C. and my life there. So, the risk seemed minimal. In retrospect, I would’ve looked more to the eternal value of the caregiving, welcomed the final days with mom, and trusted God with the results. But, at the time, I was more focused on the more practical aspects of this decision.
As you seek counsel from others in your decision, make sure you are seeking out mature believers who know God’s word and will pray with you for wisdom in making a decision. God promises that if we ask for wisdom, he will give it to us (James 1:5).
It is also important to remember that the world’s view of success is different from the biblical view of success. The world believes success is external: great job, nice house, cars, and financial security. By contrast, the biblical view of success is determined by God.
Pray and Seek Counsel from God: Be Open
I also kept thinking about the verse that says,
…if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever (1 Tim. 5:8).
I thought: Isn’t this where the rubber meets the road in my faith?
The verse in Timothy talks about providing for our relatives generally but does not mention specifically how to obey that command. There is a reason for that. God knows our stories are different and, thus, how we provide for our relatives will also look different. I provided for my mom by moving home to care for her. I have another friend who provided for her mom by placing her in a nursing home. We both obeyed because we both provided for our relatives.
Follow Abraham: Let Faith Be Your Guide
In Genesis 12:1, we read about God commanding Abraham to move toward an unknown future: “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” By faith, Abraham gave up security and a comfortable life to follow God, not knowing what the outcome would be.
Inspired by Abraham and led by God, I eventually made the difficult decision to move home and leave my community, my friends, and the life I had created for myself in D.C. to begin a new life as a full-time caregiver in a new, unfamiliar community. I felt like Abraham, too: I was walking toward an unknown future and giving up safety and security. All I knew was that God would be with me (Deut. 31:6).
Follow Christ: Continue to Walk by Faith
Rather than living one more year, in God’s kindness, my mom lived six more years. Being a full-time caregiver was the hardest and most rewarding job I have ever had. It was exhausting, both spiritually and physically, but the time spent with my mom was priceless.
God also sustained me financially. He gave me part-time jobs during that time that allowed me to make contacts that led to full-time employment after my mom died.
God was there in the midst of it all. His grace and love literally sustained me. He gave me a great church, wonderful, supportive friends and a deeper, richer relationship with my mom and sister. I know God and Jesus in a fuller, more intimate way because of those years spent caring for my mom. I treasure those years I spent caring for her.
If you or a friend is wrestling with a decision to care for a loved one, please know that it can be an agonizing decision filled with doubt, confusion, fear, and uncertainty. It is normal and healthy to grapple with these emotions as you seek to make a decision. Take comfort from the fact that just as God was in the very midst of my decision, he will be with you in yours, too.
Editor’s note: Read more about the biblical meaning of success in Monday Morning Success: How Biblical Stewardship Transforms Your Work.
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