Ma’s old, handmade apron
I used to wonder what good God could possibly make of my mom’s Alzheimer’s. With her mind in a constant fog, she can do nothing. In the world’s eyes, she is useless, a burden, and a weak link in the chain of humanity. People like her are costly, in time, money and lives. Caregivers burn out, nursing homes overflow, and families are left bankrupt by the expense. Where is the good in that?
In all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28, emphasis mine).
According to this verse, God works for our good during healthy, happy times as well as the poor, sick, and painful and every time in between. In all things He works for our good. Do I believe this? Absolutely. Do you?
“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for, and certain of what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1).
I don’t always see the good God is working, yet I trust Him. Even though he does not explain all things to us, God is good (all the time). In fact, his goodness is often best revealed during times of suffering. As for me and my mom, God is currently working good within the burden of dementia. While I cannot speak for my mom, I know that In my case, had I not returned home to care for her I would not have recognized the degree of selfishness and pride harbored within me.
For most of my adult life, I’ve lived alone. There isn’t much need for personal sacrifice when one has sole control of the remote. I did what I wanted when I wanted and if I didn’t feel like it, it didn’t get done. Except at work, I needed to consider no one’s feelings but my own. It was very easy to get used to life being all about me, but this preoccupation with myself bred tremendous selfishness and a certain pride of independence. I sat on the throne of my heart and didn’t even know it; there was no one to challenge me. Except God. And God had other plans for my cold, selfish heart.
“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:26).
It seemed logical that in coming home to care for my mom, I should be in charge. After all, my brain works better than hers. She shouldn’t fight me because I know what’s best, right? She should simply do as I say. Yet here I am working hard to take good care of her and all she does is argue with me again and again. If I say something is black, she insists it’s white and says I’m lying. She takes credit for the work I do and then implies that I don’t know what I’m doing. Grrr. For all her dementia, she sure knows how to push my buttons!
But love “does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs” (1 Corinthians 13:5). In my anger I must not sin (Ephesians 4:25). Instead, I must “get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice (Ephesians 4:31). As the one with the working brain, it is my responsibility to set the tone of our home and life together. I must be the one to stop fighting.
Relationships have a way of revealing the nature of the
beast heart. Were it not for this new heart of flesh, I would not have noticed that old, hard heart of stone and its desire to dominate and demand homage.
But I can do nothing of lasting change. Jesus said, “Apart from me, you can do nothing” (John 15:5). I can’t just make up my mind to stop arguing. That wouldn’t last until dinnertime. Sinful habits like incessant bickering, grumbling, and complaining must be replaced with new and better habits. This requires a consistent, daily dependence on God in which I choose, moment by moment, to not only restrain my tongue, but instead use it for praise and giving grateful thanks for my mom, because God is using her to help me just as surely he is using me to help her.
I must “fix [my] eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of [my] faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2). It is through faith and obedience that this new heart of flesh progressively realizes the profound grace and mercy of God.
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters…” (Romans 8:28-29).