For seven years, I served as a caregiver for my parents. One with dementia and one with kidney failure, one a believer and one not—both of whom I was called to care for until their deaths. I was completely dedicated to their care, and even with the Lord as my source of strength, it was extremely difficult every day and on every level. But if I could do it all over again, I would.
Perhaps you’re called to a season of caring for a Christian parent with whom you’ve always had a great relationship, so there’s deep, reciprocal love and devotion. Although caregiving is still challenging, it likely comes with joy. But perhaps you have a painful and strained relationship with one or both of your parents that makes caregiving more complicated. Perhaps, like me, you have a parent who doesn’t know the Lord, and caregiving is harder because his life is marked by sin and unbelief.
When we offer ourselves as caregivers, image-bearers receive care and dignity, our good works testify to our faith, and our care could become a means of grace for the Lord to save unbelieving parents. But caregiving isn’t just a blessing to our parents—the Lord uses it for our good too.
Why We Care for Our Parents
Throughout my childhood, my father made some decisions that brought harm to our family. My siblings and I were deeply hurt by him. Maybe you can relate. But as real as our feelings are, remember that how we feel about our parents isn’t what determines whether we honor them. Rather, we care for our parents out of obedience to the Lord’s command: “Honor your father and your mother” (Ex. 20:12).
How we feel about our parents is not what dictates whether we honor them.
Sometimes there’ll be circumstances that make it impossible or even unsafe to provide care for a parent. But God’s command doesn’t make exceptions for parents who didn’t raise us in the Lord, or with whom we didn’t have a close relationship, or who weren’t good parents. Christians who are able are responsible for the care of our parents.
Because my father didn’t know the Lord, his thoughts and behaviors were consistent with the nature of an unbeliever. But I do know the Lord, and I have a new heart along with the mind of Christ and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Caring for my dad was consistent with my new nature, even if his nature didn’t change.
How Caregiving Blesses Us
One of my constant prayers while taking care of my dad was that the Lord would use me to save him, so I shared the gospel often, answered his questions, and tried not to compromise my witness. Sadly, my dad didn’t come to faith, but that doesn’t mean my time and effort spent caring for him were wasted.
Regardless of how an unbelieving parent responds to us or to the gospel, the Lord uses our care in his or her life—and in ours. Consider these three blessings of caregiving.
1. We Glorify Our Heavenly Father
We were created to glorify God. Our lives can glorify God in many ways, including by taking care of the ones that God appointed to care for us. When we honor our earthly parents, we honor our heavenly Father. Caregiving is so hard and so all-encompassing that God’s glory has to be the motivation. Those in close proximity will see our good works and give glory to our Father who is in heaven (Matt. 5:16).
2. We Learn About Godly Love
Caregiving taxes us physically and stretches us spiritually. It calls us to make sacrifices to love and care for an image-bearer with a love that cannot always be returned in the same way. This love requires patience, calls for kindness, has no room for envy or pride, and is not self-seeking. It can’t afford to be easily angered and makes a conscious decision not to keep a record of wrongs. This love has its trust in the Lord and fixes its hope on hearing “well done” from him. This love perseveres. This is the kind of love we’ve received from the Father, and as we give it to our parents, we understand God’s love more deeply.
3. We Grow in Maturity
Caregiving is a serious trial, and before it produces anything in us, it reveals something about us—it will test our faith. We’ll quickly learn what our true spiritual condition is, and that’s a good thing. Wherever we are in our faith, caregiving is like adding more weight to the spiritual bar. And as we endure by God’s grace, our spiritual muscle will get stronger and more defined so we reach a new level of maturity. James says that when we let perseverance have its perfect work, we’ll be complete and lacking nothing—strong in faith, able to endure hardships with joy, and mature (James 1:2–4).
Regardless of how our unbelieving parent responds to us or to the gospel, the Lord uses our care.
I spent seven years caring for my parents, and every single day I needed the Holy Spirit’s help. Isn’t that the ideal position for a Christian—being needy? I learned what the apostle Paul came to learn as the Lord declared to him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9). Paul responded, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”
As we give ourselves joyfully to caring for our parents—the one who knows the Lord and the one who doesn’t—our souls will reap the benefit and God will get the glory.