For most of the past four decades I’ve been a caregiver for family members who were either physically or mentally unwell. I’ve had a relative with dementia living in our home for years, and I’ve made biweekly seven-hour car trips for months to be with another one undergoing chemo. I’ve been so physically fatigued I had to literally crawl up the stairs, and I’ve been so emotionally drained I’ve spent hundreds of dollars to pour out my woes to a counselor.
I’ve nursed my wonderful husband through replacements of three knees (yes, three!) and two shoulders. Thankfully, he is progressing well after his most recent bionic joint and now can drive, dress himself and even comb the back of his hair with his left hand!
Caregiving is incredibly hard. I get it.
But I also know we make helping others even harder when we fail to take good care of ourselves. Even if you’re not a caregiver, you probably have many people in your life counting on your aid. So don’t forget one of the two most important commandments: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:36-39).
Don’t miss those last two words: “as yourself.” The Bible doesn’t just say to “love your neighbor”–it says that loving them starts with loving ourselves.
It is not selfish to do something refreshing, rejuvenating, or relaxing for yourself. Your “emotional tank” doesn’t come with a loud, flashing warning when it’s getting low. Instead, you have to pay attention to the telltale signs in your life.
And when that figurative tank does need refilling, I recommend three sources of emotional replenishment: From yourself, from others, and supernaturally from God.
- Make your own deposits by finding ways to “be good to yourself.” Watch a funny movie, enjoy a massage, go fishing, get a pedicure, take a walk, hit a bucket of balls, or catch a nap. What rejuvenates me may not do the same for you, but you can figure out what makes you feel better. (Don’t settle for the temporary fixes of alcohol or drugs because they will quickly drain your peace as soon as they wear off.) If you can’t leave your family member alone, this is the time to call in one of those offers of help others have made. Do something to lift your spirits so afterward you can once again lift someone else’s.
- Ask your friends and family to do things for you and with you that will enrich your emotional well-being. People cannot read your mind, so clearly tell them a specific way to make a deposit in your tank. If you don’t think you have friends who can improve your life, then ask God to provide the needed person. The Apostle Paul described how God once sent someone to encourage him at just the right time.
When we arrived in Macedonia, there was no rest for us.
We faced conflict from every direction,
with battles on the outside and fear on the inside.
But God, who encourages those who are discouraged,
encouraged us by the arrival of Titus. His presence was a joy.
2 Corinthians 7:5-7
- And finally, spend time with God, asking Him to pour into you His supernatural hope, love, strength, and, yes, even peace as you take care of someone else.
The LORD gives his people strength.
The LORD blesses them with peace. Psalm 29:11
The most loving thing you may do for your loved one today is to be good to yourself. Love yourself so you can truly love your “neighbor.”
Adapted from Peace in the Face of Cancer ©Lynn Eib 2017
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