As I picked out yet another pair of sandals (we can talk another time about shopping!), I overheard a woman speaking harshly to a man I assumed was her father. Probably in his 80s, the older gentleman was confused by what they were doing in the shoe store. While the woman was there to exchange a pair of shoes she’d purchased for him, he seemed to think he was picking out new ones. I listened as the daughter fussed that he wanted to shop instead of trying on sizes of the shoes they needed to exchange. The father seemed confused and kept saying he needed a new pair of shoes. My heart broke for both of them.
The scene reminded me of caring for my mother after her stroke several years ago. She was unable to walk and needed a lot of assistance, and I was often frustrated and short with her. I would speak harshly to her or walk away from her to yell at the top of my lungs. My reactions always left me feeling terrible and wondering if I was a bad person. I knew my mother was not trying to frustrate me; she was just scared and confused by her environment.
Watching the daughter’s misery in the shoe store, I felt the weight of my own experience as a caregiver well up in my body. I am sure, like me, the woman loves her father and wants to ensure he is well cared for. But her job as a caregiver was probably exhausting her mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
Far too often, we overlook caregivers in our lives and the constant challenges of their role. Caregivers need others to care for them and their mental health. When we learn about elder abuse, child abuse, and other forms of domestic violence, we need to consider how caregiver burnout may have contributed to the tragedy. There can be a domino effect of pain when a person faces the daunting demands of caregiving without adequate support.
Consider the story of Martha in Luke 10:38-42. Tending to Jesus’s physical needs instead of sitting at his feet like her sister Mary, she was fulfilling her role as caretaker. The household had likely become her responsibility, and she was weary and frustrated doing it alone.
Most caregivers feel this way even when they have volunteered to care for a loved one. When the pressure mounts, anger and resentment can well up against the people they care for, and the extended family they think are not helping enough. Most of all, they get mad at themselves because they are not handling the situation better.
Let us honor the caregivers in our lives today. Tell them you appreciate their sacrifice. Offer to take on the caregiving responsibilities for a few hours or a few days. Small breaks can make a world of difference.
As Mary took a few minutes to sit at the feet of Jesus, her other chores faded to the background, and she was filled with the peace of Christ. Jesus said she had chosen correctly. Let’s help provide space for the Marthas in our lives to sit and be filled by Jesus, too.