Practicing Godly Devotion Toward Elderly Parents
“Let [children or grandchildren] learn first to practice godly devotion in their own household and to keep paying a due compensation to their parents and grandparents, for this is acceptable in God’s sight.” —1 TIMOTHY 5:4.
1, 2. (a) Whom does the Bible hold responsible for the care of aging parents? (b) Why would it be a serious matter for a Christian to neglect this duty?
AS A child, you were nurtured and protected by them. As an adult, you sought their advice and support. But now they have grown old and need someone to support them. Says the apostle Paul: “But if any widow has children or grandchildren, let these learn first to practice godly devotion in their own household and to keep paying a due compensation to their parents and grandparents, for this is acceptable in God’s sight. Certainly if anyone does not provide for those who are his own, and especially for those who are members of his household, he has disowned the faith and is worse than a person without faith.”—1 Timothy 5:4, 8.
2 Thousands of Jehovah’s Witnesses today care for aging parents. They do so not merely out of “kindness” (The Living Bible) or “duty” (The Jerusalem Bible) but out of “godly devotion,” that is, reverence for God. They recognize that to abandon one’s parents at a time of need would be tantamount to ‘disowning the [Christian] faith.’—Compare Titus 1:16.
‘Carry Your Load’ of Care
3. Why may the care of one’s parents be a real challenge?
3 Looking after elderly parents has become a real challenge, especially in Western lands. Families are often scattered. Costs have risen out of control. Housewives frequently have secular jobs. Caring for an aging parent can thus be a huge undertaking, especially when the one who gives the care is no longer young himself. “We are now in our 50’s, with grown children and grandchildren that also need help,” says one sister struggling to care for her parent.
4, 5. (a) With whom does the Bible indicate that the load of care can often be shared? (b) How did some evade responsibility to their parents in Jesus’ day?
4 Paul indicated that the responsibility could be shared by the “children or grandchildren.” (1 Timothy 5:4) Sometimes, though, siblings are unwilling to ‘carry their load’ of care. (Compare Galatians 6:5.) “My older sister has just washed her hands of the situation,” complains one elder. But can such a course be pleasing to Jehovah? Recall what Jesus once told the Pharisees: “Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’ . . . But you men say, ‘If a man says to his father or his mother: “Whatever I have by which you may get benefit from me is corban, (that is, a gift dedicated to God,)”’—you men no longer let him do a single thing for his father or his mother, and thus you make the word of God invalid by your tradition.”—Mark 7:10-13.
5 If a Jew did not care to assist his destitute parents, he needed only to declare his belongings “corban”—a gift set aside for temple use. (Compare Leviticus 27:1-24.) He was evidently under no immediate compulsion, however, to hand over this supposed gift. Thus he could hold onto (and no doubt use) his belongings indefinitely. But if his parents needed financial help, he could wriggle out of his duty by piously declaring that all he owned was “corban.” Jesus condemned this fraud.
6. What may motivate some today to evade their parental duties, and is this pleasing to God?
6 A Christian who uses empty excuses to evade his duty is thus not fooling God. (Jeremiah 17:9, 10) True, financial problems, failing health, or similar circumstances may greatly limit how much one can do for one’s parents. But some may simply value assets, time, and privacy more than their parents’ welfare. How hypocritical it would be, though, to preach the Word of God but make it “invalid” by our inaction toward parents!
7. How can families cooperate in providing care for an aged parent?
7 Some experts recommend that when a crisis involving an aged parent develops, a family conference be called. One family member may have to shoulder the bulk of the responsibility. But by calmly and objectively engaging in “confidential talk,” families can often work out ways to share the work load. (Proverbs 15:22) Some living far away may be able to contribute financially and visit periodically. Others may be able to handle chores or provide transportation. Why, simply agreeing to visit the parents regularly may be a valuable contribution. Says one sister in her 80’s regarding visits by her children, “It’s like a tonic!”
8. (a) Are family members in full-time service exempt from sharing in their parents’ care? (b) To what lengths have some in full-time service gone to meet obligations toward parents?
8 Families may face a delicate problem, though, when a member is engaged in full-time service. Full-time ministers do not excuse themselves from such obligations, and many have made extraordinary efforts to render their parents care. Says a circuit overseer: “We never imagined how physically and emotionally taxing the caring for our parents could be, especially when at the same time trying to meet the demands of the full-time service. Indeed, we have been brought to the limits of our endurance and have felt the need for ‘power beyond what is normal.’” (2 Corinthians 4:7) May Jehovah continue to sustain such ones.
9. What encouragement can be given to those who have had no choice but to leave full-time service to care for parents?
9 At times, though, after exploring all other possibilities, a family member has no alternative but to leave full-time service. Understandably, such a one may have mixed feelings over relinquishing his service privileges. ‘We know it is our Christian responsibility to care for my aged and sick mother,’ says an ex-missionary. ‘But at times it feels very strange.’ Remember, though, that ‘practicing godly devotion at home is acceptable in God’s sight.’ (1 Timothy 5:4) Remember, too, that “God is not unrighteous so as to forget your work and the love you showed for his name, in that you have ministered to the holy ones and continue ministering.” (Hebrews 6:10) One couple who left behind many years of full-time service says: “The way we view it, it is just as important for us now to care for our folks as it was for us to be in full-time service.”
10. (a) Why may some have left full-time service prematurely? (b) How should families view full-time service?
10 Perhaps, though, some have left full-time service prematurely because their relatives reasoned: ‘You are not tied down with jobs and families. Why cannot you take care of Dad and Mom?’ However, is not the preaching work the most urgent work being done today? (Matthew 24:14; 28:19, 20) Those in full-time service are thus doing a vital work. (1 Timothy 4:16) Too, Jesus indicated that, in some circumstances, God’s service might hold priority over family matters.
11, 12. (a) Why did Jesus advise a man to “let the dead bury their dead”? (b) What arrangements have some families made when one member is in full-time service?
11 For instance, when a man declined an invitation to be Jesus’ follower, saying: “Permit me first to leave and bury my father,” Jesus replied: “Let the [spiritually] dead bury their dead, but you go away and declare abroad the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:59, 60) Since the Jews buried their dead on the day they died, it is unlikely that the man’s father was actually dead. Likely the man simply wanted to stay with his aging father till the father’s death. However, since other relatives evidently were on hand to render this care, Jesus encouraged the man to “declare abroad the kingdom of God.”
12 Some families have similarly found that when all members cooperate, it can often be arranged for one in full-time service to share in his parent’s care without his leaving full-time service. For example, some full-time ministers assist their parents on weekends or during vacation periods. Interestingly, quite a few elderly parents have insisted that their children remain in full-time service, even at considerable self-sacrifice on the part of the parents. Jehovah richly blesses those who put Kingdom interests first.—Matthew 6:33.
“Wisdom” and “Discernment” When Parents Move In
13. What problems can develop when a parent is invited to move in with his or her children?
13 Jesus arranged for his widowed mother to live with her believing relatives. (John 19:25-27) Many Witnesses have similarly invited their parents to move in with them—and have experienced many joyful times and blessings as a result. However, incompatible life-styles, limited privacy, and the strain of providing daily care often make taking a parent into one’s home frustrating for all concerned. “Caring for Mom has made me more tense,” says Ann, whose mother-in-law suffers from Alzheimer’s disease. “Sometimes I even lose patience and speak unkindly to Mom—and that makes me feel so guilty.”
14, 15. How can “wisdom” and “discernment” help ‘build up’ a family under these circumstances?
14 Solomon said that “by wisdom a household will be built up, and by discernment it will prove firmly established.” (Proverbs 24:3) Ann, for example, has tried to be more understanding of her mother-in-law’s problem. “I keep in mind that she has an illness and is not acting up on purpose.” Still, “we all stumble many times. If anyone does not stumble in word, this one is a perfect man.” (James 3:2) But when conflicts arise, show wisdom by refusing to let resentment build or tempers flare. (Ephesians 4:31, 32) Talk matters over as a family, and seek ways to make compromises or adjustments.
15 Discernment also helps one communicate effectively. (Proverbs 20:5) Perhaps a parent has difficulty adjusting to the routine of the new home. Or maybe because of impaired judgment, he tends to be uncooperative. Under some circumstances, there may be no choice but to speak quite firmly. (Compare Genesis 43:6-11.) “If I didn’t say no to my mother,” says one sister, “she would spend all her money.” One elder, though, finds at times that he can draw upon his mother’s affection for him. “Many times when reasoning fails, I’ll simply say, ‘Mom, will you please just do it for me?’ and she listens.”
16. Why must a loving husband show “discernment” toward his wife? How can he do so?
16 Since the wife often carries most of the burden of care, a discerning husband will watch that she does not become worn out—emotionally, physically, or spiritually. Says Proverbs 24:10: “Have you shown yourself discouraged in the day of distress? Your power will be scanty.” What can a husband do to renew his wife’s enthusiasm? “My husband would come home,” says one sister, “and put his arms around me and tell me how much he appreciated me. I couldn’t have made it without him!” (Ephesians 5:25, 28, 29) He can also study the Bible with his mate and regularly pray with her. Yes, even under these difficult circumstances, a family can be “built up.”
17, 18. (a) What step have some families been forced to take? (b) In such cases, how can grown children help their parents to adjust?
17 Says one gerontologist: “There comes a point where the family has neither the expertise nor the money to keep the [parent] home.” As one husband puts it: “It got to where my wife’s health collapsed from trying to give Mom 24-hour-a-day care. We had no choice but to place Mom in a nursing home. But it tore at our hearts to have to do this.”
18 Nursing-home care may be the best care available under the circumstances. Yet, older ones placed in such facilities are often bewildered and upset, feeling that they have been abandoned. “We carefully explained to Mom why we had to do this,” says a sister we will call Greta. “She has learned to adjust and now views the place as home.” Regular visits also ease parents through the adjustment and prove the genuineness of your love for them. (Compare 2 Corinthians 8:8.) Where distance is a problem, keep in touch by telephone calls, letters, and periodic visits. (Compare 2 John 12.) Nevertheless, living amid worldlings has obvious drawbacks. Be ‘conscious of their spiritual needs.’ (Matthew 5:3) “We provide Mom with material to read, and we try to discuss spiritual things as much as possible,” says Greta.
19. (a) What care should be taken in selecting and monitoring nursing-home care? (b) How does it benefit a Christian to do his utmost to care for a parent?
19 The Wall Street Journal reported on a study of 406 U.S. nursing homes in which “about one-fifth were deemed potentially dangerous to residents and almost half only met minimum standards.” Sad to say, such reports are distressingly common. So if nursing-home care is necessary, be careful in selecting one. Visit personally to see if it is clean, well maintained, staffed by qualified personnel, homelike in atmosphere, and with adequate meals. Monitor as closely as possible the care given your parents. Be their advocate, helping them avoid awkward situations that can develop, perhaps in connection with worldly holidays or recreation. By doing your utmost to provide your parents the very best of care under the circumstances, you can relieve yourself of feelings of guilt that could otherwise disturb you.—Compare 2 Corinthians 1:12.
Cheerful Givers, Cheerful Recipients
20. Why is it important that children be cheerful givers?
20 “It’s been difficult,” says one Christian woman regarding looking after her parents. “I’ve had to cook for them, clean, deal with crying spells, change the sheets when they were incontinent.” “But whatever we’ve done for them,” says her husband, “we have done joyfully—cheerfully. We have tried hard never to let our folks feel that we resent having to care for them.” (2 Corinthians 9:7) Older ones are often reluctant to accept help and do not want to be a burden on others. The attitude you display is thus critical.
21. (a) How can parents be cheerful recipients? (b) Why is it wise for a parent to plan ahead for his old age?
21 At the same time, the attitude parents display is also important. Recalls one sister: “Whatever I did for Mom, it was never enough.” So, parents, avoid being unreasonable or overly demanding. After all, the Bible says “the children ought not to lay up for their parents, but the parents for their children.” (2 Corinthians 12:14) Some parents squander their resources and become an unnecessary burden to their children. Proverbs 13:22, however, says: “One who is good will leave an inheritance to sons of sons.” To the extent possible, parents can thus plan ahead for their old age, setting aside funds and making some arrangements for their own care.—Proverbs 21:5.
22. How should a person view the efforts he puts forth to care for his aging parents?
22 Paul put it well when he said that caring for one’s parents amounts to “due compensation.” (1 Timothy 5:4) As one brother says: “Mom took care of me for 20 years. What have I done in comparison to that?” May all Christians with elderly parents similarly be moved to ‘practice godly devotion at home,’ knowing that they will be richly rewarded by the God who promises to those honoring their parents: “You [will] endure a long time on the earth.”—Ephesians 6:3.
Points to Remember
□ How did some in Jesus’ day seek to evade responsibility toward their parents?
□ Who should care for elderly parents, and why?
□ What problems can families experience when a parent moves in, and how can they be overcome?
□ Why may nursing-home care be necessary, and how can parents be helped to adjust to it?
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A family conference can be held to discuss how the care of a parent can be shared
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When nursing-home care is necessary, regular visits are essential to the emotional and spiritual well-being of older ones