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Family Matters

We are meant to care for one another

So many people fear becoming a burden to their families, but we are called to bear one another’s burdens, says Joni


here’s a lot of talk these days about asserting yourself as an individual: be set apart and go it alone. But Christianity is not about rugged individualism.

There are no Lone Rangers in the Church, no mavericks. We don’t pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps, touting how independent we are. Rather, we are members of a Body. We are spiritually connected. We belong to Christ and to one another. We don’t act like it, though. Especially

as we grow older, or a family member ages or sustains a life-altering disability. The best of believers will be quick to say, “I don’t want to be a burden on my family, and I will do everything I can to see that I’m not!” They assume they are doing their family members a Christian service, as if it were their duty not to have to depend on anyone for help. Yet this is what families were designed

for – especially Christian families. The Christian family showcases to the world that sacrificial service is normal. Christians are supposed to give even when it hurts. We serve, even when – and

24 October 2015 womanalive

especially when – we’re tired. We look out for others’ interests before our own. And if we do feel we are put upon, then we find our example in Christ who “learned obedience to the things he suffered” (Hebrews 5:8). This is easy for me to say. As a quadriplegic, I have been on the receiving end of other people’s help for many years. My caregivers and my husband are experts in giving, even when it hurts and they are bone-tired. Part of me feels guilty about that. But God designed my disability not to make me ‘independent’, but ‘interdependent’. And as the recipient of my husband’s love, I do all I can to support him and my caregivers with gratitude, as well as pray for them in their weariness. It’s the least I can do. It’s the family thing to do.

I wonder if Christians are too quick to institutionalise their elderly or disabled

Gilbert Meilaender wrote in First Things magazine, “Families would not have the significance they do for us if they did not, in fact, give us claim upon each other. We do not come together as autonomous individuals freely contracting with each other. We simply find ourselves thrown together and asked to share the burdens of life while learning to care for each other.”

I have many friends with disabilities who have opted to go into a nursing home to spare their families the weight of caring for their needs. They don’t want to be a burden. When this thinking becomes the norm, we stop living in the kind of moral community that deserves to be called a family. In

order to grow in Christ, God

presents us with inconvenient and unwanted interruptions to our plans – it could be a life-altering disability, or dementia as our parent ages. Growth in Christ means learning how to deal morally and compassionately with these interruptions. Nowadays, however, I wonder if Christians are too quick to institutionalise their elderly or disabled, rejecting the encumbrance of caring for loved ones. The highest Christian virtue is love. As a quadriplegic who is rapidly ageing, one part of me doesn’t want to burden my husband, Ken. The other part understands that this messy, inconvenient stage of life is supposed to reflect God’s highest purposes for us as a couple, as a family. But that’s what Christian love is all about. And because Ken loves me, he will bear

my burdens and thus fulfil the law of love. Besides, God has set quite the example. It’s why we say “Praise be to the Lord, to God our Saviour, who daily bears our burdens” (Psalm 68:19). + Joni Eareckson Tada is an advocate for disabled people and partners with the UK organisation Through the Roof Tel: 01372 749955

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