“Support widows who are genuinely in need. But if any widow has children or grandchildren, let them learn to practice godliness toward their own family first and to repay their parents, for this pleases God. The widow who is truly in need and left all alone has put her hope in God and continues night and day in her petitions and prayers…” (1 Timothy 5:3-5 CSB)
When Brian Sandifer arrived as the new pastor of Potomac Heights Baptist Church, Indian Head, Md., six years ago, Mrs. Christine Scott was a regular and active member of the church. But in the last two years or so, her health and abilities have declined, necessitating around-the-clock care.
To Sandifer’s great admiration, that care is through the hands—and hearts—of Mrs. Scott’s family.
Now 93, Mrs. Scott, a widow, lives with her grandson Ronnie and his wife Geanie. Their children, ranging in age from high school to young adult, as well as other extended family members, all take turns making sure Mrs. Scott is safe, comfortable and not alone.
Sandifer marvels at what he sees modeled in this family – the “caring for one’s family, the widows among us” and the willingness “to inconvenience oneself for the sake of family.”
He affirmed it’s not easy to take in an aged (or ailing) loved one. Doing so has completely changed the Scotts’ lives. Not only do they have schedule someone to be with Mrs. Scott when they are at work, they have to plan every activity to ensure she is always in someone’s care, he said.
“But what’s really important is that you see the family caring for one another,” Sandifer said. “Ronnie and Geanie don’t see it as a burden. They take it as a joy!”
He added, “In our convenience-driven culture, to care for an aging grandmother is admirable and biblical, but far too many people care about their own comforts instead.”
According to research from the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP, while the “typical” family caregiver is a 49-year-old woman who takes care of a relative, nearly a quarter of America’s caregivers surprisingly are millennials between the ages of 18 and 34. They are equally likely to be male or female.
On the other end of the spectrum, caregivers ages 75 or older are typically the sole support for their loved one, providing care without paid help or help from relatives and friends. Men currently represent 40 percent of family caregivers.
The typical caregiver provides unpaid care for at least 21 hours a week on top of normal work and family routines, the study said. Forty-six percent of caregivers report high emotional stress.
For Geanie Scott, the stress is worth it.
“I was reading in 1 Timothy 5, where it tells us to take care of our family. It tells us to take care of our widows. That’s our responsibility,” she shared. “It’s the church’s responsibility to take care of the widows that don’t have a family to take care of them, but it’s our responsibility to take care of our grandmothers if we’re around for them.”
Geanie added, “I really feel like I am answering God’s calling right now. This is where we are in our life—is to take care of Grandma. We share this. There are five of us in our home and … We take turns.”
It’s obvious that Mrs. Scott enjoys the interaction with her family. Seated in a prominent chair in the family room, Mrs. Scott points to photos of her family, showcasing her love for each of them.
Centered among the framed photos is a chalkboard, highlighting this week’s schedule. Mac has soccer practice. Mary has her college class. The church’s outreach is on Monday.
Ahead of time, the family members decide who will be home to spend time with and care for Mrs. Scott. Sandifer says such care emphasizes the dignity of life.
“All the way from conception to the aged among us, all are image bearers,” he said. “Instead of looking at our aged loved ones as burdens, we need to acknowledge they are made in image of God and are worthy of our care.”
Sandifer is a member of the Christian Life and Public Affairs (CLPA) committee, which acts on behalf of the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware in the field of Christian ethics, public affairs, interfaith cooperation, and Christian social concerns.
CLPA’s theme for 2018 is “In His Image,” in recognition that God has called His church to uphold the glory and dignity inherent in all human beings. The CLPA wants to help Maryland/Delaware Baptists unpack what that means, why every life matters, and how they can proclaim it in community.
The opportunity for such expression is ripe.
According to The State of Aging & Health in America 2013 report from the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the growth in the number and proportion of older adults is unprecedented in the history of the United States.
The report points to two factors—longer life spans and aging baby boomers—that will combine to double the population of Americans aged 65 years or older during the next 25 years to about 72 million. By 2030, older adults will account for roughly 20 percent of the U.S. population.
“The opportunity before us as churches and as families is ripe,” said Sandifer. “The only question that remains, ‘Will we answer the gospel call to care for the elderly among us?’” By Shannon Baker