The Biblical View of Elder Care

By Alice Trebus

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Continued from Page One

In Old Testament times (see Deuteronomy 14:28-29) special arrangements were made to provide necessities to those who would otherwise have no way to obtain them. The local religious community acted as an extended family of sorts, seeing to the needs of the fatherless, widows and so on. However, in New Testament times, church resources were being drained because of large urban populations. Here, Paul had to reaffirm to the Greek Christians that it was first and foremost the responsibility of the family to provide for dependent relatives.

Paul was writing to Timothy to clarify how he should run the Church. In their new urban environment, Christians were neglecting responsibilities to elderly relatives and arguing that such responsibilities should be shouldered by the Church rather than by themselves. The church was to provide aid primarily for those who were unable to care for themselves, if no family members were alive or able to do so. Otherwise, the responsibility of care of for dependents belonged to the family.

Today there are several groups who fall within the category of being dependent   not just economically, but often physically, spiritually, emotionally and socially: the widow, the orphan, the single parent, the unemployed, the disabled, those with special needs, and the elderly. In many cases, responsibility for the care of these people has been taken over by state or voluntary bodies. Perhaps, like Paul, these institutions are justified in challenging the family to consider its obligations to the dependent members of our society. When these people are members of our own family we have a particular responsibility to care. First Timothy 5: 8 says, "But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever."

Practical Matters

Both the Old and New Testament Scriptures command us to honor our parents, thus underscoring the importance of this mandate (Exodus 20:12, Ephesians 6:1-3). Raising and caring for our own children is typically much more rewarding than looking after parents whose bodies and minds are deteriorating. We grapple with conflicting emotions: love, grief, guilt, a sense of obligation, worry, emotional anguish, etc.

It's extremely important for children of aging parents to be in agreement and work together harmoniously for the welfare of their parents. Sadly, too often one or two siblings wind up shouldering the majority of the burden for care and decision-making. Our parents or siblings may disagree with the choices we make. Resentments can begin simmering when agreement cannot be reached. Parents and other children may feel misunderstood, unloved, or cheated. If there is an inheritance at stake, it can bring out the very worst among potential heirs. When this happens among Christians, it is sad and shameful.

We toe a difficult line when it comes to doing what is in the best interests of our parents' welfare and to ensure that the care they receive is the best possible. If parents have not talked about their wishes with their children and laid out specific instructions for them, decisions must be made when emotions are running high. At times like this it's a good idea to consult an objective third party in the form of a Christian counselor or pastor, with the aid of a medical social worker. Ideally, all family members should meet with objective professionals and try to work together harmoniously to decide the best way to care for their parents.

One way to do this is for each able parent and child to write down what his/her goals, expectations, wishes, etc. are for care when age is advanced. Special needs must be taken into consideration for parents suffering from progressive physical and mental diseases, such as Alzheimer's. If one child is already caring for a dependent relative, other children who do not have this burden should step forward to help. Each child's ability to help care for the parent must be examined impartially. No one child should be expected to shoulder the bulk of the burden by him- or herself.

If the children live far apart from one another, the burden of responsibility often falls to the one living closest to the parents. This is not fair, so the other siblings must try to find a way to ease that burden. For example, one child might be assigned as medical power of attorney, another as property power of attorney, another to do errands and help with housework and laundry, and so on. Finances must be looked at realistically, too. Do the parents have long-term-care insurance or other assets set aside for this time in their lives? Are all the children financially solvent and able to contribute to the cost of care if needed?

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Image credit: Borya; Creative Commons

TagsChristian-Life  |  Current-Issues  |  Family-Life  |  Personal-Relationships

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Published on 2-26-14