As I have become older, the realization that, unless Christ returns first, I may well reach an age at which I will constitute a burden upon my family has occupied more of my thoughts. As with most people, the thought disturbs me. I do not wish to be a burden. I have seen many people, as they age, become a terrific burden upon their families in their efforts not to be a burden. I have seen them become unreasonable, stubborn, and even cruel. Or perhaps they were that way before they got old, and were just better at hiding it, I don't know. But as I have observed these things, my heart has cried out to God, "Oh, Lord, please do not let me become unreasonable as I get older. Help me to know when to relinquish control over my life, and when to let my family tell me what to do, and help me do so graciously and without bitterness. The truth is, few of us really want to be a burden, and rightly so. We should take care of ourselves as long as we can. But the fact is that unless we die first, we will all at some point become a burden, unless our children just stick us away somewhere and ignore us, and if they do that we ought to be ashamed of them and they ought to be ashamed of themselves.
We must face the fact that God has not given us the authority to determine the time of our own death. Suicide, whether Physician assisted or not, is sin. I realize that what is suicide and what is simply allowing nature to take it's course is not always a simple question to answer, but that is not my subject today, and I will not go into it. The fact is that God does allow most of us to become, in our old age, a burden on our families. Please do not make the case that it isn't really a burden because they love us. Of course it's a burden. We love our children, too, but you'd be a simpleton to try to make the case that they are not in any way a burden. The fact that they are well worth it does not take away the burden. So why does God permit us to become burdens?
I think the first step in understanding this is to correct the idea that a burden is necessarily an evil. Who is it that gives us our burdens? It is surely God. And God does all things well. If those burdens were not good for us, He would not give them. Spurgeon said that if there were no heavy loads we would not know good horses. I will go further. If there were no heavy loads, we would not have good horses. It is the heavy loads that make the horses strong. If I want to build strong muscles, I must lift heavy burdens. There is no other way.
God has told us that to be great, we must serve (Matt. 20:26, 27). But how could we serve if there were nobody who needed our service? Most of us think that the best life would be one in which we could always do exactly as we please. No demands, no burdensome responsibilities, no duties. Nothing could be further from the truth. If we had such a life, we would become utterly and completely self-centered. When I was a bachelor, the thing that disturbed me most about myself was that I was becoming more and more like myself. There was nobody to cross me, nobody to defer to, nobody to try my patience, nobody to make demands upon me, nobody to serve except myself. The purpose of people in our lives is to stop us from doing as we please. The only way to be Christ-like is to serve and please others. The most genuine service is the service that is given to us, rather than chosen by us.
In the book, "Stepping Heavenward by Elizabeth Prentiss, Katie is having a conversation with Mrs. Campbell. Let me quote her conversation here.
"You know, I began, "dear Mrs. Campbell, that there are some trials that cannot do us any good. They only call out all there is in us that is unlovely and severe.
"I don't know of any such trials, she replied.
"Suppose you had to live with people who were perfectly uncongenial; who misunderstood you, and who were always getting into your way as stumbling-blocks?
"If I were living with them and they made me unhappy, I would ask God to relieve me of this trial if He thought it best. If He did not think it best, I would then try to find out the reason. He might have two reasons. One would be the good they might do me. The other the good I might do them.
"But in the case I was supposing, neither party can be of the least use to the other.
"You forget perhaps the indirect good one may receive by living with uncongenial, tempting persons. First such people do good by the very self-denial and self-control their mere presence demands. Then, their making one's home less home-like and perfect than it would be in their absence, may help to render our real home in heaven more attractive.
"But suppose one cannot exercise self-control, and is always flying out and flaring up? I objected.
"I should say that a Christian who was always doing that, she replied, gravely, "was in pressing need of just the trial God sent when He shut him up to such a life of hourly temptation. We only know ourselves and what we really are, when the force of circumstances bring us out.
"It is very mortifying and painful to find how weak one is.
"That is true. But our mortifications are some of God's best physicians, and do much toward healing our pride and self-conceit.
"Do you really think, then, that God deliberately appoints to some of His children a lot where their worst passions are excited, with a desire to bring good out of this seeming evil? Why I have always supposed the best thing that could happen to me, for instance, would be to have a home exactly to my mind; a home where all were forbearing, loving and good-tempered, a sort of little heaven below.
"If you have not such a home, my dear, are you sure it is not partly your own fault?
"Of course it is my own fault. Because I am very quick-tempered I want to live with good-tempered people.
"That is very benevolent in you, she said, archly.
I colored, but went on.
"Oh, I know I am selfish. And therefore I want to live with those who are not so. I want to live with persons to whom I can look for an example, and who will constantly stimulate me to something higher.
"But if God chooses quite another lot for you, you may be sure that He sees that you need something totally different from what you want. You just now said that you would gladly go through any trial in order to attain a personal love to Christ that should become the ruling principle of your life. Now as soon as God sees this desire in you, is He not kind, is He not wise, in appointing such trials as He knows will lead to this end?
I meditated long before I answered. Was God really asking me not merely to let Martha and her father live with me on sufferance, but to rejoice that He had seen fit to let them harass and embitter my domestic life?
"I thank you for the suggestion, I said, at last.
Now I understand that this situation is not precisely the same as the one we are considering, but I do believe it is directly applicable. Even when my children are grown up, and perhaps have children of their own, they still need someone to serve, someone to care for, and minister to, if they are going to be Great Servants Of God. Even when I become old and senile, and perhaps don't even remember my children, I can be of service to them by being the one God uses to keep them serving and caring, and putting others before themselves. This is a great comfort to me. Even when I can no longer be actively of service to my children, I can still be passively useful to them. I can be a sanctifying force in their lives, by being God's tool to keep them looking outward instead of inward. It may not be a glamorous or self-fulfilling mission for me, but if that is the use God wants to make of me, I ought to be glad that He is able to use me so.
This does not mean that I should deliberately seek to be a burden, or an annoyance to my family. Of course, even when I must allow them to serve me, I ought still to try to serve them in every way I can. I can pray for them, and encourage them, and love them, and give them the benefit of my experience for as long as I am able. But even when I can do absolutely nothing for them, actively, I can still be of use to them, as long as God sees fit.
And this helps me to understand the role of my own parents in God's plan for my life. They are getting up in years, but are still able to look after themselves. That will not last forever. Because of location, I understand that it is unlikely that I will be the one to directly care for them on a daily basis. But I can understand that in whatever way I can serve them, God will be using them in my life, to make me more like my Master. What greater usefulness could they have? What a blessing they will be, even in their passive service for God. I must be willing that God should use me in the same way. Even if my last days are days of suffering, I ought to be willing to suffer in order to be used by God in the lives of those who must care for me. To me, this is what dignity is about. I will be useful to God and others until He chooses to take me home.
By Pastor Joel De Ford