"Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves." James 1:22 (NKJV)

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Week 1: Caring for Widows, Part 1

"Give proper recognition to those widows who are really in need."

1 Timothy 5:3

There are about 16,100 nursing homes in the United States, with about 1.5 million elderly residents. Three out of four nursing home residents are female. More than half of those are widows. On average, a nursing home resident has lived in the nursing home for 835 days---that's about 2 years, 3 1/2 months. My grandma is over 94 years old. She has been a widow for over thirty years. And, for the last several years, she's lived in a nursing home.

After my grandpa died Grandma threw herself into church work, teaching Sunday school and playing piano for the church choir for many years. I never appreciated Grandma until I became a Christian at age 17. It was then that I began to understand that she was full of faith and wisdom. When I was in college, I would go to her house almost every afternoon to practice piano on her old upright. We talked about God and prayed together.

Unfortunately, several years ago Grandma's health began to deteriorate. She needed twenty-four hour per day nursing care, and nobody in the family was able to provide it. We made the difficult decision to move her into a nursing home. A couple years ago, dementia began to set in. She would often confuse me with my dad or brother. She would ask the same questions over and over again. She gradually slipped into despair and depression, and nothing I said seemed to make much difference.

When she first went to the home, I visited her weekly. Then, monthly. Now, it's been almost one year since I've seen her. It was hard for me to watch the woman that I knew slipping away, to watch a woman of great wisdom begin to lose touch with reality and a woman of great faith start to lose hope. I started making excuses not to go see her. I was busy. I have a demanding job. I was raising my own kids, etcetera. She hardly knew I was there anyway; at least, that's what I told myself. Here, is the problem with all of my excuses. My problem. My sin, to be blunt about it. We are commanded to care for widows, and specifically to provide for the needs of our own grandparents. You need to read this week's command in context to get the full impact:

Give proper recognition to those widows who are really in need. But if a widow has children or grandchildren, these should learn first of all to put their religion into practice by caring for their own family and so repaying their parents and grandparents, for this is pleasing to God. . . . . If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

1 Tim. 5:3-8. We are commanded to make caring for our parents and grandparents a high priority. I'm just out of the gates with the project, and this is like a punch in my gut. Although Grandma's physical needs are provided for, I've failed her. She desperately needs companionship and encouragement, and I haven't been there for her. Thank God for His grace and mercy, and for the correction and truth available to us in his Word.

As I go along in this project, it may be a challenge to find practical ways to observe each command. The called for response here is obvious.

I understand that there's a big difference between "observing" commands for a week, and truly observing them in a way that glorifies God. As I go through this project for the next forty weeks, I will focus on responding to one command each week. My hope, however, is that The James 1:22 Project will have a lasting life changing impact. I don't want to visit Grandma this week and then not see her again for a year. For now, I'll concentrate on the first step, which is to visit Grandma tomorrow. I'll tell you about it in my next post.