I will be the same until your old age, and I will bear you up when you turn gray. I have made you, and I will carry you; I will bear and save you. (Isaiah 46:4, HCSB)
Caring for aging parents is one of our society’s most significant issues. It can affect any family at any stage of life, but according to The Pew Research Center, the Sandwich Generation feels the most pressure. In my ministry to global workers, I’ve learned elder care drives many of them off the mission field. I’ve witnessed it among my friends and experienced it first-hand in my own family.
If you have aging parents, you are familiar with the tough choices surrounding their care and support. Those choices never seem ideal, and many times they are downright heart-wrenching. Interfamily relationships, illness, distance, finances, and countless other factors impact decisions about their long-term care.
How do we navigate these emotionally charged waters and honor our parents as commanded?
My parents passed away while I was living and serving overseas, first my mother, then my father. Caring for them in the preceding years was especially difficult because I lived half a world away. Thankfully, my siblings and I came together to share the responsibilities of their care. It wasn’t easy, and during that tumultuous time, I depended heavily on the promises of God. To know He had foreseen my circumstances, understood my struggle, and guided my path was often my only solace.
In Isaiah 46, God speaks through the prophet to assure Israel of His sustaining power “until your old age” and that He will continue to “bear you up when you turn grey” (46:4). It was a promise I took to heart about my aging parents. No matter how tough the circumstances, I clung to His promise of provision for my parents.
In his commentary on Isaiah, John Oswalt writes, “Normally, we expect that as children reach maturity, they do not need to be carried any longer. Furthermore, there usually comes a time when the child must begin to carry the aged parent. This is where God transcends the imagery. There will never come a time when we outgrow our dependence on God…”
For my father, “I will bear and save you” was a promise fulfilled in his last days. Just hours after I returned from the U.S. to our home overseas, I received word that my father had passed away. During preparations for his funeral, my sister told me the story of two extraordinary Christian women who were life-long friends of our mother. They had stepped in to care for my father in his last hours. While my Christian witness to him over the years had fallen on deaf ears, these two saints led my father to Christ the day before he passed peacefully into the arms of Jesus.
If you have aging parents, be encouraged today by the words of the beloved hymn, “How Firm a Foundation,” which captures God’s promise of provision for his people until the very end.
Even down to old age all My people shall prove, My sovereign, eternal, unchangeable love, And then, when grey hairs shall their temples adorn, Like lambs they shall still in My bosom be borne.
Shirley Ralston (MACE, 2008) serves on the leadership team for the DTS-Houston Alumni Association. She is a writer, teacher, and pastor’s research team member at Houston’s First Baptist Church. She is also a founding member of the HFBC Missionary Care Team. Shirley and her husband, Jeff, reside in Houston after several years living in the Middle East and the South Pacific.
Photo by Matthias Zomer