MINISTERING TO AND REMEMBERING THOSE WHO CAN'T
by Bruce Scott – The Westfall Group
ST. CHARLES, MO – In 30 years of pastoring SBC churches I’ve encountered many people struggling in so many different ways. Sometimes as pastors, those struggles land in our own homes and families. And, one of the most difficult is the one my family recently experienced as my father-in-law, Jennings, slipped away into the fog of Alzheimer’s Disease.
From our initial concern for his difficulty searching for words, to his empty looks, to his wandering off to the final days, this was a dark and hard road for all of us. The value and importance of ministering to families dealing with the heartache of Alzheimer’s Disease is enormous.
Along the way some ideas came to my mind that I
believe would be valuable in my own ministry and hopefully for others in ministry as well.
The ministry of presence - Rarely in those difficult circumstances have I known what to say. Rarely in those difficult times when we were walking that road did we need anyone to say anything. But, someone being there and walking with us was a huge blessing. Having our pastor available and being with us made a huge difference. In Job 2:12-13 Job’s friends saw him, their hearts broke for him and they stayed and sat with him for seven days and nights.
Focus on the person with the disease and the caregivers - At some point in the entire journey, Jennings wasn’t able to respond to those ministering to him. We hoped and believed he knew and benefited from it, but his closest caregivers were also hurting and needed ministering to deeply.
Pray with them - The ministry of prayer is not just for the prayer closet. Jennings recognized when we would pray and joined us. The mind and the Spirit are not the same. There is power in prayer for and with the entire family.
Share Bible passages - Scripture, too, can be of amazing comfort when used well. Even those passages that are familiar to us all are reminders of God’s presence and comfort.
Don’t correct them or say “remember”- I would make the mistake of saying, “did I tell you?” He would respond, “probably but tell me again. I won’t remember.” It frustrates the person with the disease to be constantly reminded that they don’t remember. Put yourself in their place and recognize the obvious frustration they must be dealing with, lost in a fog of memory.
Sing or play music - When things got really bad, and even on his worse days, Jennings responded to the playing and singing of the hymns. He would try to sing along with them and his countenance was always more relaxed. Every church has a music ministry. Consider sending out those who can to minister.
Encourage others to visit - Early in the diagnosis there is an attempt to remember and visit. However, as time passes and other things fill our lives it becomes harder to make visiting a priority. Being present offers a huge blessing of encouragement to both the patient and the family caregivers.
Romans 8:26-27 talks about the Holy Spirit interpreting our groans and sighs and shapes them into our unspoken prayers. I am convinced that Jennings often prayed when the words would not come, but his heart was focused on the Lord. Up to just a few weeks before his death he would be asked to lead in prayer, and while he had a hard time finding the right words, he always lifted up his heart in a prayer that was certainly precious to us and I believe to the Father.
If you have experienced a family member or church member dealing with this awful disease then you will understand. If not, please remember to walk along with them and their family. As a pastor, staff member or leader in your church you can be a major encouragement to the patient and to the family. Remember it’s a marathon and not a sprint. There were many days when we asked God why. Why he didn’t take Jennings home and out of the awful place of not knowing or remembering? We didn’t understand. It seemed to be a lifetime, but in reality it was only 6 years. Many walk that journey much longer. Walking with a family dealing with Alzheimer’s Disease is an incredible ministry that will pay dividends of blessings to you and the family. Prepare your ministry and your church for it. If it has not yet arrived at your doorstep, it is only a matter of time.