“Honor widows who are widows indeed; but if any widow has children or grandchildren, they must first learn to practice piety in regard to their own family and to make some return to their parents; for this is acceptable in the sight of God. . . . But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Tim 5.3-4, 8).
Dad turns 88 in April, Lord willing. He has lived with us now for two years. It’s been an adjustment for all of us to say the least. The least.
Amy (who bears most of the burden) and I joke that we have four children: 9, 8, 6 and 87. They all need cleaning up after, help with medicines and have their own sections on the menu. They might not hear very well or understand fast-moving conversations. And they occasionally need a Band-Aid after falling on the patio. We have to drive them all places and make sure they take showers.
Most days, we wouldn’t change a thing. Other days, we reluctantly obey Scripture and trust God is merciful toward our protestations.
In 1 Timothy 5.1-16, Paul helped Timothy understand the church’s ministry to widows. In an age without antibiotics, Crestor and nursing homes, widows were some of the most vulnerable in Paul’s day. Especially as those widows had renounced the world and joined themselves to Christ and his beleaguered people. Certainly we should assume the same principles apply to widowers as well.
According to Scripture, the church cooperates with (grand)children to care for their widowed (grand)parent. Such is part of “undefiled religion” (Jas 1.7). Paul provided two compelling reasons for insisting on this ministry. One, it is acceptable in the sight of God (v3) and Christians love being acceptable in God’s sight. Two, not doing it is eternally perilous.
I don’t know what could be worse than an unbeliever but I certainly don’t want to be it! The unbeliever is in a very bad spot as it is. What could be worse? Apparently, it’s one thing to be an unbeliever but quite another to be a faith-denier. And Paul thought of no more fitting example of a faith-denier than one who would not care for his widowed (grand)parent.
We do not always serve Dad with joy. We can grow easily frustrated, pouty and “put out.” We’re learning to “practice piety” and want his grandchildren to learn it as well. I have two Jesus-loving brothers who share this commitment as well. The Bible says we are to “make some return to [our] parents” (v4), knowing they have given us far more than we’re able to repay. We are not doing anything children have not done for thousands of years, and especially what Christians have done for two millennia.
This does not mean every Christian (grand)child should, or even could, have their widowed (grand)parent move in with them or vice versa. For any number of legitimate reasons some (grand)children simply are not able to care for their widowed (grand)parent. Some widow(er)s don’t have any living children, in which case the church is all-the-more necessary. Some widow(er)s require more medical attention than any child is able to provide. A nursing home with readily available medical care would help extend their life. Even then the nursing home should not be considered the primary caregiver, but as an extension of Christian (grand)children caring personally for them.
This does mean, however, that Christian (grand)children should pursue all reasonable and possible means to care for their widowed parent. And I do mean all. No option should be easily dismissed and you should not assume the nursing home to be first or best option.
Since our parents are living longer these days we must embrace and anticipate our biblical responsibility to care for them. We simply cannot wait until a funeral to plan for their care. Children of any age should be thinking about and arranging their lifestyles such they will be able to care for their widowed parent when the time comes. It will require much prayer, faith and good old-fashioned obedience with hard decisions. For what it’s worth I humbly offer some questions and considerations to that end:
- If you do not live near your parents, can you move closer to them (even if they are in a nursing home)? Yes, this might require a job and/or school change.
- Could your widowed parent move in with or closer to you? This will not be easy. Dad moved from the three-story “family house” of forty years into an “in-law suite” he built on our house. God whittled away his fears and resistance for a year before he was convinced.
- If you’re building a new house, could you include space for your parent in the plans? You may not need it for twenty years. Then again, you may need it in twenty days.
- If you simply cannot reasonably move, can you ensure your widowed parent’s church stays updated? Can they provided “surrogate” children to meet the physical and spiritual needs of your parent?
- Will you limit the amount of your children’s sports and activities so they “learn piety” by caring for their grandparent?
- Will you reserve your vacation days to stay available for your widowed parent? Yes, this will mean foregoing extended vacations for a while.
None of these questions have easy answers. We struggle daily with their implications and demands. So they all require God’s grace and strength. We are thankful to have a generous God who loves making much of Jesus through it all.
We live in an age that disregards life arguably more than any other in history. Unwanted children and aging parents are nuisances and easily shelved in group homes, or worse. Christ is our life (Col 3.4) and the church is the world’s most powerful champion for life. We should take Paul’s admonitions in 1 Tim 5.1-16 as simply as seriously as he intended. Defending the sanctity of human life means far more than voting for your pro-life candidate. It means taking into our homes and lives those whom the world would just as rather ignore or kill. That includes our widowed parents.