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Caring for the Elderly: Talk about It

Chuck Colson | BreakPoint | Updated: May 24, 2011

Caring for the Elderly: Talk about It

I was traveling in Texas recently when I bumped into an old friend -- a man whose opinion on financial matters I really value. We got into a fascinating conversation; let me share it with you.

My friend said, “I’m in a very good position financially. But both my parents, and my wife’s parents, are on Social Security. One night I sat down and thought about the cost to the taxpayers of the members of my own family. And then I realized that my wife and I could easily pay for those benefits ourselves. But somehow it had never occurred to us that we ought to.”

His comments really struck me. I remembered that when I was ten years old, my grandparents moved in with us. During the Depression, there were no government programs or nursing homes for the elderly. When relatives got sick, their families took care of them. But it wasn’t easy. My grandmother had terminal cancer. My mother exhausted herself caring for her day and night and never complained, even though she had so many other responsibilities, including me. But my point is that it never occurred to my parents that they were making any special sacrifice. This is just what you did for your family.

How different things are today. Now, when an elderly person becomes ill, it’s typical for relatives to strip him of all his assets, and then put him on Medicaid. Is this the right thing to do?

Is it honest to take away everything from a sick loved one, and then claim he or she has no assets? And how do our parents feel when we choose to put them in a home instead of bringing them into our home?

A bigger question is, what is our country’s philosophy now, given our current debt crisis? Do we go back to caring for our own, or do we palm everybody off on Uncle Sam?

Well, the Biblical model is quite clear: You care for your own family if you possibly can. Centuries of church history back up this view.

I know what many of you are thinking: If I take care of mom, I’d have to quit my job. And if we pay for all of her care -- prescriptions, doctor bills -- we’d lose everything we put away for our children’s education.

These are legitimate concerns. But we ought to be talking about it in the church. So far, all we’ve seen is religious believers attacking lawmakers for cutting programs for the poor and sick, bankruptcy or no bankruptcy. It doesn’t seem to have occurred to these folks to ask what the Bible says about this.

Families are responsible for sick and elderly relatives, certainly if they can well afford to help. (The Bible has a lot to say about the evil of debt, too, I might add.)

I have to admit: My own mother died in an accident before I had to make any difficult decision about her care. Although, as many of you know, I do have an autistic grandson, and I’m not about to let the state take over our job.

But most Christians will have to face this choice. Do we know what the Bible teaches? Are we prepared to follow God’s commands?

Let’s start talking about it. Go to and click on “Speak Out with Chuck.” Share your thoughts . . . and let’s be open and honest with one other, all the while recognizing that caring for the elderly and the infirm is a difficult and even traumatic issue for so many.

This article published on May 24, 2011.

This article first published on May 20, 2011. Chuck Colson's daily BreakPoint commentary airs each weekday on more than one thousand outlets with an estimated listening audience of one million people. BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today's news and trends via radio, interactive media, and print. 

Caring for the Elderly: Talk about It