Understanding Our Church

A Treasury of Arkansas Writers Discussing the Catholic Faith

God’s wisdom and love shine through, even in life’s greatest trials

Published: August 9, 2003

By Judy Hoelzeman

“Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God. How inscrutable are his judgments and how unsearchable his ways.” (Romans 11:33) St. Paul writes these words to help the early Christians trust God’s plan of salvation. He is trying to assure them that God’s plan goes far beyond what humans can understand or imagine.

We may know in our minds, or even speak with our lips, that God’s ways are full of wisdom. But I find it very hard to surrender to God’s ways at times. As I try to deal with the reality of my mother’s aging, this is one of those times. My mother is close to 88 now. She lived at home (with our help) until 18 months ago when a stroke left her unable to walk.

She also suffers from memory loss and dementia. Like many thousands of people my age, I stand by helplessly as my mother’s failing mind and body move her farther and farther away from me. While the experience is teaching me a lot, somehow it doesn’t feel like wisdom! Last year, I attended a caregiver workshop led by Dr. Richard P. Johnson, a gerontological counselor.

The advice that helped me the most was this: Try your best not to feel sorry for your parent. It does your loved one no good and it keeps you mired in sadness. While you may be thinking of what’s happening as a terrible shame, God is at work. For all we know, Dr. Johnson said, this time of life may be “your loved one’s finest hour.” God may be using these very months and years to bring about your parent’s most important spiritual growth. Wow.

This enlightened me and comforted me, reminding me again of St. Paul’s teaching. We can never know what God is accomplishing. God’s ways are too wise for our human minds to comprehend. Here are other positive suggestions that have helped me. Look beyond, in faith. To me, the last few years have sometimes seemed just a succession of losses — for me and for my mother.

But I know that as a Christian, I am called to see beyond this. Dr. Johnson said to look at the experience as “a triangle of love between God, you and your aging parent.” So my mother’s aging (and my own) is part of the boundless love of God. Isaiah’s comforting words assure me that God is very close to my mother: “Fear not, I am with you; be not dismayed; I am your God. I will strengthen you, and help you …” (Isa 41:13)

Look at everything as “on loan.” Adopting this attitude, said Sister Joyce Rupp, enables us to take great joy in people, while not grasping or clinging to them. Knowing that everything in life is just loaned to us for a time means that we can hold our treasures in open hands, not with clenched fists. It means that we might not fight so much when we’re asked to let go. Look for ways to let go.

Remember God is in charge of your parent’s life. This knowledge can offer you peace of mind and release you to live more joyfully, which will benefit both you and your aging parent. Don’t fight reality and remember to take advantage of every opportunity to laugh. Look for the loving presence of God.

This presence is in the caregiver who gets down on her knees so her mother can look right into her face. It is, in friends who often ask, “How’s your mom?” God’s presence is in my husband, in my siblings, their spouses, children and grandchildren. There it is, in my mother.