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Making Good Return

Making Good Return

I don’t think I am overstating the matter when I say that this has the potential to be one of the most important books you will read. It’s a book that may shape years of your life and transform the way you carry out one of the key roles God assigns to you. It’s a book about caring for your parents as they age.

It has long concerned me that modern Western society doesn’t quite seem to know what to do with aging parents. What may be obvious and instinctual in some cultures, isn’t necessarily so in ours with its high premium on independence and autonomy. And as the massive boomer generation heads into their twilight years, the issue will become even more widespread and even more urgent. That’s especially true as economic realities shift and a good many people find they cannot rely on living out their final days in high-quality retirement and nursing facilities. If family doesn’t step up, who will?

Kathleen Neilson has had the responsibility and privilege of caring for her mother and writes this in her book’s opening pages: “I have not counted the number of people who have commented to me on the need to address this topic, but it’s been overwhelming—and the comments have come with a definite urgency. Many adult children like me (aging fifty- or sixty-something years old) are being called up to parent-duty and feel the need for advice and help, especially as a similar call from children and grandchildren often pulls from the other side.” And, of course, “this situation will only intensify in coming years, as we baby boomers begin to crowd the ranks of the elderly. The need to help and encourage caregivers is urgent indeed, not only in the general public but specifically in the church, for the Bible speaks strongly to the subject of God’s care and our care for the elderly ones in our midst.”

An intensifying situation requires intensifying teaching, and I am thankful that Nielson saw fit to write this book. Though the book is divided into ten chapters, it is actually comprised of five “big biblical truths” about the process of aging and elder care. One chapter describes the truth and the following one offers a kind of practical response. It is, then, made up of five pairs of chapters.

The opening chapter shows that aging occurs under God’s sovereign rule. Though God’s original purpose for us was one in which we would not suffer the negative effects of aging, humanity’s fall means that we all now age toward death, growing weaker all the while. The call upon all of us is to respond to aging with humility both as we experience it ourselves and as we help others through it. We need to help by ensuring our loved ones are receiving adequate care, that they are receiving appropriate care, and that they are receiving spiritual care.

The second big truth is that God calls us to honor our elders in general and our parents in specific. We are, in the words that gave the book its title, to “make some return to them” (1 Timothy 5:4). The practical application is to respect the personhood and the dignity of those we are called to care for and to ensure we are caring for them well.

The other essential truths are: God sees the suffering that comes with age, God helps us to the end, and God reveals what is to come after death. Each is first proven biblically and then shown practically with Nielson often weaving in her own experiences of caring for her mother. It is an appropriate and powerful combination.

Not too long ago I spoke with representatives from a couple of publishers and expressed the need for books that would provide a distinctly Christian perspective on caring for aging parents. I was assured that some were on the way. Making Good Return is exactly the kind of book I was hoping to see. It is biblical, it is helpful, it is practical. It is a book that will help so many.

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