This past fall, I visited my alma mater, Moody Bible Institute. In the few minutes I had to greet and catch up with one of my professors, he asked what I had been up to since graduating in May.
A pretty straightforward question, but words never seem to fully express how I want to answer it.
Since graduating, I’ve moved back home to be a caregiver for my dad. We are slowly losing him to a degenerative neurological disease. In one sense caregiving is my full-time job; but it is also the sweeping reality of my life. It’s more than a 9-5, Monday-Friday job. Dad’s decline has impacted every area of my life.
My professor nodded as I told him I am a caregiver for my declining father.
Now what? I wondered, as he paused. Should I wrap up our conversation neatly? Perhaps paint a reassuring picture? It’s hard but he’s stable … We have good days and bad days. The comparison answer popped into my head … other people are facing far worse situations.
No, pat answers wouldn’t cut it. I longed to answer him truthfully.
His follow-up question opened the door for me to do just that – express my complex reality rightly. How is that going? he asked.
I told him, It’s been the most sanctifying experience I’ve ever gone through. A breath of relief escaped from my lips. He understood. I didn’t have time to dive into many details, but I was grateful. Grateful to have expressed how my life as a caregiver is going.
Because it’s true. Beautifully and painfully true. 2018 introduced me to a new level of sanctified living.
To sanctify means to purify, to cleanse. Scripture also speaks of sanctification with the language of consecration and holiness.
The apostle Paul says, in I Corinthians, that our holiness (sanctification), redemption, and righteousness are granted to us only through Jesus Christ (1:30-31). Not only are we sanctified by Christ; the process of sanctification makes us more like Christ.
To be holy is to look more and more like Jesus.
And it is Jesus Himself through the power of the Holy Spirit who is making it happen; so we may say, with Paul and the prophet Jeremiah, “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.” (I Cor. 1:31) It is solely by the grace and power of God that we reflect the image of Christ.
To be made more like Christ. To reflect, more and more, the image of the Beautiful One who created me and saved me. It is a surreal truth and a staggering reality.
What I realized anew this past year was that sanctification – being made like Jesus – doesn’t only take place when life is going well or “as planned.” No, it is often in the midst of our greatest struggles that Christ is working to make us more like Him.
Leading up to Easter this past spring, I read a passage by C.S. Lewis from his book Mere Christianity. His poignant remarks struck me as I considered my own journey of growth and transformation in Christ.
I think that many of us, when Christ has enabled us to overcome one or two sins that were an obvious nuisance, are inclined to feel that we are now good enough. He has done all we wanted Him to do, and we should be obliged if He would now leave us alone. As we say, ‘I never expected to be a saint, I only wanted to a decent ordinary chap.’ And we imagine when we say this that we are being humble. But this is the fatal mistake.
Of course we never wanted, and never asked, to be made into the sort of creatures He is going to make us into. But the question is not what we intended ourselves to be, but what He intended us to be when He made us.
The process will be long and in parts very painful, but that is what we are in for. Nothing less. He meant what He said.
the question is not what we intended ourselves to be, but what He intended us to be when He made us.
Especially in the face of difficult circumstances, I’m not too keen to grow in holiness. I’d much rather have Jesus carry me through the pain and work on holiness in greener pastures. Let’s not take time making me holy right now, Lord … I’m just trying to get through this.
I want to run. But the Lord is walking.
Because even in the darkest days of our lives, He is working to make us more like Him.
Because He knows that sanctification is not an item on a checklist, but a process that takes time. A lifetime.
Holiness cannot be hurried. He’s inviting us to walk with Him and to know Him as we never have before.
With that in mind, my role and responsibility as a caregiver became more than “temporary duty” or a “holding place” but the very ground God had planted me in.
Ground characterized by His presence in the face of my grief. Ground characterized by His sanctification.
The transformation Christ wants to bring about in me isn’t on hold till my life is “back on track.” It’s happening now. Caregiving for my Dad is my sanctifying ground. It is where Christ is inviting me to know Him, to allow the heartache and pain to reveal my sin and my constant need for Him.
The revelation of my sin.
Sanctification is indeed the process of being made like Jesus. But to look more like our perfect Savior, the Holy Spirit must reveal our sin and lead us to repentance.
I praise God that the Spirit’s revelation of my sin is not for the purpose of condemnation. I have been forgiven of all my sin and am clothed completely in Christ’s righteousness. But throughout our lives as believers, sin will continue to flare up and vie for control. And this season for me is no exception.
Caregiving has a unique way of unveiling deeply rooted pride. Many days, selfishness, impatience and unbelief stand loud and proud. It’s an ugly confrontation. But a necessary one. The revelation of my sin, the conviction of the Holy Spirit, is a call to repentance.
Repentance is intimately related to our sanctification. For it is not moral betterment Christ is after in us; He wants His very image to be reflected in His children. Therefore, anything that does not reflect Him must be revealed and removed.
It’s painful, it’s humbling, but it is a display of our Savior’s great grace.
Christ is not satisfied with making me “a good Christian girl.” He’s not interested in sweeping my sin under the rug. He is resolved to transform me and that includes cleansing me of my sin.
Yes, even the unveiling and uprooting of my sin is by the grace of God! Yes, even in repenting of my sin, I can truly rejoice, for my Savior is faithful and just to forgive me. (1 John 1:9)
2018 was indeed a year of new understanding and growth in light of sanctification; but, really, my entire experience as a caregiver has been characterized by being made like Jesus as I had never known before.
The paradoxical reality remains. As surely as grief and heartache reside in our home, joy and hope flood in and remain, for they are grounded in the person of Jesus.
And it is right in the middle of this paradox that Jesus is present with me, leading me to repentance, and filling me with joy – sanctifying me through and through.
For truly, friend, knowing Jesus is the greatest joy.
The new year is underway. God only knows the joys and sorrows that lie ahead, but I know He is faithful. I know He is trustworthy. The future is safe in His hands. We are safe in His hands.
May we echo the words of Paul as we move into 2019.
“For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” (1 Corinthians 2:2)