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Servant, Not Slave

Do you notice the term “servant” seems to be popping up everywhere these days? In business it’s all about “servant leadership” and a “servant mindset.” At church it’s all about “servant ministry.”

Serving is a good thing. Business leader John C. Maxwell recognized the value of servant leadership in business when he said, “A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.” Serving others through church and other outreach ministries reaps obvious benefits for both the recipient and the giver.

Caregiving your challenging elderly loved one requires caring and giving with a servant’s heart. The challenge with any caregiving responsibility is to be present as a servant – not a slave.

I am a firm believer in the inherent goodness of people – that most people strive to do the right thing. But it is so easy to cross that line from being a hands-on caring relative to becoming a slave. What’s the difference?

Servants are willing to humble themselves and put others’ needs first temporarily and in a limited scope. So in caregiving, that means determining how you are willing to help, what behaviors you are willing to put up with, and setting boundaries on what you can and cannot do.

Slaves are – willingly or unwillingly – put in the position where their own needs count for nothing. It’s a subtle difference. That’s why you feel guilty when friends or other family members just assume you’ll be there to do the heavy lifting. That’s why you feel guilty when you go to church and hear how you need to sacrifice and live a selfless life. That’s why you feel like Cinderella after midnight, left to deal with the negative energy, lifestyle upheaval, and overwhelming fatigue that comes with caregiving a challenging elderly loved one.

When you have reached that point, you are not a servant. You’re a slave.

How do you break free from the chains? If you are already in the throes of caregiving, first recognize that you are not a slave and that your needs, wants, and desires count for something. Then start taking those baby steps to lower expectations and seek out the resources that can begin the process of giving you some relief.

If you are not currently caregiving, sit down with yourself and start thinking about what you would and would not be willing to do for your elderly loved one down the road. Wherever your thoughts take you, just remember: I’m a servant, not a slave.

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