This blog is an excerpt from Dr. Benjamin T. Mast new book Second Forgetting: Remembering the Power of the Gospel during Alzheimer’s Disease. This is an important but neglected topic.
Benjamin Mast is an Associate Professor in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences and an Associate Clinical Professor in Geriatric Medicine at the University of Louisville. He is a licensed clinical psychologist specializing in aging, Alzheimer’s disease, and dementia related issues. He is Co-Editor in Chief of the forthcoming American Psychological Association Handbook of Clinical Geropsychology (February 2015).
“Through the personal stories of those affected and the loved ones who care for them, Dr. Benjamin Mast highlights the power of the gospel for those suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. Filled with helpful, up-to-date information, Dr. Mast answers common questions about the disease and its effect on personal identity and faith as he explores the biblical importance of remembering and God’s commitment to not forget his people. In addition, he gives practical suggestions for how the church can come alongside families and those struggling, offering help and hope to victims of this debilitating disease.” From Amazon.com book description
Lewis had gotten so bad that even those who knew him best could no longer tell what he remembered. He rarely spoke, and when he did, it was often a grunt or groan. He could barely walk and relied upon his wife to wheel him from room to room. He had grown too heavy to support his own weight. Swallowing became difficult, and he often choked on his food, breaking into full-body spasms that terrified both of them.
In the early years of their Alzheimer’s journey, Lewis and his wife had prayed every day for healing, in hopes that God would work a miracle. By now, Lewis had stopped speaking audible prayers, and though Ann was holding on to hope and faith, there were times where she couldn’t fight off the feeling that they had been forgotten.
How long, LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me? Look on me and answer, LORD my God.
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death, and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,” and my foes will rejoice when I fall. (Psalm 13:1 – 4)
It can seem as if Alzheimer’s and other dementias defeat us in the end. They are an enemy that progressively steals from our lives until we die, confused and alone, ending our years with a moan (Psalm 90:9). To combat these fears and doubts, we have only the promises of God to cling to.
But I trust in your unfailing love;
my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing the LORD’s praise, for he has been good to me. (Psalm 13:5 – 6)
Though it may seem as if the Lord has forgotten us, we cling to the underlying truth that although we forget our Creator and Redeemer, he never forgets us. He always remembers us, fully knows us, and sustains us, even as we approach the end of this earthly life. Even as we fall into a state of seemingly hopeless decay, we know that God remembers his children and mercifully calls us home.
We’ve discussed the importance of remembering the Lord, how he has been at work throughout redemptive history and in our individual lives. When we remember him, we find a place to anchor our lives as we are battered about by the suffering of dementia.
But we also find comfort in knowing that even in our forgetting, God doesn’t forget. He continues to know us. In fact, it is far more significant that God remembers us than that we remember him. This speaks to the reality that our salvation, from beginning to end, is by grace. In grace God reaches out to rescue us—not the other way around. Our salvation, ultimately, is not up to us. We cannot save ourselves. And there is comfort in this as a person experiences physical and mental decay. We continue to have hope that they are moving closer to full restoration. It is not necessary for them to be able to articulate this hope for it to be true. God loves them just as much now as when they were born and when they first believed. God’s love covers our sin and our forgetting with full knowledge of all that we have done and will do. There is no discovery or development that can diminish God’s view of us, even the devastation that Alzheimer’s wreaks upon our brains…
God remembers and knows us more deeply than we could ever imagine—we are never out of his mind. Even when others forget us, God does not.
If this post was beneficial for you, then considering reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Mental Illness and Medication” post which address other facets of this subject.