My family is no stranger to mental illness and dementia. We’ve had several family members over the years who have found their mental faculties declining due to mental illness or age-related dementia. It wasn’t (and isn’t) easy to watch these family members decline and forget even the most basic things like their children’s names, the concept of numbers, or lose their grasp of reality.
It was especially difficult to watch my great Aunt Vivian decline mentally. She was my Dad’s aunt and she was always a favorite relative of the entire Jacobsen family. She was that aunt that would get down on the floor and play with the kids and send all of us $2 on our birthday with the instructions to, “Buy something good to eat.” She was beloved not only by the kids in our family but by hundreds of children she taught in Sunday school for more than 30 years at her neighborhood Lutheran church.
Aunt Vivian spent most of her life teaching kids that Jesus loved them and tangibly showing them that love by her words and actions. She was able to do this because she knew Jesus’ love first-hand and had a simple yet, active faith and relationship with Christ her entire life. Though she wasn’t able to follow God’s call to the mission field as she had hoped, she shared the love of Jesus with kids and adults in her Brooklyn neighborhood.
And despite her declining mental faculties, Aunt Vivian remained convinced of Jesus’ love for her. One day as we were visiting her in her nursing home, she became confused and agitated over a quilt that she thought had been stolen from her. In reality, it was being laundered, but nothing could convince her of this. In the middle of her agitation and confusion, she blurted out, “I may not know much anymore, but I know that Jesus loves me.”
What a profound statement. Aunt Vivian understood the truth of Romans 8:38-39, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Aunt Vivian knew her mental abilities were declining but knew this did not change the fact that Jesus still loved her.
What happened that day with Aunt Vivian and what she said has stayed with me for more than twenty years. We would all do well to remember this simple and yet amazingly profound truth. For those of us who trust in Christ, nothing can separate us from his love. Declining mental and physical abilities, lack of money, power or influence, suffering, hardship, pain, and even COVID-19 cannot separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Nothing in all creation can separate us from this amazing and sacrificial love. My prayer is that we remember this truth during the Lenten season and we continue to remember it, even if we forget everything else!
Karen Jacobsen is the Director of Children’s Ministry and of Refuge 686, a ministry serving adoption and foster care families.