My candidate for one of the most unhelpful (although well-meant) comments patients make in the discussion of end-of-life and other care issues:
“I don’t want to be a burden on anybody.”
Why unhelpful? Because we can have very little control over whether we will become a burden. A burst aneurysm, a car accident, or some other unforeseen event, and wham! we’re a “burden,” dependent upon others, through no fault or planning of our own. And people somehow have got the idea that being dependent on somebody else diminishes their dignity.
But not only is this not a Christian idea, it is an anti-Christian idea. Maybe so many Christians cling to it because we were raised on the pious-sounding but non-Bilblical nostrum that “God helps those who help themselves.” Or maybe it’s because we have appropriated the assumptions of our independent, individualistic culture. Whatever the reason, John Stott provides a powerful corrective in the final book he wrote before his death, The Radical Disciple (IVP Books, 2010). In the chapter on “Dependence” he points out that we all come into the world, and most of us leave it, dependent on the love and care of others (pages 110-111). “And this is not an evil, destructive reality. It is part of the design, part of the physical nature that God has given us.”
He continues, “I sometimes hear old people, including Christian people who should know better, say, ‘I don’t want to be a burden to anyone else. I’m happy to carry on living so long as I can look after myself, but as soon as I become a burden I would rather die.’ But this is wrong … the life of the family, including the life of the local church family, should be one of ‘mutual burdensomeness.’ ‘Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ’ (Galatians 6:2)
“Christ himself takes on the dignity of dependence. He is born a baby, totally dependent on the care of his mother. He needs to be fed, he needs his bottom to be wiped, he needs to be propped up when he rolls over. And yet he never loses his divine dignity. And at the end, on the cross, he again becomes totally dependent, limbs pierced and stretched, unable to move. So in the person of Christ we learn that dependence does not, cannot, deprive a person of their dignity, of their supreme worth. And if dependence was appropriate for the God of the universe, it is certainly appropriate for us.”