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photo: weekly snaps graphic: Martha G. Brady

photo: weekly snaps
graphic: Martha G. Brady

I put this in here during the Christmas season because this is a time when we are in touch with many of our family members that we aren’t always around. Sometimes, we need to fine-tune our attitudes toward our older relatives or acquaintances so we can treat them graciously and respectfully. 12/7/15

Have you ever noticed the different ways people view older adults? It shows in the words they use. Senior citizens, past your prime, over the hill, getting senile (even when they aren’t), wise with experience…to name a few. 

Of course, you have the even more subtle attitudes that aren’t spoken aloud. Often, they can be patronizing…as in she doesn’t know any better, she is stuck in the old ways. She isn’t smart enough to understand our modern ways of doing things.

Or He doesn’t hear very well, therefore his brain has stopped working. We can say whatever we want about him because he won’t hear it.

Or She has had a head injury and can’t express herself well. She won’t know what you are saying. Actually, she is probably more sensitive to the way you treat her than she was before she was injured. As a nurse in rehab, I have found that those who have neurological issues, particularly if they have difficulty expressing themselves, are more sensitive to attitudes of their caretakers and /or family members.

Or when two sets of people walk into our church as first time visitors, one an older couple, the other a young family, which do we rush to welcome first if we have to choose?

I’ve been working in the church for almost 50 years now. I’ve been watching the changes as we go to a younger and younger mindset in our pastors, our desire for seeker-friendly churches, our hunger for interesting services…and I am often saddened. Even in churches that don’t consider themselves to be seeker-friendly in their orientation.

Stabalizing, deepening effect of older adults on the church

Over the years, I see how often I was more interested in having more younger vs. older members in a given church we pastored. But I was wrong in my wishes. I was reflecting my American culture and her love of the beautiful, youthful and healthy. Her discomfort with sickness, death and suffering…all things that have been part of people who have lived long. But all part of life in this fallen world. But GOD always put me in places where there were plenty of older adults to grow and broaden me. I am so thankful now.

What kind of picture do we get of life and ministry if all we deal with is beautiful, happy, healthy people? It certainly wouldn’t be a realistic one because even the young and beautiful people have suffering and sadness as part of their lives. They need to be friends with people who have come through those times and can say with certainty, “GOD is faithful! He will be with you no matter what comes your way!”

What kind of picture do we get of life and ministry if all we deal with is beautiful, happy, healthy people? Click To Tweet

I look at churches that have mostly young people in them with mostly young staffs. They suffer from blindspots that older, godly members can help them with. But they are too busy, too frantic, too self-focused to realize it…just as I was when I was their age. And I didn’t have a cell phone or facebook, twitter, or even an answering machine back then! There were no personal computers or google. Unimaginable!

We only had telephones and could only take one call at a time. If we weren’t home, we didn’t get the call. What a simple life! In many ways, it was much less complicated.

I don’t say that to tell you how hard our lives were. In many ways, I think they were simpler! We could do one thing at a time and not be bombarded with so much information than is often unnecessary, from the outside world!

What value do you place on the older adult person in your church?

But back to my initial question? When you see an older couple or single come to visit your church, do you see them as valuable like a classic car? People with experience in life that you need for your church? Or do you see them as people who are over the hill and more of a drain on your church’s resources?

I can tell you, you need the resources that are available in older adults. The view that all old people are crotchety and hard to get along with is false. Do we have bad days? Yes! But younger people have bad days too!

Often, many of us are much kinder and more forgiving toward young moms for example, than they are to themselves. We remember those years. They were the years we were often tired. And we had to learn to prioritize…all the time! But we survived those years too and we know you will…as long as you realize that you can’t raise your kids perfectly. There is no perfect in this life.

We realize how short the time is with your young children. How relatively unnecessary the neatness of your home is compared to the building of the relationship with your child. When you can’t have the pristine looking home, we realize it will wait for you. Pristine isn’t all it is cracked up to be!

Learning to laugh and enjoy our children is what is important for these few short years…and learning to laugh at ourselves as well!

Trusting GOD to lead and guide us all as we grow together as a couple (the prime human relationship) and as a family...this is what is important.

Another aspect of growth that is important is growing together as the family of GOD! The community of Christ in the local church…the value of this cannot be underestimated. Older members as they serve and minister…and even as we watch some of them fail physically, minister to us in ways we don’t expect. They are often a bridge to our kids…especially if they don’t have local grandparents!

One older lady in one of our churches taught one of our daughters to crochet, a skill she wanted to learn. She still thinks of Anna Jo whenever she makes a baby blanket! An elderly couple, just retired at the time, who took our girls out for lunch at a 1950’s style restaurant is still remembered fondly when they talk of our move–a very difficult one for them at the time–way back in the late 1980’s!

The advantage of older people is they usually aren’t focused on their career at this point. They have time to volunteer. They understand the fullness of a life cycle. They have raised their family and lived through much of a life cycle. Their idealism is more tempered with realism and the grace of GOD.

They aren’t as inclined to go off on wild tangents or be as legalistic as they once might have been. They have seen too much of GOD’s grace at work in their lives and realize that if their children “turned out right”, it wasn’t because of their perfect parenting…it just isn’t possible!

More likely, they had problems along the way with one or more of their children. And they have learned that GOD’s grace is enough for whatever happens… disappointments, joys, the absolute worst things that can happen, and the most delightful things!

And the most important thing is to continue to grow with GOD…to stay connected to Him…He will be a source of comfort, enabling and joy throughout all of life!

They are an incredible resource for your children to learn history first hand, for all of you to learn the story of someone who has walked with GOD through a lifetime…

My challenge is for you to view your older members who have walked with GOD as an incredible and valuable resource. They may not express themselves in the neat tidy 145 unit ways you would prefer.

They may need you to look at them when you talk because of their hearing that isn’t up to par. But their minds are still there…and they have much to teach you…if you want to hear it.

One thing they have learned along the way: they don’t often share wisdom with those who don’t want to hear it. It is a waste. When the needy one is ready to hear, they will ask for help.

Do you have older adults in your church? community?

What ways do you encourage your children to get to know them better? to assist them?

But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine. 

Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified,

self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness.  

Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, 

not slanderers or slaves to much wine.

They are to teach what is good,  

and so train the young women to love their husbands and children,  

to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind,

and submissive to their own husbands, 

that the word of God may not be reviled.  

Likewise, urge the younger men to be self-controlled.  

Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works,

and in your teaching show integrity, dignity,  

and sound speech that cannot be condemned, 

so that an opponent may be put to shame,

having nothing evil to say about us.

Titus 2:1-8