As we approach a new year, I hear people say, “Out with the old, in with the new.” There is an attitude in our culture that in order to get a fresh start, we need to forget about old traditions, old standards, old ways of doing things. My fear is that, in the process of doing this, we also let go of time-honored values that many of our older adults have to pass on to us. Sure, we need an infusion of youth in order to thrive, but we need what older adults provide in order to survive.
The Bible says God cares for us, no matter how young or old we are. No matter how weak or strong, no matter how fragile or productive. We don’t need to stay young to continue receiving God’s grace. We can grow old gracefully, confident, as Isaiah puts it, that God carries us from the womb, even to our old age. Even when you turn gray, says God, I will carry you. You will be full of life – full of spiritual vim and vigor even if your body tells you otherwise.
I think of two older adults who had a great impact on my life. My grandmother, Bessie Roberts and her mother, Arie Stephens. The two were as different as night and day. Grandma Roberts was a worker. She labored hard to raise a family of 8 kids, 4 on her own after Grandpa died. Whenever you saw Grandma she was busy rushing from one room to the next, checking to see if anybody needed anything, if there was anything more that needed to be done. I’m not sure I ever got a good look at her, she was such a blur of activity.
Great-grandma Stephens, on the other hand, was always sitting on the couch with an afghan wrapped around her shoulders, chewing on stems from a dogwood tree. They tell me she was quite active in her day, but when she turned 70, she decided it was time to sit down and let others care for her. I knew her when she was in her mid-80s and her mind was starting to drift. She would go from one memory to the next, and every now and then sneak up on you, saying something that was right on, like she knew what was going on all along.
These two older adults taught me a lot about life and faith and what it means to grow older.
From Grandma Roberts, I learned the importance of serving others and how gratifying it can be to work hard and be productive. Even as she grew older and couldn’t do what she once did, she didn’t let that get her down, but kept doing for others as best she could. I learned from Grandma Roberts that older adults still have much to offer, that they can still serve and not just be served. I learned that adults can age like trees, as the Psalmist puts it, “always green and full of sap.”
From Great-Grandma Stephens, I learned what it means to be dependent on God and others. It wasn’t such a terrible thing and I know she gave much to those who were privileged to serve her. I also learned from her the importance of a good story, even if it doesn’t fit in with what you’re talking about at the time. I learned from Great-Grandma Stephens that in being served, you still have much to offer.
In their own way, these two women were full of spiritual vitality that came from walking with the Lord, doing their best to follow His example, maintaining their spirits as their bodies grew weak.
In a society that worships youth, the Bible teaches us that God loves us young and old alike. Our value does not depend on our age, but on our relationship with God. As Psalm 92 puts it –
“The righteous flourish like the palm tree, and grow like a cedar in Lebanon.
They are planted in the house of the LORD;
They flourish in the courts of our God
In old age they still produce fruit;
They are always green and full of sap.” (Psalm 92:12-14)
(left photo – “Bessie Roberts and Children” right photo – “Arie Stephens and Family”, some rights reserved)