Gray Hairs and Great-Uncles

“Uncle Hayward, it’s been good seeing you again,” Dad reached across the Redskins lap blanket to shake hands with his great-uncle. With a sigh of relief, we heard my dad wrap up the visit and saw him motion for us to pick ourselves up off the floor or stairs or wherever we had found a spot to sit in the tiny downtown apartment. After a hug to chair-confined Uncle Hayward and bubbly Aunt Edith, we breathed the fresh outside air again. Only one question remained in our minds: would Dad again offer to stop for ice cream?

As children, we were relieved to have the visit over. But times visiting my great-great-uncle and aunt now hold pleasant nostalgia for me. Yes, I had to be quiet and respectful and it was long and hot, but my clearest memory is the pleasure on their wrinkled faces at the sight of us.

So visiting the elderly is a good thing, right? I’ve never found a Bible verse or passage that read “Thou shalt visit the elderly,” followed by a list of how and why, in order to convince you. And yet I doubt that any of us would question the value of doing such a thing. Still, we should think about the purpose of taking time for those older in age and what we are trying to accomplish by doing so.

Respectfully, Yours

It’s easy for me, as a young person, to get very excited about the things I am learning. As a result, I quickly hold the ways of the older generation up to the light of what I am experiencing or learning. Ignoring the areas I fall short in, I judge those older than myself for the ways I would like to see things done differently. However, I think study of Scripture should lead us to respect our elders for the lives they’ve lived and the ways they lead.

Titus 2:4 charges older women to “teach the younger women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children…” (KJV). This verse requires humility of me. I must willingly admit that I don’t always know the best way to follow Christ in my stage of life, but there are older women who can guide me.

Psalm 71 acknowledges the work of God in the writer’s life from his youth and pleads for continued strength in his old age. The writer desires to “declare Your [God’s] strength to this generation, Your power to everyone who is to come” (NKJV). His eyewitness testimony of God’s faithfulness over the span of his life uniquely qualifies him to praise God and encourage those who follow after him.

Speak Up

Respecting our elders, however, does not inevitably mean that we always agree with them. Both Timothy and Titus, as young leaders in the church, were commanded to teach both the older men and women. Their attitude mattered though, “Do not rebuke an older man, but exhort him as a father…” (1 Timothy 5:1 NKJV). The Greek word, instead of meaning chastising or reprimanding severely, is to call on them, to admonish them, and it also carries the tone of encouragement.

This will, of course, look different for those of us who are not in a position of leadership in the church, but it doesn’t excuse us from studying the Word of God ourselves, being passionate about truth and willing to lead in our own setting – “Let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12 NKJV).

We need to practice another aspect of exhorting our elders when they are not disciples of Christ. My elderly neighbor is very fearful and very concerned about evil people in our town. Her comments such as, “It didn’t use to be that way, people just don’t care about each other,” and “I’ll defend myself,” open opportunities for me to comment on our need to trust God, and our common lack of goodness without Christ.

Practically Speaking

So visiting old people is good. It’s biblical, purposeful and rewarding. But how do I do it? I can know all of these principles, but it still takes large amounts of effort and time to follow through in practice. I’m still new at this myself, but I have two phrases of advice for visiting our elders.

Just do it. At the risk of sounding like a Nike commercial, this is my advice. You can plan and prepare all you want, but at some point you just need to get in your car, or walk to your neighbor’s house, and knock on the door of an older person. They’ll love it. And so will you. It is worth it, even when you have to sit in that uncomfortable harvest orange chair, or in our case, continually pull your mind from Pat loudly asking the Wheel of Fortune contestant if they would like to buy a vowel.

Embrace the Awkward. When my husband and I went to visit our neighbor, recently transplanted to the nursing home, it was anything but smooth. His napping roommate growled – it sounded like a growl – at us, I stood leaning against a rolling table, and my husband perched on the edge of his bed. The conversation pauses were long, sometimes he couldn’t hear us, other times we didn’t understand him. We walked out feeling like the worse visitors ever.

But taking time to visit someone is never a failure because it shows them you care. Offer to read scripture to them, you might be surprised at how much they welcome this. Ask about their family. Listen to their aches and pains. Share the activities going on in your life. Most of all, don’t feel like a failure if any and all of these suggestions fall flat. You’ll make mistakes, but isn’t that normal? Visiting an older person is not a box to check, it’s a relationship.

A Bigger Story

People of all ages should have value to us, because God values them. Our elders should also have our respect and humility. Lining their stories alongside ours gives us a bigger picture of our history and our heritage. What can they teach us about who God is, what he has done, and how we should live as a result? They also need our love, support and exhortation. It’s much harder and messier than words on a page make it sound. But it is good.

 

Endnote: I realize it’s been over a month since I went to visit my elderly neighbor. What principles, advice or stories do you have to encourage me?

S+P4 (3) Sadie Beery has recently been transplanted to Elnora, Indiana where she lives with her husband, Aaron, and interacts with the Elnora Bible Institute where he works. She loves poetry, good coffee, and Skype calls. Currently she works at a little thrift store, turning one man’s trash into another man’s treasure. She is excited about the adventure of life God is leading her on and longs know him better and do all things with excellence for His glory. Her dream is to one day publish a book, but right now she just tries to find time to clean the house.

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