By Sharon Byrd & Valerie Unruh
An elderly couple are on their way to visit relatives. The wife turns to the husband and says, "Honey, you try to remember where we're going, and I'll try to remember who we are."
These types of jokes are funny to us as we tease our aging friends and relatives, but the truth is, at some point you or someone you know is going to be there.
People 65 years and older represent 12.9% of the U.S. population; close to 40 million souls!
That number is expected to reach 19% by 2030, which would make it almost 64 million!
Our Savior was always ready and willing to take on a challenge, meeting problems head on, and we should be no different. So let’s look at what Scripture has to say about old age and how we should be thinking about it.
There are two areas I want to touch on: our attitude toward our own aging experience and our attitude and responsibility toward the elderly, both as individuals and as the Church.
Our outlook toward our own aging process is intertwined with our attitude toward others as they age, so we’ll start there.
Scripture is pretty clear on the point that long life is a gift from God. It is a blessing, something to look forward to, not something to dread and fear. Numerous verses teach this. Let’s look at a few:
“Gray hair is a glorious crown; if it is found in the way of righteousness” (Proverbs 16:31).
“Honor your father and your mother so that you may have a long life in the land that the Lord your God is giving you” (Exodus 20:12).
“If you walk in My ways and keep My statutes and commandments just as your father David did, I will give you a long life” (1 Kings 3:14).
There is also the oft-repeated phrase in the Bible regarding many a righteous man who “died old and full of days.”
It’s interesting that God points out not only the physical longevity of these men, but that they died “full of days.” That sounds to me like you could be old and not full of days!
But what is full of days? How does that look? The simple answer is that only you and God can work that out! Every single one of our lives will look different from the others around us. We are unique individuals so it makes sense that each of our “full days” will be unique, too.
We should seek God’s guidance to know how He would have us fill up our days, but one thing we can be sure of across the board: that those full days will have something to do with serving others and furthering the Kingdom of God.
Joel urges the older generation to tell their children what they’ve seen God do, so that their children can tell their children, from generation to generation (Joel 1:2-3). Paul exhorts Titus to have the older saints teach the younger ones in Titus chapter 2.
As the parable of the talents so vividly portrays, Jesus is all about us taking what we’re given and making the most of it for Him.
If He gives us the gift of longevity, He expects us to be fruitful for His glory.
Think of the rich wisdom and experiences available to someone who’s been around the block a time or two. Someone who has walked with the Savior and seen His hand at work in their lives.
What a gold mine of knowledge to help others on their way!
Some folks who “filled their years” serving the kingdom include: Moses, Joshua, Caleb, Eli the priest, King Solomon's counselors, Daniel, the men who led the rebuilding of the temple, Zacharias (father of John the Baptist), John the Apostle, Simeon, Anna and Paul.
The Psalmist definitely was describing folks like these when he said: “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. They still bear fruit in old age; they are ever full of sap and green” (Psalm 92:12-14).
The long days of our life are a talent lent to us by God to use for His glory. The bigger the loan, the larger the profit, not to mention the greater chance for salvation.
Proverbs 10:27 says: “The fear of the Lord prolongs days: but the years of the wicked shall be shortened.” The longer the life, the more the results. At least that’s how it should be!
Once we realize what a treasure it is to have long life, we can immediately understand why the Bible is so adamant about respecting our elders.
You would not treat cheaply an item that was worth a great deal to you. Likewise we should never treat cheaply the treasure of our elderly, who are worth more than earthly treasures.
According to Proverbs 17:6, “the glory of children is their fathers,” and in Leviticus, God commanded: “You are to rise in the presence of the elderly and honor the old… I am the Lord.” He didn’t say it’s okay to just blow him off because, you know, he’s an old dude.
It is also our responsibility to care for our aging family members:
“Now if anyone does not provide for his own relatives, and especially for his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (I Timothy 5:8).
That’s pretty intense!
Of course, caring for our aging relatives and friends will require some thought beforehand. As I work with the elderly and their families, I see one common thread: no one is ever prepared.
There is no common ground as to what the relatives feel the person in need actually needs, and so the family members are usually left trying to figure out what is best for themselves instead of what is best for the aging relative.
The enemy has done a fine job of removing us from the reality of aging, thus widening the gap between generations. What can we do to remove this gap and be ready?
Talk. Talk and write things down. Then talk and write down some more! Writing it down is always best, so that there’s no confusion. Have a living will or a letter set aside for when the time comes.
Even just talking to your children about what you want or need down the road is better than doing nothing. Many times children are left holding the bag, trying to remember what Mom liked or what Dad didn’t like. Be prepared!
And remember, the next generation, your kids, the younger versions of you, the youth, the little peeps, are watching you. How you handle your aging relatives is how you are going to be handled.
Lastly, as a Church body, we have a collective duty to care for the aged who might not have family to care for them.
I Timothy 5:16 tells us: “If any believing woman has widows, she should help them, and the church should not be burdened, so that it can help those who are genuinely widows.”
James 1:27 reminds us that “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.”
Most importantly, pray. Never cease to intercede on behalf of the elderly. Pray also for those who are caring for loved ones, and for those who are just caring.
They, we, I, need this support dearly.
I close with this prayer in verse, put together from my experiences with the people I have helped over the years.
Do you see yourself in here?