Today is Grandparents Day. Marian McQuade campaigned for grandparents day because she appreciated her grandparents so much. President Jimmy Carter made grandparents day a national holiday on August 3, 1978. 3 purposes for grandparents day: 1) to commemorate and pay respect to grandparents 2) to recognize the importance that older people can have on the lives of the young 3) to give grandparents the opportunity to show love and support for their children’s children.
Overcoming fears of growing old is at the top of aging issues. In this culture, growing old brings few dividends. Becoming old no longer is prized or unique. A common impression of the aging process portrays it as fading into oblivion and dying. Little wonder that people want to live to a ripe old age but no one wants to grow old.
Struggles of the elderly:
A. Unrealistic Expectations
Even the Bible can be used to justify unrealistic expectations for the elderly- Moses lead the children of Israel when he was 80 years old and brought them to the promised land when he was 120- Caleb fought giants and took Hebron at the age of 85- Abraham fathered a child at the age of 100- and we could go on. However, these stand out because they are out of the norm. Many of the heroes of the Bible suffered infirmities common to aging. Isaac and Jacob experienced blindness in their old age. Isaac was tricked by Jacob and Rebekah because of his infirmities and he trembled when he was angry as if handicapped by palsy or some nervous disorder. David appears to be a weak, ineffective father and king in his old age. Solomon followed his wives gods when he aged. As Paul aged he suffered from a thorn in the flesh.
The Bible is full of examples of infirmities in the heroes of the faith as they age. Even the breakdown of a body in death is pictured with poetic candor (Ecclesiastes 12:2-8). Aging adults should not condemn bodily limitations as a sign of unfaithfulness or some kind of disfavor with God. The Bible teaches that honorable elders regularly experience an aging process with its resultant health problems. The Bible can shift an elder’s sense of worth away from unrealistic expectations for their health to a more balanced understanding of the aging process. “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.” 2 Corinthians 4:16, NIV.
B. Fears of inadequacy
Many elders never experience chronic brain disease or total physical inadequacy. Elderly leaders in the Bible contradict this misconception. They demonstrate that an aging body can perform at an optimum level. Many studies and statistics within the elderly population indicate that healthy aging adults can remain quite self sufficient. Some things to keep in mind that the Bible might shed some light on:
1. Sensuality of the elderly- it leaves them- not true. Abraham and Sarah demonstrate this as a lie with Isaac. Aging Zechariah and Elizabeth produce a son- John. Only a passage in 1 Timothy seems to indicate that sensuality leaves the elderly. 1 Timothy 5 is talking about widows and the widows being supported by the church. The young widows are encouraged to remarry and not be dependent upon the church. Older widows have no physical desires- not true, but the lack of elderly men makes the likelihood of marrying at an older age unlikely.
2. Growing old always leads to brain disease and a lack of mental soundness. True that the brain becomes more fragile and from this comes memory issues but this does not mean that the elderly are all senile. Just a few passages from the Bible refute this. Jacob becomes blind and somewhat dependent in his old age but still retains a clear mind. Jethro, the father in law of Moses, teaches Moses a better way to judge the people. Barzillai, an 80 year old man, provides supplies that save David and his army when he flees from Absalom. He remains sharp enough to be a prized asset in the court of David. Job said “Is not wisdom found among the aged? Does not long life bring understanding?” Job 12:12, NIV.
3. Not that old age automatically brings wisdom, but to ignore the counsel of the aged is foolish. When Solomon died, King Rehoboam ignored the advise of the elders who served his father and instead followed the advise of his peers. This caused a division in the nation of Israel until the time of the Exile.
4. The bible teaches that aging may increase one’s potential contribution to others and to God’s work. Advanced years can free the body from the restraints of hard labor and a demanding calendar and can cause the mind to soar and focus on the truths of our faith.
Thesis: Challenges to those younger concerning the aged
A. Family support
Yes, these admonitions are for the immediate family but we need to broaden our circle to include brothers and sisters in Christ.“While Jesus was still talking to the crowd, his mother and brothers stood outside, wanting to speak to him. Someone told him, “Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.” He replied to him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”” Matthew 12:46-50, NIV.
The first crisis for the early church comes when Hellenistic widows are neglected (Acts 6). Disrespect for the elderly and neglect of the needs of widows ignite strong reactions. “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” 1 Timothy 5:8, NIV.
Our culture disdains those who are financially unproductive, may God’s people be different. Everyone has worth, everyone has value, and we need to look after those who are vulnerable.
Aging adults pose several challenges for a family. Feelings of depression often accompany their loss of productivity. Some feel helpless and turn their feelings of aggression on others or self. Some think they lack meaning and purpose when their role and status change. Some become bitter and may be hard to control. In our days, the problems are compounded. Many have a desire to help but lack the means to help. Care for the elderly has shifted to government programs and nursing homes. These things offer mixed rewards. Though nursing homes enrich and prolong the years of many, they do not replace attention and support from family members. No matter how much nursing homes and retirement villages improve their care plans, nothing substitutes for the love and attention given by a family.
““Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.” Exodus 20:12, NIV. This is repeated in the New Testament and Jesus shows that he takes this seriously.“And he said to them: “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.’ But you say that if a man says to his father or mother: ‘Whatever help you might otherwise have received from me is Corban’ (that is, a gift devoted to God), then you no longer let him do anything for his father or mother. Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that.”” Mark 7:9-13, NIV.
Weakening family ties in the present day are stripping the elderly of their best social support. Mobility especially is placing great stress on families. One family member might be the only one nearby and does everything they can for the parent while others live far away. We will not return to the days of yesteryear but the family needs to be present for the elderly. A family should treat each other with respect, especially honoring the aging ones.
B. Productive roles for the elderly
In the Bible the elderly took a less active role in society, especially in hard manual labor, but there is no mandatory ceasing of being productive. In our world, when a person retires they are compelled to exit from leadership and profitable endeavors. Compare this with the Bible:
Biblical leadership is synonymous with eldership. In ancient times, the elders judge local disputes and act as family, tribal, and church leaders. Maturity, although not always a product of old age, remains the primary qualification. Elders are ones who possess the wisdom and experience for making important decisions for the welfare of all.
Many see the elderly as idle and need to fade away, and others resent that they have to finance the elderly retirement plans. Intergenerational struggles result. Families must begin to honor their patriarchs and matriarchs as leaders. Such an attitude needs to carry over into the church.
Instead of developing programs to keep the elderly occupied, churches need to utilize the experience and wisdom of these leaders in realistic ways. Neither life nor leadership ends at 65.
C. Self esteem for the elderly.
Clashes between the needs of the elderly and those of younger adults could ease if both generations felt themselves recognized and heard. Self esteem for the elderly would increase considerably when all recognize the privilege of growing older. Youth could appreciate in a new way aging hair and an aging face-““‘Rise in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God. I am the LORD.” Leviticus 19:32, NIV. Truly, society might recognize that white hair is an achievement, a crow of glory (proverbs 16:31).
Our throwaway society does not need to be persuaded that old is useless and only the new has value. Old buildings, cars, computers, and appliances are disposed of daily in our culture. Only new and improved versions appear precious or marketable. Unfortunately, many evaluate persons by the same standards, abusing passages such as “New wine cannot be put into old wineskins” (Mark 7:3). As growing old becomes more commonplace, its esteem is decreasing. Society needs to make plans to include the elderly and this should be true in the church. We need to recognize that potential newness rests in any individual.