“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.”
If you have ever been in a nursing home it will not be hard for your mind to visualize this image. A frail and elderly woman slumped over in her wheelchair (not even a real chair), fast asleep and drooling. On display in a lonely hallway for every visitor to either ignore or offer a sympathetic look as they pass by. She is unable to speak. At least in words that still make sense. She cannot walk to a bathroom by herself when she needs to use it. She can no longer get herself dressed or put a spoon to her mouth to eat.
Does her life matter anymore? Does she have value and purpose?
Similar to the unborn or just-born, elders do not always have a voice. However, unlike a baby we do not know what to do with this woman and how to see value in her life. In the baby it is easier to see life and hope, in the elderly we see death.
I love seeing the end caps of the generations together. Babes in the arms of an older adult don’t need anyone to tell them that the other has value. They don’t need to use words to communicate. They simply see God’s created being.
Through my career and training in long term care communities for the elderly, I have studied three plagues elders often face: loneliness, helplessness and boredom*. As a believer, I feel these plagues are often the result of the younger generations failing to see the worth of our elders as image bearers of God.
The elderly were created to be in relationship with others. When God created Adam, He said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him” (Genesis 2 : 18). The animals were not good enough. It had to be another human relationship. This truth about human creation is true until the day we die. Simple human touch does miraculous things for the human spirit. If elders are in relationship with Jesus and people that they love then they do not suffer from loneliness.
The elderly were created on purpose for a purpose. Proverb 16 : 4 says, "The LORD has made everything for its purpose.” I once heard an older woman tell her daughter “I’ve been your age. You’ve never been mine.” I think this is a good reminder to us all. We should not forget what our elders offer us.
Titus 2:3-5 gives older believing women the very important and clear purpose to teach and train young women. If we are too prideful to think we cannot learn from the older generation, failing to see their value we miss so much. Even elders who no longer can communicate because of the grip of dementia have purpose. Caring for them teaches us love and patience in a way that is unexplainable. If people are living a life of purpose, they do not suffer from helplessness or boredom.
Their lives matter and have value because they are image bearers.
It is the place of believers and the church to care for the widows. Believers “are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts” (2 Corinthians 3:3).
1 Timothy 5 : 16
“If any believing woman has relatives who are widows,
let her care for them.
Let the church not be burdened,
so that it may care for those who are truly widows.”
You too are an image bearer of God and if you are in Christ you are called to reflect him to all people.
How can you reflect the love of Christ to this older generation?
How can you celebrate the dignity and value of an elder this week?
Can you be in regular relationship with them, visiting them in their time of affliction and caring for those without family?
What could they offer to you?
*Resource Eden Alternative