An 86 year-old woman leaned forward in her seat as she described her frustration with longtime friends who seem satisfied with sitting around their apartments in their house robes, watching soap operas and game shows all day.
“You’re dead. You’re just not buried,” she had told them in her spunky style.
I couldn’t help but grin at the older woman’s not-so-subtle reprimand of her peers. It reminded me of older adults I’ve met who have given up on life long before their last breaths. They intentionally disengage from meaningful activity and settle into a routine of television reruns. In fact, it’s not uncommon to hear them proudly announce, “Been there. Done that. I’m through.”
They mistakenly believe that they have “put in” their fair amount of ministry time and have earned the right to kick back in their favorite recliner on some elusive spiritual plateau. The problem is, that’s not a biblical response. God’s call to serve others and grow closer to Christ does not come with an expiration date. They seem to forget that even a frail older adult in a nursing home can continue to develop a deeper faith as he prays and encourages others.
As older adults face increasing physical decline and weariness, it is understandable that they opt out of certain activities. Still there are many seniors who are physically able but unwilling to pursue new opportunities. In every situation, too much isolation and routine brings obvious risks, including apathy and depression. It is also the reason that the church must get more involved in all levels of senior adult ministry, encouraging older adults to keep learning and helping them find ways to serve others.
When my mother was in her early 90’s, she struggled with the oppressive, chronic pain of arthritis. I watched her silently grimace every time she got up or down. Each day a fellow resident of her retirement community would stop by her table in the dining room. On most days the older man didn’t exchange a single word with my mother. He would just lift his hand and offer her a slow-motion high-five. I watched as my mother raised her hand to meet his with a gentle slap. That’s when big grins would crawl across their faces. It was a simple but powerful act of encouragement.
From active to frail, older adults have the capacity to minister to, for and with others. Oftentimes though, they need the support of their families and the church to find ways in which they can serve.
There is an older woman who crochets baby blanket for infants at a women’s shelter. Another uses plastic bags to create oversized, waterproof mattresses for the homeless. There’s an 85-year-old man who makes wooden hand-crosses to give away, and an older couple who take their RV on mission trips so they can prepare food for the volunteers.
Not long ago a 90-year-old woman told me that each afternoon she goes to the room of a fellow resident of her assisted living center. Since the other woman has severe macular degeneration and cannot see well enough to read, the 90 year-old reads to her friend from one of my books written for older adults. Then they talk about each devotion and end in prayer. With the help of the church and families, perhaps older adults can change the worn phrase. Been there. Done that. Who can I serve now?
Each month, Missy Buchanan shares insight and strategies for rethinking 50-plus ministry. Her latest book, Don’t Write my Obituary Just Yet, is now available. You can find Missy online at www.missybuchanan.com.