A few years ago, an older friend lost his wife to a sudden, unexpected illness and death. He was overwhelmed with grief and wondered how he would go on living without her.
One of their old friends phoned him when she first heard the news. She was living in Europe at the time and had been unable to return for the memorial service. They talked for a while, and she voiced her heartfelt condolences before making an unusual request. She asked my friend to send her an e-mail each day listing three blessings that he had experienced during the last twenty-four hours.
My brokenhearted friend said it was not something he really wanted to do. It was difficult to think about blessings when he didn’t even feel like getting out of bed. Still, he tried. Over the next few days, he began to list things like the morning sunrise, the smell of fresh-brewed coffee and a bowl of homemade soup shared by a neighbor. A few days later he noticed the first bloom on the rose bush and the way golden light spilled across his wife’s photograph in the late afternoon.
After weeks of emailing his friend a list of daily blessings, he says he felt his spirit slowly being lifted from the pit of despair. It didn’t happen overnight, but one day he realized that he was actually enjoying looking for simple blessings. Though he still misses his wife terribly, he says the blessing activity was key to helping him want to live once again.
There are many other older adults who are also grieving losses. For some like my friend, it is the death of a spouse or loved one. For others, it is the loss of independence and mobility that accompanies aging, including giving up the keys to the car. Some may also mourn the loss of their homes and belongings, and all that is familiar as they transition to new living situations.
As Thanksgiving approaches, it seems the perfect time to invite older adults to discover blessings that often go overlooked. When I speak to senior adult groups at churches or at residence centers, I encourage the older adults to keep a blessing book, a journal in which they write a set number of blessings each day. Being intentional in keeping a written account of blessings helps one to create a habit of looking at life with eyes of gratitude.
The church should not forget that even the most faithful saints grow weary under the weight of depression or sadness that often comes as they grow frail or experience loss. Helping seniors actively look for blessings in their midst is an important part of ministry to the aged. I can’t help but think of how wonderful it would be if every church provided a special blessing journal for each of its older adults? Or if churches developed a blessing buddy ministry in which seniors share their blessings with another person like my friend did?
May we be people who will come alongside our elders who are struggling in the journey. May we help them to see God’s faithfulness in their lives. For if we do, we, too, will be blessed.
Each month, Missy Buchanan shares insight and strategies for rethinking 50-plus ministry. Her latest book, Aging Faithfully: 28 Days of Prayer, is now available. You can find Missy online at www.missybuchanan.com.