Lessons Learned From Christmas Visits with the Elderly

Elderly ManEvery year at Advent I visit some of the ‘shut-ins’ of our church.  That is, members who are now physically unable to attend.  I bring them poinsettias and do my best to listen.  Here are four lessons I learned from the experience this year.

1) Life Is Short

You hear this all the time, but it really sinks in when you hear it again and again from people closer to the end. Almost everyone I visited this year expressed it. Time seems to speed up as you get older. It continues to speed up in old age.

2)  Some People Are Given Time To Reflect At The End Of Life

Many people are given a space at the end of their life where they have nothing to do.  They are no longer working, cooking or cleaning.  Their spouse has passed away along with many friends and relatives. The structures that gave shape to their life are gone.

There are two reactions to this empty time. Some people do nothing, give great importance to things that are trivial and often become depressed or at least bored.  Others seek God and truth in the stillness. They pray, drink in information about God, listen, watch and serve in all kinds of creative ways. These people experience spiritual growth even as their bodies fade.

I met a man who entered into a real, vital relationship with God at the age of 84, after a lifetime attending church. When the busyness of life faded he found God waiting for him in the quiet.

3) No One Cares About Their Job Or Their Money At The End

I can imagine there are cases where people do care about these things at the end, but I didn’t find any.  The elderly still have physical needs of course and that can be expensive, but no one talked to me about money or plans to get more. No one talked about the stock market or investments.  Even more striking, no one told me about their former job. The thing they spent most of their time doing in their life was not even mentioned.

What do they care about?  Four things: God, Family, Trivial Details or Nothing. Some talk about nothing but God and Family, others only talk about the minute details of their schedule.

4) Every Life Is Both Worse And Better Than It Appears

Many of the people I visited opened up to me. Some feel the need to share things with a pastor they have never told anyone before.

Every life is worse than it appears. Beneath the surface are deep wounds, anger, disappointment, depression and struggle. And yet, if you listen long enough you can get beyond this. At the deepest level and everywhere you find a God who is constantly watching, leading, calling and restoring. Take a ‘normal’, decent life.  Look deep enough and you will find vast evil.  But do not stop there.  Look even deeper and you will find God Himself doing amazing things that mostly go unnoticed.

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Staring at Your Hands – What We Can Learn from Babies this Christmas

Hand zeigt StopRecently while driving on a family trip I was telling my wife about my new habit of staring at my hands. She gave me a strange look and seemed a little embarrassed. But this new habit has had amazing benefits in my life.  Here is how it started and why I do it.

First, I have been reading the book ‘Kept For the Master’s Use’ by Frances Ridley Havergal.  Frances is the woman who wrote the hymn Take My Life and Let It Be. The book was written near the end of her life in 1895.  It goes through the different parts of a human being and imagines how these can be given entirely to God. It includes parts such as our will and mind, as well as our hands and feet. The book is not easy to read unless you are used to old churchy language, but it is well worth reading if you are up to the challenge.

In her chapter on hands Frances notes how amazing and miraculous our hands actually are. And it’s true!  We take so much for granted.  What would my life be like if I were often amazed, full of thanksgiving and joy over my hands? I am full of excitement over a new phone I get, but it is nothing compared to the fantastic miracle of the hands that hold it. So, I spent some time staring at and thinking deeply about my hands, trying to wake myself up to how great they are.

Second, I have been thinking deeply and reading about habits. I want to grow in Christ.  But how do I do it?  When I am full of thoughts of God and truth I have no problem doing many of the things Christ teaches.  When I forget and am distracted by other things then I fail and my life spirals down away from God. Habits must be a huge part of the solution to this problem. If what I automatically do leads my heart and mind toward God then it will be so much easier to imitate Him.

So, I thought, what habit could I build around my hands? They are always with meI decided that every time I washed my hands I would hold them up in front of me, flex them and stare at them like a little baby.   I spend about five or ten seconds doing this, remind myself how much I have been given and how well I am loved by God.  I do this EVERY time I wash my hands so that it has become automatic.

The results have been excellent. God is automatically in my mind more often and I am in a better mood every time I wash my hands. 

The one drawback is that my wife thinks I am weird. But as long as I don’t talk about it too much or tell the whole internet what I am doing I think she will be okay.