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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