Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Golden Oldies

I've never found it difficult to think of big ideas.  I can always fix things in my head.  It's putting plans into action that I often find impossible.

At the start of the year, I mentioned in 5 Hopes For 2012 that I'd really like to meet with and serve the elderly in some way.  This has plagued my thoughts since my Nan passed away 14 months ago.  A close friend of mine works in a nursing home - the same nursing home my Nan lived in during the final month of her life - and sometimes the stories she tells me break my heart.  Old people with no family or friends to visit them.  Old people who DO have family nearby, but who can never be bothered visiting.  She told me about one lady who was supposed to be picked up and taken out for lunch by her family on Christmas Day, but the family never showed up and she was left waiting for ages.  Finally she resigned herself to the fact that they weren't coming and went inside to have lunch with the staff and other residents.  When the staff phoned her family, they just said, "Oh yeah, sorry we can't come now," (this family never came to visit usually anyway).  At least my Nan had stacks of visitors.  Some of these old people have no-one except the nursing home staff who are determined that they see out their final days with dignity.

I'm wondering whether I could go and visit the residents in the nursing home in town.  Just to have a cuppa and a chat.  Maybe play Scrabble or cards or something.  I don't know.  To be honest, I'm worried that it's just another one of my ideas that will fade away without coming to fruition.  I'm too scared to go alone and there's no-one I know nearby who seems interested in the elderly.  I keep hearing about kids, kids  Kids are our future.  Young people are the leaders of tomorrow.  We need to be putting our time and energy into them because they're the ones who are most likely to become Christians...blah, blah, blah.  I'm just not interested in doing kids' ministry.  Yes, it's very important and I'm glad that there are people who are doing it.  But I'm not that person.  My passion is for those at the other end of life.  But I appear to be alone in that.

Sometimes I even wonder why I care so much about old people.  It's not that I want a surrogate Nana.  I miss mine, but no-one will ever replace her.  Let's face it...old people can be downright cantankerous and difficult.  Statistics show they are the hardest demographic to reach with the gospel.  Either it's because they are too pigheaded to listen to anyone younger than they are, or they've been 'churched' sometime in their life and think they don't need religion (when they've never actually met Jesus properly).  They can be rude, patronising and stuck in their ways.  I'm constantly astounded by old people in churches who sit in the same seat every week (even though there are other empty, comfortable and convenient seats available) and growl at visitors who dare to sit in THEIR seat.  Why bother?  I met young Christians at uni who had that view.  We need to be concentrating on uni students because that sort of ministry is STRATEGIC.  I met one person who said the elderly were too difficult to convert.  Umm isn't it GOD'S work, not ours?

Despite the obstacles, I still feel very strongly about putting effort into people who are at the END of their lives.  I know all sorts of tragedies can take the lives of young people, but the likelihood is that older people will probably die first.  Therefore, shouldn't their need to hear about Jesus be urgent?  Do we believe in a God of statistics or a God of miracles?  A God who can turn the most ardent opponent into a passionate follower.

Time is short and my Nan's death really hit home that fact.  I tried to tell her the gospel while she lay in hospital.  Despite having a church background, for years she had been a cynic and a critic.  Yet, I could see her soften in those final months.  I don't want any old person to die without REALLY hearing about Jesus.

So, what do I do?  I'm still praying and waiting.  Waiting for opportunities.  Waiting for someone to come along and share this passion.  Waiting to see if there will be a call for volunteers at the local nursing home, or whether I should just step out boldly and see what happens.  But one thing has become very clear to me.  The body of Christ is a body.  We need all of the parts.  The wisdom of the old is just as vital as the spiritedness of the young.


bettyl said...

Yes!! Go visit!! You won't be sorry, I promise! Ages ago, I had some time, so I visited a wonderful lady every day before work(turns out she was the grandma of a guy I worked with who never visited. His mom drove past the nursing home to and from work every day and they showed up maybe once a month). She had a college degree back in the '20's! The stories she told when she was lucid were priceless. GO!!

Meredith said...

Amen Sarah!

This is the best post ever.

As with bettyl, I warmly encourage you to go. Don't wait. Don't wait for someone to join you - especially if feel that you are alone in this passion. Just go. And who knows, someone may follow from your example and join you down the track. Remember how passionate you feel about how lonely some of them are, and go and make someone's day.

You are exactly right. I have written a bit lately about kids ministry because that is where I am busy at church at the moment BUT I totally agree with you. The idea that children and youth are the future (I want to say "is unbiblical" here but I may be going too far) doesn't tell the picture fully.

We need to minister to young people. But we need to minister to old people - and everyone in between - as well. There is no singling out of a single group because all need Jesus. And this is a wonderful ministry that you describe. If you have a passion for it, don't fight it. Use it.

I wonder about the idea too of older people being the hardest group to talk to about the gospel. Yes, lots of them are pretty cranky, and with good reason because lots of them are in constant pain and are horribly lonely/feel the grief of having been deserted or being the last of their group to survive. And while we don't know when the Lord will call us home, older folk KNOW that God will call them home soon. So I think mortality and eternity are subjects close to their hearts - and as you say, you saw a softening in your Nana's heart in the later months.

God desires that all will turn to Him, and if that happens in the last months, weeks, days or minutes of life - and because you gave them a chance to consider Jesus - then that is enough.

Of course, lots of what you would do is just visit and be a friend and read to them and play scrabble and so on...but in building those relationships you will get to have the deeper conversations too.

If you have the time and if you have the capacity to be reasonably consistent - words of caution here...make sure this is something you can reasonably sustain so that as far is humanly possible and as far as the eye can see at this point, you don't become a deserter as well - then go for it.

My experience of older folk is that they love routine so keeping it to a fixed day of the week will help them to remember, keep track, map out their week.

So dear Sarah, I say with a heart warmed and moved by your wonderful words and heart for these dear people, go forth. You will be such a blessing to them.

Sarah said...

Thanks..both of you. I think I might cry after reading those comments.

I thought I'd better add that in no way did I mean to offend or criticise anyone involved in children's ministry. It is a very important thing you are doing. I was referring to times in my life where I've felt guilt-tripped by people I know in real life who want me to do Sunday School/youth group/Scripture teaching etc and don't understand why I've been so hesitant or reluctant. In no way was I referring to anything written on children's ministry in the blogosphere. I have been reading those posts with interest and have enjoyed the conversation even though I feel like I have nothing significant to add at this stage. Bravo to all those people who step out and teach the gospel to children and youth.

Meredith, thanks for that reminder about not over-committing myself. It's a good point and I don't want to start meeting with someone if I'm not prepared to maintain it consistently. I don't want to become the highlight of someone's week only to let them down. And the point about old people needing structure is something to remember. It's why I'm thinking about this carefully...but I don't want to think too carefully and end up doing nothing.

I'm also aware that some old people can be very blunt and that can be hard to take if you do not know them personally. My friend who works in a nursing home said she has on occasions been reduced to tears by one old person in particular who seemed to delight in criticising her weight etc. But she said she has had to learn to grow a thick skin. This hasn't turned me off, but I do need to realise that it won't necessarily be like talking to my Nan who I could stir up (and vice versa) and we both knew we were least not while the relationship is developing.

I have thought of a few steps I could take to get things moving. I'm not really a 'pioneering' type who finds these things easy so it's a big thing for me.

I'd really like to hear from anyone who does meet with the elderly whether in a nursing home or elsewhere. How did you get things moving? Did you just rock up? Did you call the nursing home and ask where they would like help? Any advice is appreciated, thanks.

Karen said...

I wanted to say some encouraging words earlier but needed some time to think...went out to Uni, worked and came home...and found Meredith said them much better than I ever could :)

But this is fantastic, Sarah. Unfortunately I don't have much in the way of practical advice to share...except that, when I was little, our church kids' groups used to go into local nursing homes and sing carols etc at Christmas time. The older people looked like they really enjoyed it (and I still remember it as being quite a fun thing to do, even now!). I would assume you could just call up and ask if they have any protocols around this sort of thing, or even if there is an activities co-ordinator/diversional therapist or someone like that who might be able to advise on where they need help the most.

I think for those of us in the stage of life where we are parenting probably talk about kids' ministry more because we are really keen to see our own kids come to know Jesus in the same relational way that we do. But older people need him just as much. John Chapman has written a great book called "Making the Most of The Rest of Your Life" (I think that's the name, if you search for him on the Matthias Media website you should find it) which is aimed particularly at older people who aren't Christians.

Reading Simone's post this week about losing her grandmother (who wasn't a Christian) was a really great reminder of how important it is for people of all ages to hear the Gospel, no matter how many years they still have to live here on earth.

Will pray for you as you are thinking further about what to do.

Sarah said...

Thanks Karen. I totally understand why parents focus on minsitry to children. I probably would too if I was in their shoes and had a bit more experience with little people. I was actually referring to people around my age who don't have kids and cannot understand why I don't want to be a youth leader like they are. I told Duncan recently that I felt so bad that I wasn't volunteering to be a leader on Scripture Union camps or Easter camps etc. He said, "Why?" because he doesn't feel bad about not doing it and thinks everyone has their own passions and areas that they are gifted in. I'm realising that this is a great time in my life to meet with old people while I have the flexibility although I've been told that often nursing home residents really love young children visiting them.

I read Simone's post too...and nearly cried.

Yeah it's a good reminder about protocols. Still praying/thinking through it. I'm also realising how much I don't talk to the old people at church and that elderly Christians need just as much encouragement.

Caroline said...

I just wanted to say that I found this post really encouraging. I went to a nursing home with a group of women from my church nearly two years ago, to sing hymns, and it's been on my heart ever since to go back. But I've realised that if it's going to happen, I'm going to have to do something about it myself, and that's ok. My husband has been really encouraging and will come with me, but I've come to the conclusion that even if no-one else at church comes, if I see a need and don't do anything about it then I am answerable for this, not anyone else.

Hope I'm not rambling here, but I guess I just wanted to say thank you for giving me an added push, and also to encourage you too.

Caroline said...

(Oh, and I by no means meant to say that you must do anything, just more that I am more and more feeling that I ought to.)

Sarah said...

Thanks for your encouragement, Caroline (and welcome!). I know what you mean...if I see good and don't do it etc. After a number of encouraging conversations (especially with my friend who works in a nursing home), I've decided to do it. My husband wisely suggested waiting for another month or so until I finish my study for good then I'll be able to commit to a regular day (which I've heard is really important to old people) and be less stressed.