Wednesday, September 28, 2011

I See Old People

Stand up in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God. I am the Lord. Leviticus 19:32
One of the great values of pastoring an established church is that it has older people. I love the fact that there are people in my church who were old when I was a kid. Really. Thirty-some years ago I was a little squirt running around this church, getting under the feet of people who were already grandparents -- and now I'm their pastor. Crazy. And I've learned some pretty obvious things about them. 

They aren't done yet. They're not ready to give up the ghost, and they are still very much in process! They're not perfect, and they know it! They are still learning. They still need to hear a word from God. They still enjoy seeing scripture from a fresh perspective. They tend to struggle with assurance about whether God loves them or not. They don't always understand how to relate to each other and, even after decades and decades of practice, need help getting along. They tend to struggle against basic temptations and sins that they had hoped would die with age. They feel younger inside than they do outside, and are reminded of that daily by the cruel realities of getting old.

Early in my ministry here at Bahia Vista, I had an altar call of sorts. I didn't know what to expect because I was looking out at a small multitude of retirees, but I was just being obedient to what I perceived as God's leading. An old man came forward and said to me with tears, "I'm renewing my relationship with Christ." Amen. Older people still need a savior. 

But I also continue to believe that they have something to teach younger people. Even if it's that "you don't get perfect with age" -- that's something that youngers need to hear! The Christian life is not about "getting perfect for God", but about trusting God with all your imperfections, all your best efforts, and all your neighbors' imperfections and best efforts. It's about learning to forgive the unforgivable -- because you yourself are unforgivable. It's about casting all your fears on God. It's about learning that "this too shall pass." 

But it's not just about teaching us that we stay human; older people have street cred about everything from how to work hard, how to make ends meet, how to save on a meager budget, how to invest well, how to run a business, how to stay married, how to endure singleness, how to be healthy, how to cook, how to clean, how to laugh, how to grieve, etc. 

I love listening to the stories. Even when it means I hear the same stories over and over again, I listen for what details are important enough that they come through time and time again. There's a wealth of information and wisdom there, if we'll listen. 

Someday I want to make a church mailer for our community that, on one side has a picture of a young family and says, "We have young people," and on the other side has a picture of an old couple with the words, "We have old people." For me, and for others I talk to, that's a beautiful thing. 

I want to challenge the youngers among us to spend a little time with an older person this week. They don't think you like them. They think you don't have time for them. Prove different. 
  • Ask them what it was like when they were your age. 
  • Ask them what they did for a living.
  • Ask them what their favorite memories are. 
  • Ask them how they met their spouse(s), and what their kids are doing.
  • Ask them about the times they felt God's presence. 
There are such wonderful stories just waiting to be told. See what you can uncover.