“We have to remember the elderly.” Others were concerned with restorative justice or public transportation or the educational system. But she was intent on keeping the needs of our senior citizens on the front burner.
“They have a lot to give; but when they can’t drive any more or public transportation isn’t an option for them, all that talent sits alone in the apartment. Our senior citizens want to contribute – they need to contribute and we have a responsibility to make sure they can!”
She was passionate to the point of being insistent. And I began to reflect …
Over the years of my pastoral ministry I have frequently found myself in situations where older individuals expected God to come through for them. The fact they hadn’t read a bible, attended church, or thought to pray in years is lost on them. I have returned from visits with such elderly folks, often in the midst of some crisis, and commented: They have no spiritual capital! I have been impressed over the years of my ministry by how many of our elderly citizens seem ill equipped for the inevitable realities of old age. It’s as if, after 70 or 80 years, being “elderly” has snuck up on them.
We are living longer and many of us are living better in our later years. Still, reports indicate that loneliness is all too common among senior citizens. (See, for example, this article which reports one in three of persons in the UK over 65 suffer from loneliness.)
Preparing for the “golden years” requires a kind of preparation that is cumulative. It’s not only true with regard to financial security; it is also true with regard to emotional and spiritual well-being.
When I was in elementary school we received a small manila envelope every Thursday. The idea was to take the envelope home, put some coins in it, and return it on Friday. Off it went to the bank to be added to our savings account. It was a clever ploy by the bank to capture business; it was also sound economic practice. Statistics indicate the number of people in the US who are not saving any money for retirement is cause for concern. We recognize that good habits are difficult to establish. Just because one saves a dime a week when they are eight doesn’t mean they will continue the practice so as to be financially secure when they are eighty. The same can be said for going to church. Just because you attended Sunday School as a child is no guarantee you will be a faithful church-goer in your senior years or have a vital relationship with the Divine.
My point: If you are fourteen you can ignore this reflection for several more years. If, on the other hand, you are twenty you might want to begin to take stock of what awaits you – not only in your thirties or forties … but beyond into your eighth or ninth decade. Do your eyes work now? Read! Capture the beauty of sunsets in your mind’s eye and not just with your iPhone! Can you hear well? Listen to lots of music – all kinds of music. Hear the birdsong all about you in the morning, the sounds of distant bells, or a train whistle, of children playing in the school yard. Can you move about, travel, take risks? Do it! Begin to build the storehouse of memories and spiritual depth that can serve you when eyes fail and hearing is compromised.
I agree that society must take into account the needs of our senior citizens. We should be especially concerned with that in the church. I only mean to suggest that as we age, it makes sense for us to make preparations for what is coming – more time alone, less ability to do all that we had done in younger years. That doesn’t mean old age can’t be rich. It just means we have to be intentional about getting ready for what’s coming.