“Despise not thy mother when she is old.”

I was reading on a completely different topic yesterday when I was brought up short as the writer quoted the second half of Proverbs 23:22:

Hearken unto thy father that begat thee, and despise not thy mother when she is old.

We usually think of the word “despise” by today’s definition: “to regard with contempt, distaste, disgust, or disdain; scorn; loathe” (Dictionary.com). But sometimes the word translated “despise” in the KJV has an added layer in addition to those: “to hold as insignificant” (Bible StudyTools.com).

As a general rule, older people aren’t very well respected in American society. Oh, we might respect our individual grandparents and have a general feeling that we should be kind to older people. But they are often the target of jokes and stereotypes, and get behind one in a slow-moving vehicle or try to maneuver through a store having “Senior’s Day,” and frustration (and worse feelings) can abound. We often think of them as “out of touch” and do our best to just tolerate them.

Scripture has a different view of the elderly:

Thou shalt rise up before the hoary head, and honour the face of the old man, and fear thy God: I am the LORD. (Leviticus 19:32)

The hoary head is a crown of glory, if it be found in the way of righteousness. (Proverbs 16:31)

The glory of young men is their strength: and the beauty of old men is the grey head. (Proverbs 20:29)

I have to admit there can be frustrations in dealing with older people, which have become even more acute to me with my mother-in-law moving here: going through the same conversational loop four times in twenty minutes; a loss of social graces they once had; fretting and fears that they once could keep in perspective and under control but that now run rampant, etc. I don’t say these things to “talk down” about her or any older person, but just to be honest. The first verse I mentioned spoke to me in reminding me not to let those frustrations spill over into negative attitudes. We may not always have warm, fuzzy, altruistic, loving feelings when we’re helping or serving others — sometimes we do, but sometimes those come afterward (as one beloved professor used to say, “Good feelings follow right actions”), but we can guard against the negative.

A verse that I sometimes pray just before going to see my mother-in-law is “Strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness” (Colossians 1:11), and I’ve been reminded recently of our Lord’s words that “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (Matthew 25:31-46) (not that I think of my mother-in-law or older people as “the least of these,” but rather I’m reminded that serving anyone else is service to Christ.) I Thessalonians 5:14 reminds me,”Now we exhort you, brethren, warn them that are unruly, comfort the feebleminded, support the weak, be patient toward all men.” And I remember sometimes, too, that some day, Lord willing, I’m going to be elderly, and “And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise” (Luke 6:31).

In some ways I am hesitant to post this because I don’t want to sound as if dealing with the elderly is all a trial of patience, and I don’t want to sound gripey. It can be pleasant, even fun sometimes. I hope those who don’t deal with the elderly and who might think we shouldn’t have any negative feelings will withhold judgment: There are frustrations in any relationship that we need to learn how to deal with Biblically. I’ve made several friends in cyberspace who also care for elderly parents, and I don’t want anyone to think I am talking about them: I’m just sharing what the Lord’s been dealing with me about, and I hope it is a blessing to you, too. It’s been a help to me when I read of your dealings with your loved ones.

The following has also been a blessing to me:

Grandmother’s Beatitudes or Beatitudes for Friends of the Aged

Blessed are they who understand
My faltering step and palsied hand.
Blessed are they who know that my ears today
Must strain to hear the things they say.
Blessed are they who seem to know
That my eyes are dim and wits are slow.
Blessed are they who look away
When coffee spilled at the table today.
Blessed are they with a cheery smile
Who stop to chat for a little while.
Blessed are they who never say
“You’ve told that story twice today.”
Blessed are they who know the ways
To bring back memories of yesterday.
Blessed are they who make it known
That I’m loved, respected, and not alone.
Blessed are they who know I’m at a loss
To find the strength to carry the cross.
Blessed are they who ease the way
On my journey Home in loving ways.

~ Author unknown

14 thoughts on ““Despise not thy mother when she is old.”

  1. As I age and become less able to do things that used to be a breeze for me to do, I pray that someone will love me enough to be kind to me as the Bible commands.

  2. I enjoyed reading this. I feel for the elderly. And getting up there in age as well someday I’m going to need a lot more help. I for one, help as much as I can and have learned to be more patient and understanding. They have taught us well, it’s up to us to take care of them 🙂

  3. I adore the elderly. I always have. I lived with my grandparents for a time when I was a child. They were pastors and we visited in nursing homes weekly. My brother and I used to do a lot of singing for them as well. They all loved hearing children sing. 🙂 Now I am very comfortable around the elderly, at a death bed, etc. So many people disrespect these dear saints; they are so neglected.

    My husband and I are involved in a Sunday School class for senior adults. We sing hymns with them, have a sharing time, and do a traditional lesson from a “quarterly.” They love this. The modern church usually lets this age group fall by the wayside.

    Some exhibit the signs of advancing aging and it can be a little frustrating. But we just let them tell their stories over and over and ask their questions again and again. What does it matter?

    I love to give them hugs and joy for the time we are together.

    Thanks for this post. Your feelings of frustration are NORMAL. We’ve got to keep our blogs authentic. Normal people have these normal feelings. Feelings come and go. You are committed to visiting your mother in law out of love and respect. And you will have no regrets.

  4. I’ve had this post up all day, waiting for a chance to leave an intelligent comment. Alas, it is now 11:25 p.m. and intelligence is no longer an option!

    In short:

    Great post. I love hearing what you are thinking and learning about. I always feel like I walk away with little nuggets to hold on to and pull out for later. Only in this case – it’s good advice for now.


  5. This is a wonderful post, Barbara. It brought back so many memories of my mother, which are good. I remember taking her to the bank, Social Security office and different places of business that she had to go. Mom had had a stroke and was in a wheelchair and on good days could get around with her brace and cane. People would always look to me to talk for Mom automatically thinking that she was mentally challenged because of her physical appearance. I always assured them that Mom could talk for herself, that she was mentally sharp, though her speech was slow. But sometimes whoever she was dealing with showed little patience in listening to her slow speech and it just aggravated me to no end. I understand that we are such a fast-paced society but we do need to learn to be more considerate of our elderly.
    Mom was a joy to be around, even in the midst of her physical struggles! 🙂 She was such a wonderful example to me!!

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  7. Thank you so much for these articles. I hope you will continue to keep your blog so we can continue to read them and refresh our memories of how we should take care of the elderly.
    I am 64 and we are packing our home and moving to Calif. My mother-in-love fell 2 months ago and broke her shoulder. It did not heal and she does not want surgery (86 yrs old). She was staying at my daughters home, but my daughter works and needs help. So she will either be moving in with us or we will be moving to a much smaller place and going to grandma’s apartment two times a day or more to do things for her and check on her.
    Just praying I can be understanding and helpful to her, even if she is mad and upset with us as happens often to care givers.
    Your articles are sure helping me prepare and I want to continue to read them when during difficult times.

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  11. Thank you for sharing your honest insights about caring for elderly parents. It has helped me to remember God’s perspective on the matter. Thank you so much.

  12. Hi. I was just looking up word despise and came upon thus… I hate to say it i have done it .. ive been living with my mil for over 10 years with my husband and adult asberger son. Shes 90 and in great shape even mentally. I miss my privacy though with my son and husband. I dont like the emeshmint. i find its easier to honor when a person lives outside the house …


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