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