God of the Old and Dying

I officiate a lot of weddings every year—sometimes one or more a month. I do not officiate many funerals a year—sometimes just a couple. And that’s to be expected at a younger church where 90% of our people are under 60 years old.

There are many blessings involved with being a part of a young church. There’s an electricity in the air. There’s the immense joy in walking out into the Commons after a service and seeing “the swarm”—the swarm of our littles running around chasing each other, sneaking mints from the baskets, scampering over our feet and through our legs.

There are also challenges involved with being a part of a young church; challenges like only having a couple of funerals a year and forgetting aging and death comes for us all.

Every human gets old and dies, and helping people age and die well is one of the church’s deepest responsibilities. We walk with people from the cradle to the grave. And it’s easy to forget that at a young church. It’s easy to forget that God is not just found in a Commons swarming with children, but is also found in a nursing home filled with the elderly.

It’s easy to forget that God is not just found in a Commons swarming with children, but is also found in a nursing home filled with the elderly.

Over the past month, our staff went to Stoney Brook Assisted Living and Memory Care in Belton every week to spend some time with the people there. Seeing as how Dave is the only old pastor on our staff (okay, he’s only 41), it was a new experience for many of us because the youthfulness of our church means we simply don’t spend much time at nursing homes. We learned a number of valuable lessons.

Most of us became pastors because we wanted to help people, which means we’re always tempted to try to fix people. It’s makes us feel good about ourselves. And at a young church, people are always asking us to “fix” them—to fix their marriages or children or job situations. And so being conditioned to fix people, we walked into the nursing home thinking we would try to fix the people we found there, and were surprised to find that they didn’t really want to be fixed. They didn’t ask us to fix their marriages or children or jobs or families. All they really asked us to do was be present. All they really asked us to do was talk and listen.

And this was a frustrating but needed reminder that the greatest gift we can offer others is the gift of our presence and attention, which is a difficult gift to give when you just want to get on with the business of fixing someone.

We also learned that we think we’re far too important. For most of us, an hour spent at a nursing home initially felt like a waste of time—we were getting behind on our work! And getting behind on your work is the unpardonable sin when you think of yourself as an important person doing important work. But Jesus reminded us that we really have nothing more important to do than pay attention to those the world would prefer to leave behind because they can no longer keep up.

So what do you have going on this week? Some important stuff I image. You have deadlines to meet, and kids to raise, and marriages to mend. But perhaps the most important thing you could do this week is go to a nursing home and give someone the gift of your time and attention. We’ll all be there one day, and hopefully we will have taught our swarm of children to become a swarm of compassionate adults who understand that “Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows…” (James 1:27)