Youth and the old folks

Written by Joanne Beckley

I'm not sure why I ended up with a double entry on grandparenting, so keep on scrolling while I figure out how to delete the extra entry.

From a comment made I thought to post the following. A different perspective, in helping our young people understand and work with an older generation. . .

Youth and Old Folk
Joanne Beckley

When we walk through town or go shopping in the mall, we see old age shuffling past us, unable or unwilling to pick up their feet as they walk past.
We nod, shift our eyes and walk past. Or we rise after worship and greet them quickly, offering an over-furnished smile as we duck around them. Yes?

When we stop and think about it, we find we do tend to avoid old people. Is it because we are impatient with their slow minds and crippled bodies? Perhaps we don’t like the way they smell? Or do we avoid them because it will cost us valuable time and money if we pause to help them?

The simple fact is we are uncomfortable around old people, even discomfort containing fear, because of the unknown. Old people certainly seem to be living on a different planet from the rest of us. As one young man said, “I don’t know them, what they think, what they feel, or why they act the way they do. I’m not sure I want to know. If I do stop and spend time with them I will have to admit that I too, one day will be old and no one will respect me either.”

You and I have experienced thoughts we are not too proud of at one time or another concerning this subject and we may not know how to solve the quandary we find ourselves in. The solution is simple, but it will take will power. The fact is, 1) we can learn about our old folk, and 2) we can correct our thoughts, our attitudes and our actions toward older people. Knowledge reduces fear. Knowledge develops wisdom. Knowledge builds love.

Perhaps if we tackle our fears first, everything else will fall into place. Yes, Satan has a lot to answer for in using this tool called fear. He knows that love is of God and we are commanded to love one another (John 13:34). Satan also knows we simply cannot love those we fear. Love must rise above fear. Let us examine some of these fears and reservations concerning our old folk and then consider possible solutions. Misunderstanding and avoiding our older folk must not be allowed to continue in our lives and hearts. It can keep us out of the kingdom of heaven.

1. We fear what is different. This is possibly the root cause of that uncomfortable feeling we get when in the presence of our seniors. Just as a brand-new father fears stepping into the unknown world of babyhood, this age gap between youth and old age affects us also. Consider how children push away another child who is seen to be “different.” We as adults strive mightily to change their behaviour. How did we solve this problem? By teaching them to look beyond the “different.” By helping children understand that “different” is OK, even good.

2. We fear we will be manipulated. All of us began life as children and we continue to be such until our parents die. As we grew older and become adults, we began untying the so-called apron strings in order to be our own person, reaching out toward new and better ways to live and behave. This transition is always difficult for both parents and offspring. We want to please each other yet our outlook is often miles apart from our parents. It seems that the older mom and dad become, the more we feel a duty to please them – only to discover we now feel we are being harnessed and controlled by mom and dad. (Parents have fears too and they may not realize that their gradually restricted horizons can develop too many expectations toward their children. Jealousy for lost youth can also play out its role and create unnecessary conflict.) We want to respect our elders but their unbalanced expectancy causes us to feel like we are no longer adults, but young children who must obey. The pressure we feel causes us to draw away and even avoid them. In reality, because of our relationship with our parents, we can find ourselves resenting all old people and avoiding them. God has given us the solution, for love will seek out what is best for our old folk and we can learn to love. Just as we refused to be manipulated by our children, we can learn to love our parents for their good.

3. We fear getting old ourselves. We think, surely getting old will only happen to us in the far, far distant future. Yes, we “know” we are going to die one day; the evidence is all around us. God has made an appointment with us, Hebrews 9:27. But still, we live as if we confidently trust that science and medicine will have overcome the inevitable and that we won’t have to become a victim of arthritis or Alzheimer’s. Ignoring aging and death as a fact of life is a heedless way to live. Facts do not disappear, especially when they operate on a genetic timer!

4. We fear learning more than we ever wanted to know about an aging body. Why do old people always seem to talk about their aches and pains? It seems like their world is holding them captive. Just as the literal world around us is slowly breaking down, our bodies are doing the same, daily. That is a fact. Neither situation is pleasant to face. We can read the many books and articles written about the needs and concerns of old people. We can note what attitudes and actions we want to take as we get older. Beginning now, we can learn to appreciate the difficulties and determine to see new adventures as joyful challenges. It is possible to die at a good old age. Abraham did (Gen.15:15).

5. We fear physical and mental debilitation. When you enter an old age home or a nursing home, do you avoid certain areas because of the smell that reaches out to you? Incontinence is often a problem of old age and it is an embarrassing problem for all concerned. We might not want to hug that old man or woman because old bodies feel “funny.” And what can we say to someone who can no longer speak? Our thoughts run along this line . . .“I pray I never lose my mind before I die and be a burden on my family.” Actually, we would really rather just have a massive stroke and get it over with, no pain and no sorrow. Yes, old bodies are not pretty, but if we concentrate on the heart within our old ones we will be surprised at what we can find. There is a young person in each of us, and old ones are no different. Ask an older person how they think of themselves – it will invariably be younger than their actual age. As for ourselves, careless living in how we eat and lack of exercise today will bring extra pain and suffering in old age. Let us determine now to secure the best future possible, and enjoy the health we now have.

6. We may fear we will be forced to care for them. “Mom and dad may have to care for Grandma, but we kids don’t want any part of it! Grandma is always whining or correcting or criticizing us. And when we do have to run errands or babysit, we feel trapped. Really trapped.” No, we are not alone in feeling like this. Our first impression from babyhood is to look out for number one just to survive. But we cannot afford to continue thinking only of ourselves. If we remain self-centered as we grow up, we will not be able to see past ourselves to understand, love, and help others. God will not be pleased, for He is love and He expects love from each one of us (John 13:35). Loving others includes loving our grandparents and other old folk. They need us and we need them. We must close the gap of misunderstandings and fear by examining ourselves and taking the first step.

What attitudes feed our fear? The answer is simple: selfishness and self-centeredness. We can recognize these sinful qualities within ourselves if we are often impatient, irritated, frustrated and angry with our loved ones. If we are feeling guilty about these attitudes, then we are on the right track toward loving others and pleasing God.

I have found the following practical solutions to be helpful:
Smile! Look an old person in the eye and offer a sincere smile. A smile is a simple action and it tells him or her, I see you, I recognize your presence, I value you as a person.

2. Purposefully spend time with your grandparents, older Christians, and people in the “old folks home.” Spending time means that you will have to talk with them, listen to them, and share each other’s concerns. Look for upbeat old people. They have learned early in life to love life and others, no matter what pain and heartache they have had to face. They will love you and encourage you. You can find comfort and joy in making friends with an older Christian who has learned to trust God even into old age. They can teach you to face your future without fear.

3. Learn compassion by helping an old person you have become comfortable being around. They will express their thanksgiving and try to do things for you. The experience of shared love and concern will encourage you to help those who are unable or unwilling to express their appreciation.

4. Learning to love one another is an ongoing, upward task. From this point you will want to find discouraged folk to share this new love you have developed. At the same time, each contact you make will increase your knowledge of old age and reduce your fear of growing old.

5. Remember my comment about feeling younger than the mirror? The same is true about being male and female. Remember to appreciate old ones as men and women. Respect the man’s role of leadership, albeit, limited. Ask his advice about your own personal concerns. A woman’s need to belong does not end at the age of 50. Appreciate her value, enjoy her comments, hear her pain, seek her advice. Young men, hug that old woman, tease her, laugh with her. Young woman, admire the old man’s wisdom, and a quick hug can sometimes do wonders.

6. I need to add a strong reminder to all of us. Old folk have the right to make choices about their lives. You and I must respect their desire to remain independent as long as possible. They in turn will have to learn to lean on the wisdom of others. Work together in a timely fashion. Don’t leave them out of pertinent discussions as if they are not capable of participating in decision making. Love them.

7. Finally, if we remain unaware or uncaring of how our attitudes and actions affect the old ones, we will also have to accept that we are not teaching our children to respect them. All societies are made or broken by the condition of the family unit. Our old folk are part of that unit, even if the society has relegated them to live alone. When this happens, families and society suffer.

We simply cannot afford to walk on by. Your soul and mine will be called to account for our indifference. James 1:27 says, “Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.” Old folk are necessarily included in this command. Our motives should be pure, from a loving heart. Visiting (“episkeptesyai”) is not casual acknowledgement, but taking them under our care. It means going into their homes, speaking to their hearts, relieving their wants, sympathizing with them in facing a broken-down body leading toward death. Pray with them, encourage them. We are to love them for the Lord’s sake. Jesus did this for us.

Yes, we can teach ourselves to love the seemingly unlovable.

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