Embracing the Life That is — Gifts & Frailties

Embracing the Life That is — Gifts & Frailties

Jim Stinson, Former Consultant on Older Adult Ministries


Bill had a major operation recently. Before the surgery, his doctor told him that there was a good chance that he would end up with some paralysis. Bill said he prayed that any paralysis not affect his arms and hands. In fact he did end up having full use of both his arms and hands, although he does have some paralysis of his legs. Bill did rehab as a patient at our Bishop Wicke Health Care Center. Every day he was there he would leave his therapy sessions and play the piano in our lobby. The residents and visitors loved it and began asking what time he would be there each day. When it was time for him to go home he was asked if he had any questions. He had one! “May I come back as a volunteer and entertain when I am able?”

Great spirit! Exemplifies an attitude of embracing all of life as a gift to be embraced! Bill told me: “God gave me this gift of music. “I want to continue to share it for as long as I am able. God left me here. I believe my music is the reason.” 

To some, his theology may be problematic. But the spirit and the attitude are not! While we have breath, we have life, which is to say, we have a gift. It may be limited or different than it once was, but the gift of life was meant to be shared. For those of us engaged in ministry with and to older adults, delivering this message may be the most difficult of all. Aging often brings sickness, frailty and the like, which often results in a kind of paralysis. We hear hints of this paralysis every time someone says in despairing tones, “I can't do what I used to do.” Or, “Why does God leave me here?” The challenge before us so engaged with older adults is offering a different vision. It is offering the vision of our faith, the vision of full and joyful life, the vision of purpose and meaning. I have seen the tremendous growth and joy of some of our most limited, challenged residents, even as I've seen some of our residents far less limited and challenged go from giving, caring people to self absorbed, unhappy people. In every instance the difference is having heard or not having heard the message. “God left me here. I believe my music is the reason.”

Obviously the individual gifts vary. But I've yet to meet anyone who could not express (verbally or otherwise) the gift of love. I've yet to meet anyone who could not ‘enjoy' some aspect of life and thus be a witness to the ongoing meaning of life. My observation (for whatever it is worth) is this: Many of us, out of a false sense of compassion, do not challenge despair among the aging as a lack of faith. We feel that to do so would be cruel. I have come to believe exactly the opposite! Not to offer the other vision is cruel, never calling the person to embrace the life that is, rather than the life that was.

So thank you Bill! I hope there is a Bill around when I get to the place where “I can't do what I used to do.” I hope someone reminds me “God left me here.” And calls me to say, “I believe my music is the reason.

Feel free to print or share with your congregation. © 2012 Rev. James Stinson