Rainbows a Sign of Hope Forever

Rainbows a Sign of Hope Forever

Jim Stinson, Former Consultant on Older Adult Ministries


Why are there so many songs about rainbows and what’s on the other side?

I remember the first time I heard Kermit the Frog (my favorite Sesame Street character) sing this song, asking this question. As I round out my 10th year as Director of Spiritual Life for the United Methodist Homes, Kermit’s question is more important and the answer to it is clearer.

I’ve been asked two questions lately, with some frequency. The first is: “Don’t you get tired of dealing with old people, with all their problems and with the nearness of death?” The second is: “What is the hardest part of your job?”

The first question is easy to answer. One word—when I’m being flip—is sufficient. “No!” When I’m not being flip, the answer is more nuanced. There is so much satisfaction working with “old” people, especially when they defy conventional wisdom (or ignorance) and embrace life as completely as they did when their bodies and/or minds were at their peak. There is real joy in seeing people move from attitudes of despair and self-absorption with their ailments and frailties to attitudes of hopeful living.

The second question is a bit more difficult to answer. Somehow the answer lies in Kermit’s response to his own query: Rainbows are visions, but only illusions . . . so we’ve been told and some choose to believe it. I know they’re wrong, wait and see. Someday we’ll find it, the rainbow connection, the lovers, the dreamers and me.

The truth is that ministry to and with older adults is neither depressing nor particularly difficult. Not if you believe in rainbows, not if you believe that no matter the circumstances of our lives there is always purpose and hope.

Why are there so many songs about rainbows and what’s on the other side?

There are so many songs about rainbows because there is a need for rainbows. There is a need for signs of hope, signs that life can go forward and that it can be fruitful and meaningful. The hardest part of my job is witnessing to that truth in the face of realities that make it difficult to believe. It is equally as difficult for any caregiver, who may also be looking for a rainbow. It is finding ways to help others see hope. Children are usually satisfied with a kiss on a boo-boo. They believe it when they are told the boo-boo will go away. They inherently believe in rainbows.

With older adults, especially those with physical or cognitive issues, rainbows are more difficult to find. But there are too many people who have come to the United Methodist Homes in despair. There too many of them who arrive at what they assume is a dead end, who discover new possibilities, who discover life can still be too rich and meaningful not to believe in rainbows. I have been privileged to see so many give truth to one of our marketing strategies which says we’re not a dead end, but rather a destination.

That message is a gospel message. That message is at the core of our approach to caring for and with older adults. It is the message any one engaged in such a ministry does well to keep in the forefront. “Old” age often brings limitations and a growing awareness that life is nearer its end than it once was, but it is not automatically a dead end. Effective older adult ministry needs to be about rainbows. Not, mind you in some trite, reality-denying way, but rather in a realistic assessment of possibilities and focusing on them rather emphasizing limitations. There must be a rainbow connection in our ministry if it is to be true to the gospel.

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