Age Shouldn’t Negate Call to Serve One Another

Age Shouldn’t Negate Call to Serve One Another

Jim Stinson, Former Consultant on Older Adult Ministries


I had the privilege of performing the wedding ceremony for my great nephew and his fiancée this past weekend. He was not the first niece or nephew, nor the first great nephew nor great niece who have afforded me such a privilege. Indeed I will have the same privilege for my great niece in November.

As weddings tend to do, I was reminded of the passage of time. After all, I met his mother the day she was born and here was her son getting married. I attended her baptism and performed her wedding ceremony some years ago. I found myself asking, “Where does the time go?” Then came the reminiscing about the many moments of privilege that life has given, and continues to give. Questions about the passage of time are often asked by people as they grow older. Aging brings an inevitable set of questions with it. “Have our lives so far made the difference we thought it would when we were younger and filled with dreams?” “Have we become the persons we imagined ourselves to be?” 

Having spent 13 years of my life ministering primarily with and to older adults, perhaps I have heard this question more than most people.

Sometimes it is a painful question to ask. It often reminds us of too many painful moments and missed opportunities. Sometimes the question brings a smile to the one asking. Looking back, they feel good about the life they have lived.

The ones who ask the question with the sense that they have nothing left, except to wait for death, are the most disturbing to deal with. How does one respond? The response may be obvious for those who believe that all of life—regardless of age or ability—is sacred and has value. That is certainly a tenet of our faith. But how do we convey that response in a loving and life-giving way? That is our challenge as laity and pastors.

Our message is one of life and of hope. It is at the foundation of our faith, which we are called to deliver. Empathy with aging folk in our congregations and in our wider circle of care is step one. But too many of us, believing we are being kind, listen with empathy and neglect step two. We shy away from challenging the assumption that “I have nothing left to offer.”

In my time as director of spiritual life for United Methodist Homes, I found it useful to listen first, and then to reframe the assumption. Doing so often began with, “Have you considered . . . ?” Always the question ended with a specific need, which appeared the person could help meet. Joining a prayer shawl ministry, praying daily for specific people, calling or writing notes to shut-ins, even if the person is a shut-in himself or herself.

One’s call to serve others never expires. It is good to be reminded that we are always needed to help to someone else. As individuals and as a congregation, we are challenged to speak the truth in love. Perhaps if we did so, the question would arise with wonder and satisfaction. “Where does the time go?” Perhaps, if we reframed it to, “What can you still do?” some older adults would see their value in a new way. Caring for and loving others involves challenging older adults to see the possibilities instead of being depressed by the aging process.