“Washed Clean” by Telling Our Stories

“Washed Clean” by Telling Our Stories

Jim Stinson, Former Consultant on Older Adult Ministries


“I feel clean again.” Who said that? 

He is in his nineties and facing major changes in his life. Most of them he did not expect. As loss piled on loss, he began to think differently about life. He did not like what he was thinking, but even so, the thoughts kept coming. Up until this point, he had always been sure of his faith. Now he was thinking his faith was wavering and he did not like that reality.

He talked one day, unloading his situation and his reason for wondering if his faith would see him through. Many people of faith have found themselves with the same worrisome thought. “Suppose my faith is not sufficient to see me through?”

“Has my supposed faith been a naive hope that made sense out of my life, until it did not?” “What is wrong with me?”

And so, I listened, knowing he had to find his own answer. He had found it when he proclaimed, as I was preparing to leave, “I feel clean again. Telling my story, and having someone listen, made me feel better about myself and my situation.”

Mind you, I had offered no advice. I had simply listened. That was enough. How often in my ministry, both with older adults and, in fact, with people of all ages, this same “miracle” has happened. People who are allowed to share their fears and doubts, without being judged or told ‘You shouldn’t feel that way,’ often find the certainty they crave. It is not answers they really want and seek. Life has many questions that beg for answers. What is wanted and needed is to know we have company on our journey, company that listens.

It reinforced a basic observation that has largely guided my ministry, which I write and teach about frequently. I do not have answers for many questions that arise in life, in my own or in others. What I do have is a set of ears and an ability to listen, strengthened by my faith that we are all loved by a Love that has ultimate answers, and knowing that is enough to know, especially if reminded of that Love by the presence of someone who listens.

We all have the same faith. We all have the same ability. We have no need to fear ministry to and with others, especially with older adults. A major part of a helping ministry is listening, allowing time and space for others to discover God speaking to them through the presence of a loving ear. All of us can do that.