Photo by Jake Thacker on Unsplash
The little old lady perpetually wrapped up in a shawl, who smiles at you when you walk by. The old man with the wheezing voice, you can't really understand his mumbling but you're too embarrassed to admit it so you slink away with a strained, awkward smile. The silent one sitting in the corner that is a bit deaf and smells of herbal candies; you tell yourself she's probably dozing off anyway.
If you feel like you "don't know how" to relate or talk to the elderly in your church, then you need to remember that it isn't much different from "knowing how" to relate to anyone else. As long as you have a sincere love and desire to reach out to them, and patience (patience! patience!), you'll start learning how to see things from their perspective, understand their needs, challenges, and what makes them "click"--nothing at all different from getting to know anyone else.
For starters, though, here are some things that might help you start, since we all know that first steps often take the most courage:
1. acknowledge their presence. Greet them when you see them. Okay, this should apply to anyone actually, regardless of age--but especially the elderly. A very traditional Asian practice, maybe--my parents always told me that when visiting, I should find and greet the oldest person in the house to show respect--if dying out nowadays. But respect ought to transcend cultures, whether racial or social.
Often, because they're quiet, or not at the center of things, they get left out, people don't even acknowledge their presence. Maybe they don't hear that well, so make sure your greeting is loud and cheerful--or at least accompany it with a physical gesture to make it more obvious. A wave, a smile, a handshake, a pat on the back, a hug. There was an elderly man who could be seen feeding the cats under my block every day. He always looked very grumpy, yet there was a kind of pathetic loneliness in how he would spend hours, with his favourite cat on his lap, simply sitting there silently. I used to smile at him in passing, but he never responded, and I felt--rather hurt--that he was as grumpy as he looked. It was only later on that my mom, taking the time to actually stop and talk to him, found out that his eyesight was poor. Sure enough, the next time I saw him I tried waving to him. His whole face lit up and he waved back, eagerly, smiling so widely my heart ached and I felt a pang of self-reproach.
2. talk to them. This sounds simple, and it is. Several of the older people in my church revealed how much it means to them when a young person comes up to them and spends time talking with them--regardless of age, different interests, even language barriers. It may take a while, it may feel awkward at first, but as with any other friendship, perseverance, patience, and sincerity work wonders.
3. be interested to hear their stories and be open to learn from them. Ask them to teach you how to cook that curry chicken you love. Ask them about themselves when they were your age. Ask them how they learnt to knit so well, or how they came to believe in Christ.
4. affirm their role in the church, what they do for the church. whether it's praying, cooking, or simply faithfully coming, elderly people often play a greater role in our churches than we--or they themselves--realize. They may struggle with feeling irrelevant, useless, or unnecessary, as the way some of them talk about themselves--jokingly or otherwise--indicates. It's important to affirm and encourage them, to remind them that age and physical limitations do not define the impact we can have on others.
5. encourage them in their spiritual walk. As we get older, we face the same challenge that we had when we were young, for different reasons. We may be tempted to sink into selfishness, to live lives bogged down by self-centeredness--
--for young people, because we have our whole life before us, and all the world to explore and conquer, every reason to enjoy life.
--but also, as we get older, because our body becomes more and more of a concern everyday, because everyone else is rushing on in their lives at the same time we slow down increasingly. Maybe we can't hear--taste--see--walk so well, we can't enjoy the same things others do, and gradually we feel more and more isolated from them.
6. help them to be involved and interacting with the lives of others in the church. Introduce young people to them, bring children over to say hi, ask them to pray for you. True, healthy friendships aren't limited to the two people in the friendship alone but continue to have a 'splash effect' in the way they bless others outside of it, build other positive friendships--thereby bringing even more blessings to the two main people in it.
7. be thoughtful and considerate of their needs. Maybe you need to walk slower, talk louder, or just be a more patient listener. Maybe they need a hand when it's dark and it's hard to see the road clearly. Someone to send them back, or help them with their bags. Preempting their needs and challenges, whether stairs or a place to sit or the temperature, or if they have trouble with their teeth when eating. Once when my grandma had been unwell, a sweet young sister in church prepared a box of grapes, washed clean and painstakingly peeled, for her. My grandma was very touched that she had spent enough time and attention talking to her, sitting with her, in church to know that, and to remember it.
Perhaps it starts with something as small as smile.
photo from Unsplash
(cont from part 1)
For me, one struggle I faced in learning to have a heart of peace was to not to confuse work with worship.
I knew something was wrong when I realized that my typical Sunday was not what I associated with worship.
It was an adrenaline-high blur of one thing after another--getting to church early to help with set up, making drinks during refreshments, teaching Sunday School, trying to snatch conversations in between with different people, packing up, rushing home, getting out lunch and most likely having a house full of people, more talk, more laughter, serving together. Not that this is a bad way to spend a Sunday, mind you. But what with all the things to be done, the whole day turned into a sort of Amazing Race for me, and worship was the last thing on my mind in my high-energy, giddy state as I scampered from one activity to another like a hamster on espresso.
You need restfulness to worship. Enough peace to purposefully put aside the things hanging on you, clamouring 24/7.
But to be honest, peace--not just for Christians--is far from abundant in our modern lifestyle today. It's about speed, efficiency, productivity, thrills, hype. And that is why it is even more crucial that Christians today experience and learn how to cultivate, how to hold on to peace. Having a heart of peace has become one of the greatest challenges to me once I realized how much I needed it. This equates to a state of trust in God and His person, a level of intimacy and love which enables you to transcend the ever-changing state of your environment and your feelings, and becomes a stable, steady foundation for you when everything else is going upside-down.
(I'm afraid peacefulness and restfulness is very far from coming naturally to my personality, as I tend to veer on the intense side. Don't so kanchiong can. Just relax lah, as we say in Singapore. In fact, this is something I'm struggling--more--with especially right now.)
For me, simply because there were so many needs around me, and especially in church, I unconsciously slipped into prioritizing serving above everything else, and it became the whole focus of Sunday for me. After all, I reasoned, these were all good things, things which needed to be done, things which blessed others and would bless me too, things which pleased God.
Don't let your work for God replace your worship. As much as we desire to serve Him, to do great things, our relationship with Him is the source of the strength and motivation with which we serve, and more importantly, it is the reason we serve. Without that, we might as well be trying to please our boss, our parents, our teachers, or a cause, by doing what we think might impress them. Look, Mom, I'm eating all my vegetables.
Before you give your energy and attention to the hundred and one things that are waiting for you--no matter how good or necessary or even "God-glorifying"-- take a moment to quiet yourself. To talk to Him. To open your heart, with its anxieties, doubts, insecurities, failures, and needs. Without feeling ashamed or guilty that you have all this "baggage," or that you're taking time to do this. Worship. Remember Who He is, and what He has done for you. Meditate on His attributes and how they apply to your life, right now. Confess what's burdening you, ask for His help, acknowledge that you're struggling to do it all, struggling to trust, struggling to do what's right...
Worship. Before you work.
"...But the people who know their God shall be strong, and carry out great exploits."
Photo by Alexandr Bormotin on Unsplash
Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way.
(2 Thessalonians 3:16)
In my comfortable little first-world context, I did not understand the value of peace for the longest time.
Why the Bible often described God as the God of peace, depicted peace as a gift to be desired and sought after. Love Joy and Peace, the trio you see every December on Christmas wreaths and tacky wrapping paper.
It was only at a point in my life when I realized I repeatedly felt harassed, anxious, and inadequate. Exhausted from the endless struggle of trying to keep up while trying to do more. Wondering whether my time management was really that lousy or was it just because there simply wasn't enough time.
Hurrying through devotions and feeling a sort of vague satisfaction that I'd managed to get that done, at least. Wondering why, when I tried to quiet myself to pray, it was so hard to keep myself focused, why God seemed so distant and passive.
As I get older, I realize that how I respond to these feelings determines who I become--who I let myself become, rather. The sense of inadequacy, the anxiety, the stress, to use that all-encapsulating six-letter word that we use so generously everyday in every conversation. They don't magically fade away once you've graduated--gotten married--promoted--paid off that debt. Like the Hydra, new heads replace the ones we've cut off, leaving us with a perpetually unattainable delusion of rest "when we've finished this."
Or, to use a more relevant metaphor, our lives become a frenetic mindless chase, like the snake in the classic handphone game; endlessly pursuing an endless trail of crumbs, a new one appearing every time we hit one.
So telling ourselves that "I just need to get this done, get it off my mind; I'm too busy right now for any other strategy" isn't a good solution.
Under these conditions, the importance of having a heart of peace is especially relevant as a Christian in today's culture.
Why as a Christian?
Because peace is the product of trusting God, relying on God despite changing situations and emotions.
Having a "heart of peace" amidst the crazy, hectic rush of life indicates greater understanding of and intimacy with God.
It's become a phrase that lies close to my heart for that reason. As I think more and more about it, I realize how much my life would change if I had that heart of peace, how it would manifest itself in so many different ways...
calm and good cheer, not getting impatient or anxious or stressed or discouraged as easily, due to an applied understanding of God's timing and sovereignty, which gives more balance and perspective...
being able to discern and maintain priorities even when other things are distracting...
contentment, even as you make goals and pursue them--the type of deep-rooted, genuine contentment that is not reliant on success, not upended by troubles...
comfort and stability during difficult times, and the same balance in happy ones, since you are not dependent on the fickleness of mere emotions...
being able to not take things so personally, or be so hung up on other people's behaviour, because you do not need them to behave in a certain way in order to live your life well and be happy, and you don't have to relate to them on the grounds of those expectations...
...And the list goes on.
Peace, that "surpasses all understanding", because we have so little of that peace in our lives.
(continued in part 2)
Photo by Maulana on Unsplash
As we grow in spiritual maturity, we continue to face suffering. Reversing the order of that sentence would still be truth--as we continue to face suffering, we grow in spiritual maturity. God intended a link between the two that we often cannot--short of looking at it through the analogy of a writer developing characters--understand. That, and having experienced myself how suffering can produce growth in a way that no form of happiness could, have enabled me to accept what might otherwise seem unsatisfying or even sadistic to some.
Instead of being discouraged that no matter how holy we are, we can't earn ourselves freedom from pain or guarantee against heartbreak while we're on earth--being able to have this spiritual maturity and perspective when we face suffering is a precious gift from God, one that strengthens and encourages us. Instead of praying to be spared suffering a more mature response would be to pray that we would be prepared for suffering when it does come. There is a beautiful passage in Isaiah I stumbled across this morning which reminds us--just like Habakkuk's "Though the fig tree wither and the vine fail...yet I will rejoice in the Lord"--that God can be most present, most real to us, in our suffering.
Isaiah 30: 20-22
And though the Lord gives you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction,
Yet your teachers will not be moved into a corner anymore,
But your eyes shall see your teachers,
Your ears shall hear a word behind you saying "This is the way, walk in it,"
Whenever you turn to the right hand
Or whenever you turn to the left.
To have faith which enables us to see our "teachers" in the difficult situations and trials of our lives. To sense God's guidance, as result, leading us by the Spirit to respond blamelessly, humbly, to grow even as we suffer.
You will also defile the covering of your images of silver,
And the ornament of your moulded images of gold.
You will throw them away as an unclean thing;
You will say to them, "Get away!"
And led by these teachers, our opened eyes enable us to identify the idols that nestle in our hearts, the small petty sins we'd been doing too well to address, the pride we'd been nurturing, the self-entitlement, selfishness, or materialism. We see them, with startling clarity, at the bleak moment when we're forced to realize how destructive and empty they are
And, as David pleads in Psalm 119:37, we want to "turn my eyes away from worthless things."
a small voice
Ci thinks some of God's greatest blessings to mankind are
Click to set custom HTML
ALL IMAGES FROM PINTEREST UNLESS OTHERWISE SPECIFIED. THANKS, PINTEREST!