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 fearfully 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 attending despite the rain or the backaches or the sleepless night, 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. So many distractions! So many desires! So many dreams!
--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 more and more. Maybe we can't hear--taste--see--walk so well, we can't enjoy the same things others do, and we feel increasingly isolated from them. So many small little things which affect the quality of our daily lives, which are so simple and mundane to others that they can't fathom, but which are frustratingly significant to us--bad teeth, hearing loss, failing eyesight, sleeplessness, multiple doctor's appointments...which all have a direct impact on our quality of life and interactions with others.
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/someone else/someone you're praying for. Tell them about that young mom who's been struggling with a new baby and ask them what advice they would give. Help them be aware about the needs of other people in church; the missionaries you're praying for, ministries you're involved in.
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 carry their bags. Preempt their needs and challenges, whether the challenge of stairs, or finding them a seat. Or the temperature. 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. Small gestures like that demonstrate that you are sensitive to their needs and challenges, that you are looking out for them, that you care for them, in concrete and tangible ways.
Perhaps it starts with something as small as smile, as making them laugh...
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."
a small voice
Ci thinks some of God's greatest blessings to mankind are
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