Five Enriching Rewards for Those Who Visit the Elderly

“Is not wisdom found among the aged?
Does not long life bring understanding?”

(Job 12:12)

In this life, it takes time to get your head together. That’s why older people can be a goldmine of experience and wisdom. The problem is, once they get their head on straight, their body begins to unwind.

Nursing homes and assisted living residences are filled with heads and hearts of gold. It is worth your while to visit them. Here are a few reasons why:

1. The art work is uplifting.

I have taught art history and art appreciation at the university level. I once made a living as an artist and I am an art museum hound. So what could a common nursing home have to impress an art lover like me? Easy! The art work lining the hallways at most homes for seniors are typically more aesthetically inspiring than a visit to most any modern art museum. The framed works at such homes are usually just prints, but you can count on them being as lovely as they are sensible. One can enjoy peaceful pastoral scenes, enlightened interiors, gorgeous sunrises, mother and child compositions, boys fishing with their uncle, grandparents mentoring, ships on the high seas, outdoor scenes that inspire the soul, and much more. Nursing homes tend to find art that is not at war with beauty and truth.

2. Their Patriotism is humbling.

Signs of patriotism are everywhere at most nursing homes. The residents don’t have much but you’ll still see plenty of flags, eagle artifacts, and patriotic posters. Red, white and blue are the favorite colors. This is especially true at The Idaho State Veterans Home here in Lewiston, Idaho, where I have several friends. Grateful for our heritage and our country is apparent everywhere you go. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen an aged veteran struggle to rise to his feet from his wheelchair at a ceremony in which the flag is honored or the National Anthem is sung. All hats come off and all the words to the Anthem are known by heart—and I mean by heart!

3. Their deep appreciation is unrestrained.

Who doesn’t need that? When I bring my guitar, I achieve rock star status! When I bring my wife, it’s even better. I see her embraced with unfettered love as well.

4. Your religious liberty is respected.

At nursing homes and senior centers, you can pray, sing, and worship privately and publicly almost at will without objection. This separates nursing homes from most public schools, museums, stores, libraries, sports events, political rallies, office buildings, shopping malls, restaurants, police stations, and college campuses. Of course, every place has its own legitimate purpose. But I especially enjoy the high level religious liberty and ministry freedoms I experience at senior centers and nursing homes.

5. Your visits can draw you closer to true religion.

Of all the benefits, this one is the best. I realize the word “religion” turns off many culture-savvy Americans who seek spirituality instead, but true religion is downright honorable and biblical. The apostle James explained,

    “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” (James 1:27, NIV).

So, there are tremendous aesthetic, noble, rational, personal, praiseworthy and religious reasons to visit and love the elderly. Besides all that, it’s fun! Try it! Just think: you may be so blessed as to live long enough to need visitors yourself!

How About Both?

Hiking along the Power Line at Hell’s Gate State Park near Lewiston, Idaho, my wife and I encountered an interesting couple on the trail. Mary Ellen recognized the man as a masseuse at her chiropractor’s office. After introductions, he asked my wife, “How’s your body?”

In context, it was amusing. As the conversation continued, he made this claim: “Enlightenment comes through the body, not the mind.”

I had been rather agreeable thus far, but I could only half agree with his claim. I said that enlightenment can come through both.

He disagreed. “It comes only through the body,” he reaffirmed. I backed off. We affirmed our friendly greetings and resumed our respective hikes.

I was reminded of the time I heard a “prophet” named “Bob” in Nashville, Tennessee, tell a crowd of prominent Christian musicians to: “Lose your mind for Jesus.”

Jesus actually never asked anyone to be mindless for Him but that has not stopped many from trying. After all, thinking is hard while feeling is easy.

As for the masseuse on the trail, he used a false dichotomy to make an otherwise fine point. The pursuit of enlightenment should not ignore or dismiss the human body. Sad to say, false alternatives are an extremely popular way to stifle thinking. For example, consider the following statements I have heard recently:

  • Christianity is not about church but about Jesus.
  • Learning is not about books but about experience.
  • Christians don’t go to church, they are the church.
  • Faith is not about trying harder but loving deeper.
  • Salvation is not about good works but God’s grace.

These popular phrases are rarely questioned. So let me be unpopular and ask, what about the “both” option? Consider Paul’s ability to affirm both the role of believers and God working in the salvation process:

    “[Work] out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:12-13)

In the next chapter, Paul is able to root salvation fully in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and still speak of his role in pressing on to “lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus.” (vs. 12).

Don’t miss the word “also.” Paul can actively “press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (vs. 14) without signaling any notion of self-salvation.

In the same letter, Paul claimed citizenship in heaven (Philippians 3:20) without renouncing his Roman citizenship, which he once claimed to a centurion in Jerusalem (Acts 22:25-29).

How would you respond to the following dichotomous conclusions?

  • This team is not about practice but winning championships!
  • Christianity is not about service but about character.
  • This hospital is not about medicine but health!
  • The CD is not about music but inspiration.
  • Character is not about moral living but a pure heart.

Here’s my response: “How about both?”

A Virtuous Woman, Who Can Find?

    “Who can find a virtuous woman?
    For her price is far above rubies.

    (Proverbs 31:10, KJV)

I have a wife who volunteers for hospice care, makes home and hospital visits with her minister (that’s me), prepares meals for the homeless every Thursday, works as a nurse’s aid, and finds more ways to support her husband than he ever expected. Last week, she went to Kamiah, Idaho, to help distribute vital goods to people who lost everything in a recent fire. Not only that, I have never heard my wife cuss! Okay, that’s a seven week feat that has survived many temptations while in the passenger seat with me at the wheel.

Last July 18th, while driving north toward St. Marie, Idaho, I asked my new wife if she wanted to play the virtue game. She asked how and I told her that if we started, we could never stop. Then I asked her to name a virtue for the day.

Since it was our wedding day, I expected her to select “love!” Without hesitating, she chose, “courage,” claiming that it was at the root of all virtue.

C.S. Lewis agrees with my wife. He said, “Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point.” Winston Churchill also agrees: “Courage is the first of the human qualities because it is the quality which guarantees all the others.”

I realized I was in good company.

The next day, we chose “humility” as the virtue of the day. We soon saw it on display at a tiny church where our presence pulled the attendance up to nine. The minister gave his all in earnest through the Bible class and worship service. We saw great humility in his undaunted effort to be bold and faithful in such humble circumstances.

Monday began with a trip to the local sheriff’s office to inform them of the three extremely threatening unleashed dogs we encountered the night before. “Patience” was that day’s virtue and we saw it on the mission statement for the sheriff’s department. Later, while driving off into the sunset, we listened to a CD by Eric Metaxas titled “7 Men And the Secret to Greatness.” Patience was used twice to describe George Washington.

The next day, “wisdom” was the word and Metaxas used it for the great William Wilberforce who used his political role as a Christian to abolish the slave trade in England over 200 years ago.

Other virtues that graced our honeymoon were, “joy,” “shalom”, and “gentleness,” a word Mary Ellen chose with her late mother in mind.

One day, we worked on the word “beauty.” On this, Mary Ellen is a natural. Together, we looked for beauty in our smiles, our words, our tone, and our timing. We sought beauty as an attitude rather than merely an attribute.

Admittedly, things have gotten ugly on a few occasions but such moments are no match for all the virtues we have called up daily for mutual instruction and application—especially “forgiveness.”

As the weeks passed, we ran short of English words and resorted to some New Testament Greek words to inspire us. Included among those my wife has chosen are:

  1. “Charizomai” – gracious forgiveness or generosity.
  2. Hypostasso” – submission!

Without a doubt, a virtuous woman, I have found.

Old Newlyweds!

Between the two of us, 118 years of life experience had passed under the bridge before Mary Ellen and I got married. Since then, I’ve had a birthday, so now we are a 119-year-old couple in our second month of marriage. We feel like kids.

But we’re not! We bring longstanding habits and quirks to our marriage that are sure to test whatever virtues we have cultivated. And we get tired. We both love old movies but at 119, we seem to find it quite difficult to actually finish one together.

We have opened many gifts and cards together and still feel inadequate in expressing our gratitude for the generosity of our friends. We have forgiven them for ignoring the instruction on our wedding invitation not to give gifts.

Getting married brought new changes and challenges to our relationship. One change was her name. The Christian principle of two becoming one meant so much to Mary Ellen, that she gave up her name and took mine. I am deeply honored. Of course, marital oneness goes much deeper than a name but a name is still a wonderful thing to share in common with a lifelong mate.

As for new challenges, adding Mary Ellen to my health insurance policy exploded our monthly budget. Health coverage for a 119-year-old couple is crucial. Sure enough, my wife of just two weeks (feeling much like a kid) fell off her bike and broke her arm, not to mention her road burns. Four weeks later, the cast is off and she is opening her own cans and bottles and washing her own hair.

My injured wife gave me gobs of credit for being a helpful mate, but the truth is that she had to fend for herself far more than any newlywed should. As the sole director of All-Teen Camp at Prince’s Pine in Northwest Washington, I had tons of prep-work to do and then I deserted her for a solid week during which our first month anniversary took place. Out in the boonies with fifty teenagers (and a great staff), I could not even get through on the phone on that noteworthy night.

She gracefully endured all these disappointments while giving me extra credit for the little I did for her.

Another challenge, at least for me, has been learning to be less selfish. Being single, it was rather easy to turn a blind eye to my selfishness. Now, with a lovely new bride in the house, it’s not so easy to fool myself. She comes with needs and notions that just cannot be conveniently dismissed, nor should they be. Marriage is like getting a new pair of glasses. It clarifies the way I look at myself and it’s not always a pretty sight. I’ll spare you the details but I am a piece of work!

We have had to apologize to each other on several occasions. I doubt that the best of marriages could survive without the refined skill of offering and accepting apologies.

Mary Ellen and I are old enough to understand that it is impossible to “make” another person happy against their will. That includes one’s spouse. Just being happy (not an easy accomplishment for many) is a precious gift to each other. We listen to a radio broadcaster named Dennis Prager who often says that happiness is a moral responsibility and a kind gift to all those in our lives who love us. We agree.

If Mary Ellen and I make it to our golden anniversary, we would be 218-years-old as a couple! That’s unlikely, so we plan to make the most of our time together. Life is too short to fuss over small stuff, like toothpaste, toilet seats, ego, pretense, and the TV remote control handset. Nevertheless, learning how to be more considerate of her “stuff” is an education I desperately need, no matter how small it may look to me. Remember, I struggle with selfishness.

Those marriage glasses I mentioned can make things that once looked small now appear big, and many of the big things are beginning to look small. These “glasses” (like reality itself) will take some getting used to, but it’s already clear that I need them. They help me see beauty and love (not small stuff, by the way) in a new and bigger light.

Here is what marriage is showing me in living color:

“A sorrow shared is halved and a joy shared is doubled!