Posted by: Terry | July 30, 2017

Thoughts on age and purpose

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St. Anthony of Padu, Patron of the aged

With another birthday approaching all to quickly, aging rears its annual gray head. Long gone are the days when I relished turning thirty, certain that it would give me a credibility unavailable to the capriciousness of one’s twenties. In those idealistic years I told everyone about the mountains I would climb, and the direction my life would take, mixed with the unflappable certainty of youth.

After I reached fifty, Dad would often say, “You are catching up with me.” I would remind him that actually he was getting older too, and he is. My dad is 92, mom is 87, my father-in-law is 92. They each wear the years in a way that is uniquely theirs. Dad does pretty well, though he is tired, not surprising after all these years. Mom is the most active of all, she still teaches Bible studies and sends out cards to people at church. Tom, my father-in-law, has dementia and sleeps a lot.

I have watched as the years have changed them and taken away some of their vitality, mobility, and, in the case of my father-in-law, mental acuity. Then of course there is the reality that dad is right, I am catching up with them; I see my own frailty and brevity reflected in them, and it can be concerning.

In the Gospels we have an account of a man who was blind from birth. The Disciples asked the question we all would have asked, “Who’s fault is it?” They wanted to know who sinned, who was being punished. Like the friends of Job, they assumed that blessings or lack of blessings where the result of doing right or wrong. Yet the message of Job is that we rarely get to see what is on God’s agenda until after the fact and that there is not always someone to blame.

How long we live makes little sense, people die too young while in perfect health, others live to a robust old age – President Carter still works on Habitat for Humanity houses in his 90’s – My dad is tired, and Tom has dementia. Futilely we look for some reason.

Jesus responded to the Disciples with, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but it is so the glory of God may be revealed.” Could there be a nugget of wisdom to help grasp the dilemma of old age buried here? I think yes, even though in the case of the blind man there are still so many hard issues beyond our topic at hand.

We know nothing, other than legend, about the man’s life after he regained his sight. It would be safe to say he became a follower of the Messiah. A follower of Jesus, of course, but to grasp the significance of this we must focus on the Messiah. Without that context it is a story about a man dealing with a life of blindness just so God could get some publicity for healing him, that would make God petty. Jesus, the Messiah, was the culmination of all of Israel’s history, the turning point in God’s restoring the world. He was announcing and beginning a new kingdom and new way of living, keeping this perspective  in mind is critical.

When John the Baptist was in prison he sent messengers to Jesus to inquire if he was the Messiah. Jesus answered, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.” The blind man, after years of darkness, was part of  God revealing to the world that everything was about to change. He had a role to play in this eternal drama, his sight was a picture to us all that the years of darkness are over, light has come.

We have all been called to a vocation of loving God and demonstrating that love by serving and loving others. I have learned this past year how even someone who has dementia has a purpose. This has played out in the relationship between my wife and her father.

If we are to serve and love then there must be people to serve and love; love needs an object to love. For many reasons Tricia has shouldered much of the managing of her fathers care. In so doing she has been an inspiration to me, and I hope others, as she demonstrates the love of Christ in her everyday commitments and time; she lives out her vocation every time she visits Tom, every time she takes him to the doctor, every time she meets with his care givers, every time she feeds him his lunch. The Messiah said, “when you did it to one of the least of these…you did it to me.” Tom has a purpose, the glory of God is revealed when Tricia and the rest of the family take time to show their love to him.

This of course has not been easy, there are challenges weekly. In those challenges I am sure that Tricia’s faith, my faith, and  others has grown. We learn the most about God and his grace in times of difficulty. We learn to take our eyes off of ourselves and look to others who need us. Thanks to Tom, my faith has grown as I see Tricia love him – another purpose.

Purpose is more than activity and intellect, if we trust, as Job learned to trust, and Abraham knew, “The God of creation will do right.” Then each and everyone of us will have a purpose as long as God keeps us on this earth.

This gives me hope and most importantly increases my respect for the elderly, in whatever state their health has them. Jesus said that to follow him we must deny self, stop making our own interests predominate. All of life should be about giving up myself and serving others. It is hard to grasp that being unable to care for one’s self is the ultimate of denying self, as it goes against our ingrained obsession for independence and control. To think I can have a purpose in life when I can do nothing is still a bit beyond my grasp, at the same time there is comfort knowing our value does not diminish as our strength ebbs.

My father encourages me everyday, when he goes to Verizon to get his phone and iPad working, in the quotes I use in most every seminar I teach. My mother is a constant inspiration, she started in the dust bowl of Nebraska, became a x-ray tech, then was the project manager on the second breast cancer research study ever done, today she leads bible studies with groups so well that they grow in attendance then they split and form new groups.

Father, as we age, as our strength diminishes, give us faith and assurance of your love, and the grace to allow others to serve you through their love and service to us. Give us the humility to accept from others what they are called to give and accept their help with graciousness and return love back to them as we are able.

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Responses

  1. Aging is a privilege – one I am thankful for every day.


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