The middle-aged woman congratulated the new mother on her beaming baby girl. She commended her neighborhood group for helping this younger woman in this exciting but difficult period of time. But as we walked away she tearfully commented to me:
I have all the same problems as that young woman with her eight-pound baby. My mother can’t feed herself, needs to be bathed and changed, weighs 140 pounds, doesn’t recognize me most days…but there’s no neighborhood group bringing me casseroles.
There are more people over eighty years old than ever before in history. The fastest growing demographic in the developed world are senior citizens.
We celebrate the many medical advances resulting in more children surviving to adulthood. We praise new treatments and capabilities allowing us to live better as we age. Yet this presents serious challenges, especially with the cost and effort of elder care and the ravages of Alzheimer’s and neurological degeneration.
This is a leadership challenge in our organizations and our communities. There are significant economic costs. People without a biblical worldview will suggest and recommend many actions which would violate our conscience. We are routinely faced with situations where “we can’t make everyone happy.” How can we think about elder care from a biblical framework?
A Biblical Framework for Elder Care
The fifth commandment – honor your father and mother – has not been repealed. Nor does the command say, “unless it’s inconvenient or expensive.”
Second, realize this is both an individual responsibility and a community burden. Galatians 6:2-5 reminds us,
Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. For each will have to bear his own load.
The burden is a weight greater than one person could carry. Still, the load is a weight an adult is expected to be able to carry. Caring for our elders has massive collective burdens and individual loads. Both are difficult.
Suggestions for Honoring Our Aging Parents
Use these suggested guidelines as you consider your leadership role in these situations with aging parents:
- Our aging parents are made in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27), and loved by God as we are.
- There is a larger purpose for their life in God’s sovereignty, even if they aren’t “contributing,” even in suffering, even if we cannot see it. Supporting them as they experience difficulties is one of the ways God shapes us to become more Christ-like.
- We must encourage our parents to continue to serve others in love. Our elders have important responsibilities to train younger men and women and be role models. They can be present with others, sharing life on life. They can teach and provide perspective. They can pray for others.
- We should expect their discipleship to continue. New spiritual growth is possible and desirable! As part of the community of disciples we should teach, correct, and equip them for ministry (Eph. 4:11-12). We must include them. We must work to resolve all open issues, no differently than for any other member of our community of faith. To do less would be to deny their God-granted stature as disciples.
- We must patiently love our parents, especially when it becomes more difficult. “Love is patient and kind; loves not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things.” (1 Cor. 13:4-7)
- We should continue to support research and innovations which improve the quality of life for the eldest among us.
- We should give as much honor and support to people who commit themselves to elder-care as we do for people who commit themselves to caring for infants and children.
Paul’s encouragement to the Galatian church fits here: “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are in the household of faith.” (Gal. 6:9-10)