Some time ago as I visited a member of the Church in a nursing home, which was a new facility with a lot of amenities, I said to the dear lady, “This is a very nice place!” As she sat in her wheelchair, she looked at me with sadness and said, “This is a place full of homesick people!” “Are you homesick, I asked?” “Oh,” she said, “this place will never be home!” Though I have visited many such facilities before and since that afternoon, I’ve never heard a more poignant definition or description of a nursing home.
There was a time when families cared for their aging parents or relatives at home. Societal changes, a more mobile population and the prevalence of two income families have made this arrangement difficult or impossible for most families today. So, we warehouse our elderly people. It has become a huge, profitable industry funded by government and private funding.
As America ages, the numbers are astounding! In December 2010 the PEW Research reported that in the United States, 10,000 people will retire every day for the next 19 years. Frequently there are articles in the various media describing the “graying of America.” The same is true for much of the Western world. And, while there is still great emphasis on youth, the looming crunch of services required for our aging population cannot be ignored. National and state governments are struggling to pay the increased cost of providing the benefits promised under various programs for the elderly. And, families struggle to do their part to provide the increased care needed by aged family members.
Considering this stark picture, many people dread growing old. They fail to recognize that there are blessings and joys along the way that offset the potential problems of aging. A Biblical perspective is required to find the balance because the Bible provides a more positive approach to the aging process.
Long life should bring wisdom especially if one has lived by the tenets found in the Bible. “Wisdom is with aged men, and with length of days, understanding” (Job 12:12). This wisdom can be shared with the younger generation.
Proverbs has much to say on the subject of aging. For example,“The silver-haired head is a crown of glory, if it is found in the way of righteousness” (Proverbs 16:31). Yet, many older people may not understand this approach to growing old. The Bible also recognizes that grandchildren are a great joy “Children’s children are the crown of old men, and the glory of children is their father” (Proverbs 17:6).
Being financially prepared for one’s senior years is also essential, so good planning and stewardship of one’s resources should be practiced in the years leading up to retirement or old age. In fact, God’s word encourages us to leave something to our children and grandchildren when the Bible says, “A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children” (Proverbs 13:22). While that may not always be possible, it is desirable.
God has always desired that older people be accorded the respect and the provision that they need. Anciently, this instruction was given: “You shall rise before the gray headed and honor the presence of an old man, and fear your God: I am the Lord” (Leviticus 19:32). And, of course, respect for parents is one of the basic Ten Commandments: “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the Lord your God is giving you” (Exodus 20:12).
The book of James contains this instruction: “Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble” (James 1:27), which would include the elderly women and men who have lost their spouse.