“Would you like to come over to my house for lunch and to watch the Broncos?” Because I was a young single man living on my own, my friend knew I would be alone that Sunday, as would she. Sharing our love of food and football would be a good way for us to spend the afternoon.
This was only one such occasion I enjoyed with this friend over the course of many years, beginning when I was a young teen. She was from my small local church congregation, and I had developed a good relationship with her through the years.
Here’s the thing: My friend, Dorothy Williams, was a widow in her 70s.
Mrs. Williams was the matriarch of a large extended family in that small Colorado town. In fact, I graduated from high school with one of her grandsons.
But Mrs. Williams was my friend.
Even though she had long walked with a cane because of having multiple sclerosis, she had a youthful attitude. She was also a die-hard fan of the Denver Broncos football team and scheduled her Sunday plans around their games. She was fun to be with, and I remember her laugh after all these years.
I’m a better person for having had Mrs. Williams as my friend.
Our social circles naturally center on those we relate to because of shared experiences and emotional development. As a result, our closest friends tend to be around our own age.
But don’t discount the value of making friends with those older than you, especially seniors. Despite the age difference, you will probably be surprised by how much you have in common.
Remember, they were once your age and faced many of the same “growing pains” that are common to young people. They know what it’s like to feel awkward meeting new people, battle acne, sense the thrill of being around a special person—all of the emotions and experiences you are now having, because these are common life circumstances.
I once asked a group of seniors if they still felt young inside, and nearly all said they did. This is an important insight to have about many of the aged. Because they now have frail and broken bodies, one assumes they are old and worn out in every way. However, their physical limitations don’t diminish their tremendous value.
My relationship with Mrs. Williams enriched my life beyond our watching football together. For example, one of the most important keys to a successful marriage I’ve ever heard came from a simple statement she made one day: “Selfishness can destroy a marriage.” Even though I’ve since come across the same idea many times in books and other messages, because an older woman whose life experience I respected made the comment, it had a lasting impact on me.
There are similar older people in your life right now, and you can benefit from them. As the Bible says, “Wisdom is with aged men, and with length of days, understanding” (Job 12:12). Not everyone gains wisdom through life, but there is much to learn from those who are led by God: “The silver-haired head is a crown of glory, if it is found in the way of righteousness” (Proverbs 16:31). Don’t overlook the treasure trove of wisdom such people can offer.
Any good relationship is mutually beneficial, and your relationship with an older person is no different. By befriending older people, you may help them more than you realize.
The people of Israel were told, “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). This instruction reflects God’s intent that the aged be respected because of their long lives. For those who try to follow God, this approach toward older people should be the goal.
Besides that of following God’s command, there are at least two major benefits to honoring “the gray head.”
1. It’s good for you. Honoring your elders gives perspective on your place in life. The fact is, younger people have less life experience than older people. You don’t know what you don’t know—because of a lack of experience. That’s not a knock on the young, it’s just the reality. Accepting this indicates maturity.
A wise young person understands that there is much to learn from those who have lived decades more of life. For example, the memories of someone who actually lived through events such as the Beatles’ first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, Watergate and its aftermath, or the fall of the Soviet Union, can give a personal perspective that a Wikipedia article cannot.
This longer-ranged perspective that can benefit the young is one reason the Bible says, “Listen to your father who begot you, and do not despise your mother when she is old” (Proverbs 23:22). There is much to gain in learning from your parents and other older people.
2. It’s good for them. Older people can suffer from the effects of diminished self-worth by feeling that their most productive days are behind them. Transitioning out of the working world and increasing disabilities can cause them to question their value to others.
Getting to know a person and learning to appreciate the contributions made during his or her life can provide that person with significant validation, and asking people sincere questions about their pasts can remind them of the many events that have enriched their lives. This can be an amazing journey of discovery for you, and you will be amazed by the life stories you’ll hear. It’s like reading a book so interesting you can’t wait to turn the next page.
This is a tremendous benefit for older people. We all want to know that our lives matter, and spending this time with them lets them know that theirs do.
In our modern world, it is far too easy to focus on ourselves and stay in our “comfort zone.” But there are so many other people in the world who are waiting to meet you.
Try looking past your normal social circle to those older people just outside. The only way you will find out if there is a new friend waiting for you is by reaching out to those you may never have spoken with before. If you do, you may find your own Dorothy Williams, with whom you can form a beneficial friendship.