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
Some in the world still follow these first few words from Leviticus 19:32; every time an elderly person enters a room, the younger stand. As I imagine myself in a room witnessing such a gesture, I am captivated by a culture that would show such honor. We in the west are so youth focused; we idolize perfect skin and bodies and do what we can to hold back time. In our quest for youthfulness, we often forget the value found in the aging. We recognize the richness of aged wine and the tastiness of aged cheese, but fail to enjoy the wealth of knowledge in the elderly in our society.
Asian countries like China, Korea, and Japan put a high priority on the elderly. They teach their children to honor, respect, and provide care for the aging. China even has a law that requires children to care for their elderly relatives, and violators can be fined or imprisoned. Some believe the long, healthy lives many Japanese lead is due to their natural diets. Though nutrition plays a major role in health, I can’t help but wonder if God’s Word is manifesting itself in their society. He tells us if we honor our father and mother, our days will be long on the earth (Ephesians 6:2). Japanese culture has been a culture of honor from its inception.
Mediterranean and Latin families also value the aging, committing themselves to take care of their family members, often under one roof. Multiple generations live together and do life together. Not so in North America. We have embraced the idea of individualism and self-sufficiency to such an extreme our families have suffered. Young people suffer because they lack the support of parents and grandparents in the life-building years when financial help and childcare assistance would be beneficial. Children and grandchildren grow up and frame independent lives, and the elderly suffer, left to fend for themselves in assisted living homes or nursing home facilities. Rather than grow together, committed to strong family units, individuals struggle for self-reliance, sheltering themselves from intimate family bonds that go beyond their own nuclear family.
I am grateful to have support from my parents, my in-laws, and my grandfather. They value me and my children, and they contribute greatly to our lives. Six years ago, my octogenarian grandparents moved in with my husband, four kids, and me. It was an adjustment. We inconvenienced them and they us. On several occasions my grandfather threatened to move out; but he is still here, and we have learned to do more than co-exist. We’ve learned how to live and love together, and my children have seen first-hand the importance of assisting one another. My grandmother died four years ago, but in the two years she lived with us, we made some of our best memories. All but one of my (now-five) children had the chance to really know her, and they have had a relationship with their great-grandparents most never have the opportunity to experience.
Unfortunately, attributes of our youth-centric Western society bleed into church culture as well. The elderly struggle to relate to modern services with lights and loud music, and the youth discount the treasures the elderly hold. The elderly and youth rarely mingle, and the chasm between them grows wider. This should not be. As the body of Christ, we should lead by example. Our goal should be to develop meaningful relationships with those around us, regardless of age. Rather than ignore the needs of the aging in our communities, we should be their first resource.
Elder care should have always remained within the church, not the government. We are told true religion ministers to orphans and widows (James 1:27). In Bible days, women with no husband were destitute, as were children with no parents. Society has changed and the destitute fall into many categories, but the essence of the verse is still applicable. We are to care for those in need if we are to truly demonstrate God’s love. The Bible tells us, “If anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (I Timothy 5:8).
We all encounter the elderly on a daily basis, and though they may not have material needs, they, just like us, have emotional ones. Rather than gaze at the beauty of youth that is often only skin deep, let us look deeper for the beauty within—that which is eternal. I recently had lunch with a lovely elderly woman. She exudes life and her eyes are alive with joy and wisdom. Her name is Ann Allen, and she has lived in Rockwall, Texas since 1977. She has watched the city grow, witnessed ministries rise and fall, seen city government change hands, and lived through the passing of her husband. Our lunch was filled with delightful conversation, and I left encouraged by her outlook for the future.
Mrs. Allen is a godly woman who believes the best is yet to come. Unlike many her age, she is in no hurry to leave this world. She senses the beginning of a great move of God and has petitioned the Lord to let her live to see it. When I asked her what advice she’d give her own generation, she said, “I’d tell them to wake up and see the anointing of God is here; to remember the former days of His glory and know that what’s coming will be even greater.” Rather than disheartened by the horrors in the world, she is encouraged by the presence of the Lord she senses; she can feel the winds of change in the atmosphere. Something is coming. Something big!
Mrs. Allen reads articles from Charisma and other Christian sources that report the amazing things God is doing around the world. Her focus is on the light, not the dark, and her face radiates that reality. In her presence, I was reminded “The silver-haired head is a crown of glory, if it is found in the way of righteousness” (Proverbs 16:31).
When asked her advice for the younger, she said, “I’d tell them to go deeper in prayer, to escape the constant noise of this high-tech society and find a place of silence. In silence, be grateful for all God is and does. Learn to listen for His voice. He is speaking, but you must tune in to truly hear what He is saying.” Mrs. Allen knows God will fulfill His word and “pour out His spirit on all flesh” (Acts 2:17). She believes signs and wonders unlike any we’ve seen in previous generations are coming, and Believers need courage because unprecedented persecution will come as well. Yet still, she is cheerful. She is hopeful.
I, too, am hopeful. My hope is that readers will evaluate their own lives and relationships and seek to develop multi-generational friendships. I have several friends I cherish, but four with which I spend the most time. Two of them are less than five years older than me; one is eighteen years older; another is eighteen years younger. Age should not be a determining factor in choosing relationships.
Honor must be given to the forerunners, those who’ve paved the way for their younger successors. One senior citizen said it this way, “I like to think we laid the tracks for the younger locomotives to run along.” I love that; don’t you? While we are blazing our trails, let us not fail to recognize the ease in which we do so exists because of the labor of those who’ve gone before us. We can become a society that honors the aging; one-by-one, family-by-family, we can make a difference.
Scripture quotations taken from the NKJV.
Originally published in Living Magazine, July issue: livingmagazine.net