Her frail hands, wrinkled with raised blue veins would meet my Granny’s hands as she held the cup to her thin lips. “Alright, now you have one more to take, Momma,” Granny would say, coaxing my great-grandmother to take the final sip to swallow the last of several pills.
As a child watching my Granny care for her nearly blind, hard-of-hearing elderly mother, I would try earnestly to imagine the woman before me as a young mother, up early preparing breakfast and organizing a household of seven children in the 1940’s. Sitting quietly, and contentedly, in her chair on the far side of the living room, I struggled then to see in her the once vibrant life she lived. But every now and then I would glimpse a small grin on her face, as if she weren’t so hard of hearing after all or perhaps she was remembering a pleasant memory.
Watching my Granny care for her mother in such a tender way, like caring for a young child, stirred an appreciation in my young heart for the beauty and delicacy of old age. Instead of seeing wrinkles I see stories of faith, adventure and hardships. Instead of gray hair I see the evidence of work, stress, grief and the wisdom of long-life. Instead of thin, easily bruised skin and oddly bent bones, I see a lifetime of very human vulnerability – such a soft shell to protect something so vital as the human heart.
The Elderly: Valuable or Burdensome?
As our culture has grown increasingly obsessed with youth, vitality and viability our society’s patience with those who no longer meet those definitions has grown warily thin. But what does it say to our surrounding culture when Christians are not only unprepared but unwilling to care for their aging parents? If we look at the healthcare controversy and some states’ legalization of physician assistance in dying (PAD), or assisted suicide, we see that American society is taking a sharper view of the elderly as a burden to be relieved.
According to a recent report from the National Center for Health Statistics, the American life expectancy in 2015 was 78.8 years, a slight decrease from the previous year. That still sounds like a good long life to someone in her late twenties. Yet, my concern for those of us young evangelical Christians stepping into the pro-life arena to “carry the torch,” so to speak, is that we not neglect the value and importance of championing the rights of the elderly because that doesn’t serve an immediate benefit to us.
Most of us understand that euthanizing humans is contrary to a biblical worldview. But we need to go beyond opposing euthanasia. We need to promote the value of lives that society says are no longer vital or viable.
What Can Young Christians Do Now?
What can we do to turn the tide? How can we proactively affirm the life of the elderly, and begin to bring about pro-life change? Here are a few suggestions.
Start with Your Family
My husband works in retirement finances, so it’s probably no surprise that we have already had conversations about preparing to care for our parents in their older age. We realize, however, we’re a minority in the younger generations. In fact, it probably sounds strange, maybe even morbid to some, that we had conversations about caring for our parents in their older age before any of them even turned sixty. Having a pro-life ethic means considering the ramifications of caring for the elderly in one’s own family.
But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. (I Timothy 5:8)
Prepare Now, Not Later
Many people have resigned themselves to the idea that we can wait until our parents are close to retiring before having conversations about their care later in life, but we can actually start having those conversations now.
Financially speaking, it’s better to know now that your parents are or have been saving for retirement, rather than hoping they are, and finding out they haven’t planned well, or at all. You may need to budget a sum of money each year to go toward their care later.
Elder Care Ethics: Nursing Home, Assisted Living or Home Care
It’s also a good idea to start having conversations with your parents about their future, what they desire, and how they would like to be cared for. Should nursing homes or assisted living facilities be an option your parents prefer, do a little research on those facilities.
Speak openly about your excitement to care for your aging parents. This is an excellent way to testify to the gospel of Christ! We honor our parents by caring for their dignity now and later.
‘Children, honor your father and mother’ (this is the first commandment with a promise), ‘that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.’ (Ephesians 6:2-3)
Ask the Lord to show kindness and favor that He would grant you the blessing of caring for your parents in old age. Pray also that the world around you would be so dumbfounded by your love for the elderly that they would inquire about the source of it all!
Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life. (Proverbs 16:31)