Friday, August 23, 2013

My Old People

Twice a month for the past several months, I've been going to a nursing home to lead a mid-week Bible study.  Or I should say it is supposed to be a Bible study.  Few of the people have the strength and mind for group discussion and fewer still have enough hearing to hear the faint voices of those around them, so even though I've been going straight through the book of Matthew, chapter by chapter, I end up serving more as a preacher than what I typically envision a Bible study leader to be.

I'll be honest.  I've never been comfortable being around elderly people.  I never knew how to connect with them.  My social awkwardness and past experiences with the elderly made me worry constantly about being judged and not approved of.  My sinus issues sometimes make it hard for me to understand people's speech, and I often felt like any soft spoken elderly person I talked with was speaking a foreign language.  And though I had heard people talk of the elderly as "treasures of wisdom", I had yet to find any who either were or who were willing to share the wisdom they had accumulated (I'm sure that me avoiding the elderly had a lot to do with that).

But even with my trepidation, this opportunity to go out and share about Jesus fell into my lap, and though it would not have been my first choice of people to minister to, I was obedient and followed through on what I felt the Holy Spirit leading me to do.  Little did I know how much it would teach me about the power of the Gospel and about life itself.

First of all, everyone was so nice to me.  That took me by surprise.  But it didn't take me long to figure out that they weren't nice to me because of anything I was.  They were nice to me because they were hungry for Jesus and I was the one bringing the Word to them.  To people who no longer had the eyesight or dexterity to read their Bible, get out to a church service, or have the presence of mind to read more than a few sentences at a time, I was their connection to "spiritual milk", to God's Holy Word.  And to many of them, the idea that someone still thought enough of them and what they have left of their life, to voluntarily come in and teach and minister to them, to still spur them onto growth and good works, gave them a faith that there still was meaning to their life.  They crave every drop of Jesus they can grasp because it means that their life is not over, Jesus is still working on them, and as long as He is still working on them, they have something better to hope for.

Most importantly, though, I've been able to see what the power of the Gospel and the love of Jesus can do to a broken person in a fallen world.  There are times when I look out at my old people and as I say something, one or two will begin to cry.  Sometimes it is through a countenance of sadness, and other times through a smile of joy.  Most of the joy comes when I talk about Heaven.  To people who are finished with this world and with their withered bodies that fail them day by day, Heaven must hold so much meaning to them.

But what really has begun to touch me are the tears that come with much more serious emotions.  Based on what I'm preaching, I see tears of regret, tears over a loss they are still mourning over, and tears of fear about loved ones who are far from Christ.  There are some who are still so overwhelmed by the thought of a God that loves them, accepts them and desires them, a God who forgives their wrongs and welcomes them with loving arms, that tears stream down their face at the mere mention of His love.  And yesterday it hit me...much of the pain that gets touched by the Gospel message is likely decades old inside of them.  There are likely those who are still fighting feelings of abandonment from a parent that left them more than 85 years ago.  There are those who likely are still mourning over a brother or sister lost in a war 70 years ago.  There are those who spent years committing sins that they've never been sure are forgivable and when they hear of a forgiving God who makes out sins white as snow, they still melt with awe.  A black man who carries around the pain and humiliation of racism that was shown to him 50 years ago now bawls when he hears that there were black men like him in the Bible.  Sometimes the grumpiest, nastiest people are the ones that cry the most, and I suspect it is because they have so many wounds buried so deep that only Jesus can reach down there and begin healing them one by one.  And there is nothing more beautiful than when we get to sing hymns together and all those fragile voices lift together to worship a King that means everything to them.  They've taught me that worship is about the heart, and has very little to do with the quality of the music.

I now adore my old people.  They love me because I'm the one who brings Jesus to them and I love them because I know Jesus so much more clearly because I see Him work in and through them.  It is the highlight of my week when I get to go share the Gospel with them.

I feel so blessed that the Lord allows me moments, such as one I experienced yesterday when, after I preached from Matthew 13 and told the parable of the mustard seed that turns into a huge tree, a man in a wheelchair with severe dementia and who is not at all understandable when he talks, rolled over to me, smiled big, and mustered out as best he could, "I'm a tree!  I'm a tree!"  Yes, he is a tree, and so are all of them.  The world may view them as tiny mustard seeds because they are shut away from the rest of the world.  But they crave Jesus with all of their hearts and so God uses them and makes them large trees, each in their own special way.  That is a lesson we all could stand to learn.

No comments: