We’ve been examining Romans 4 and how having children (or not) affects our sense of hope for a fruitful future. Today’s aspect of that future is old age and death.
He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. Romans 4:19-21 ESV
For various reasons, people of faith might lose heart when facing advanced age: with no children to provide them with a sure legacy or safety net should they fall into a dependent or debilitating condition. How can someone in that situation avoid despair? Let’s first consider the elderly widow Anna, featured here when Mary and Joseph brought the infant Jesus to the temple with them:
There was also a prophetess, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old, having been married to her husband for seven years until his death. She had lived as a widow since then for eighty-four years. She never left the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment, she came up to them and began to give thanks to God and to speak about the child to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem. Luke 2:36-38 NET
Although this event highlights Anna’s holy occupation, I’ve often wondered where she ate and slept. Did she sleep in a small space or even outdoors? Was she viewed as an outcast?
This brings me to the topic of elderly, and/or incapacitated people living in small spaces in facilities called “assisted living” or “nursing homes”. Since I’ve observed my mother and mother-in-law in those facilities, I comprehend why many people dread them. They are usually a final destination for the “good as dead”. What if you face such a destiny? How should you prepare?
I remember Gladyce who turned her last days on earth in my mother’s Nebraska nursing home into a holy occupation. Gladyce married late, her husband passed away, and she had no children. When she was in her mid 80s, she could no longer walk or live alone because of a hip issue. She had been a Christian for many years, and her determination to make the most of the rest of her life was undeniable.
Gladyce chose to share her small, sparsely furnished room with a blind lady who needed her company. Gladyce had also organized a dining room group (of other elderly women living in the facility, whose minds were still sharp), leading daily discussions of current events and faith topics. Those discussions eased the boredom that sets in after entering such an environment.
Gladyce also kept a stash of trinkets and candy for children. When my 5 year old daughter accompanied me for visits with my mother, she’d make a beeline to Gladyce’s room for a long chat. Other residents reached out, desperate to touch my daughter, but Gladyce’s thoughtful plans drew my child to her.
Although those such as Anna and Gladyce who are in the habit of praying for and giving to others are never “as good as dead”, not every elderly person with no spouse or children has developed a servant heart like Anna or Gladyce. Some, like my mother, suffer from dementia or other conditions that severely diminish capabilities they once exhibited.
Let’s guard against increasing cultural pressures to view the elderly or incapacitated (including ourselves) as excess baggage or “as good as dead” Take a look at present and oncoming pressures to end seemingly unproductive lives. Ask Jesus to search your heart and show you his mind on these matters. This long article tracing the evolution of Canada’s MAID law alongside official church views of the law may inform that search. This map shows the advance of those ideas in the U.S.