She thought she was pretty funny.
Our next door neighbor called us a couple of weekends ago--that frigid, nasty, and snowy Saturday we had in mid-January. She said she was calling to check on us. The TV news anchor had just suggested that viewers everywhere reach out to their elderly friends and family members to make sure they were safe and warm. Really?
I know I had a relatively big birthday this past year, but elderly? I’m not sure I’m ready to think of me or us in those terms just yet. Besides, I grew up with my neighbor…we are practically the same age! It was all for fun, and we had a good laugh at ourselves, crotchety old codgers that we are becoming.
Although my friend was just joking around with us, her call gave me pause. After a few minutes of consideration, I made a few genuine calls myself. Were the older folks I care about okay? Were they safe and warm, plowed out and well provisioned? Was there anything they needed me to do for them, to go out and buy for them? It was a very good idea to check. That news guy got it right for a change.
I read a quote a while back that has stuck in my head. “Never lose sight of the fact that old age needs so little but needs that little so much,” Margaret Wilbur wisely observed. I think she’s on to something not so little. It’s huge, in fact. And not just for winter snow days.
As our elderly, truly elderly, loved ones age, their world shrinks and closes in on them dramatically. Their focus turns inward and ease and comfort rule the day. They eat less, notice less, socialize less, work less, and, yes, basically need less. Much less. A TV with a remote, some microwave meals in the freezer, a cranked up electric heater, a couple of tubes of BENGAY, an occasional phone call, a case or two of vanilla Ensure, and a boatload of pills—they are good to go. Please don’t think me flippant. I have observed this, with a few variations, too often not to mark the inevitable pattern. Some of this is out of necessity, not being able to physically and/or mentally handle the challenges and rigors of the day-to-day. Some of it may even be a financial issue. Some of it is simply the inevitable aging process.
But, for whatever reason, gone are squeaky clean windows, well-manicured lawns, Clorox whites flapping on the line, canned peaches lining the shelf, dinners at Kentucky Fried Chicken, driving the camper to Florida to winter, Christmas cards, routine visits to ShopRite with the envelope brimming with coupons, and, sadly, even the weekly and dearly missed church services. The old is gone, the new has come. Things once sacred and uncompromising and obligatory are now optional and even considered unnecessary. These things no longer fall into the category of “needs.” A variety of food? An uncluttered living space? More than one change of clean clothing? A weekly shower? A bad credit report? Who cares?
While our loved one’s list of perceived “needs” may be shorter, those needs are quite costly for us, the caregivers or the concerned friends. Just keeping track of doctor visits and prescription drugs can be a full- time job. And then there is laundry, yard work, grocery shopping, housework, mail, personal hygiene, and bill paying…things now on the “noncompulsory” list for our older folks, things too difficult or painful or unimportant for them to deal with. But how compulsory for us! How big that “little” may become for those who seek to help.
Do you have a real elderly neighbor or friend? Do you know of a senior saint here at LFA that has no family to support him or her? Do you have an aging mom or dad or grandma or grandpa? Do you have a friend who is caring for someone dear? Max Lucado, in Grace for the Moment, Volume II, wrote something pertinent to this discussion. Have a look.
What is the sign of the saved? Their scholarship? Their willingness to go to foreign lands? Their ability to amass an audience and preach? Their skillful pens and hope-filled volumes? Their great miracles? No.
The sign of the saved is their love for the least.
Those put on the right hand of God will be those who gave food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, warmth to the lonely, clothing to the naked, comfort to the sick and friendship to the imprisoned.
Did you note how simple the works are? Jesus doesn’t say, “I was sick and you healed me…I was in prison and you liberated me…I was lonely and you built a retirement home for me.” He doesn’t say, “I was thirsty and you gave me spiritual counsel.”
No fanfare. No hoopla. No media coverage. Just good people doing good things.
I like that. It helps me know what I need to do.
Because it seems to me, then, that we as God’s people most effectively demonstrate just who we are, followers and lovers of King Jesus, by caring for and serving some of the “least,” in this case, His precious elderly. And we can accomplish that by doing the little things that they need so very much in their tiny worlds, even if it inconveniences us or consumes our time. We can also, I think, please the King when we encourage and/or assist a full-time caregiver, some of the most exhausted and loneliest people around.
Jesus said that whatever we do for the ones He called the “least,” we are actually doing it to Him. Can you even begin to imagine what that means, what that would look like, what that would cost? Talk about doing a good job! Talk about being faithful and intentional and diligent! Talk about patience, kindness, gentleness, and love! If that’s not a compelling reason for purposefully and whole-heartedly helping a little old lady or gentleman, then I don’t know what is!
So, call somebody the Spirit brings to mind today. He’s got someone, I’m sure. Grab a few groceries for him the next time you’re out. Bake some cookies. Rake some leaves for her. Get the mail. Visit. Offer a ride to the bank. Sit for a couple of hours with an elderly mama so her harried daughter can get her hair cut or have a coffee. At the very least, call your mother! But don’t say it’s because she’s old—just a warning.
It’s little things. But they are things that mean so very much. To your elderly neighbor and to King Jesus.
Yep, that newsman was right on target. So was my sweet neighbor.