The photo in the newsletter caught my attention. It was an image of a yellow sticky note with handwritten words, “Do today: Plan for God to use me in old age!” My mind began to spin. Most people don’t like thinking about aging, much less planning for ways to be used by God in a season that will likely include physical decline.
The note made me think about a recent event at my own church. A group of middle-age adults asked me to speak to their Sunday school class about aging and faith. The invitation came after they realized that the majority of their class’ prayer requests had to do with aging parents. From a parent’s health decline to sibling disagreements about eldercare, their prayer list reminded them that they were now in an unfamiliar season of life.
One man confessed that he had planned on staying at home that day because he didn’t want to talk about growing old. His wife finally coaxed him into coming. Later he offered sincere thanks to me for helping him confront a hard subject. I couldn’t help but notice his misty eyes.
This man is not alone. In fact, I have discovered that many middle-age adults say that aging is just too depressing to discuss. Often the first time they get serious about discussing it is when they find themselves face-to-face with the challenges of their own aging parents. It is in confronting their parents’ mortality that mid-lifers are led to face their own.
As the church we need to put that sticky note in the smack-dab middle of our forehead. We must make it a priority to get people across the life span to start talking about aging in spiritual terms. How else can we dispel the myths and help them to see aging as part of God’s plan? Here are three simple suggestions to help your congregation at least start “the talk” about aging.
Talk about aging from the pulpit. A few months ago, a 30-something minister asked to meet me for coffee. He was planning a future sermon series on aging faithfully and wanted my input. I was so impressed by his willingness to explore the topic that I gave him a set of my books for older adults. In return I asked him to encourage other ministers to talk with their congregations about aging, too. Ministers have a wonderful platform from which to help people of all ages view aging from a biblical perspective. A sermon series on aging can also prompt congregants to think about new ways in which they can serve others, even as they deal with physical decline.
Host wellness, exercise and nutrition classes. In today’s culture, people are very interested in health and wellness. Hosting weekday classes in exercise and nutrition at the church is a great lead-in to more significant discussions about aging and death. Congregations of every size should offer opportunities like walking groups and heart-healthy cooking classes. When people have a way to optimize their physical health in a safe environment, they are more likely to start talking about aging issues.
Encourage Sunday schools and small groups to have a series on aging. Use established small groups as a platform for talking about growing older. Ask Sunday school groups to focus a series of lessons on aging and faith during the next year. For mid-lifers, the emphasis might be on aging parents. For older groups, lessons might underscore the importance of shaping a spiritual legacy or guarding against the sinful nature of pride and bitterness that is often associated with aging. Check out the resources at http://www.gbod.org/minister-to-people/older-adult-ministries/.
May is Older Americans Month, the perfect time to put good intentions into action!