Respecting the Elderly
When you hear the word ‘elderly,’ what’s the first thing you think?

In our Western world, we live in a throwaway culture. If something is not wanted, we throw it in the trash. Wrappings, packaging, string—who thinks twice about throwing them away? And even perfectly usable items—ranging from clunker cars to last year’s trendy clothing to kitchen cabinets that are not the latest model—are discarded or, if kept out of necessity, grudgingly tolerated until they can be conveniently dumped.

Planned obsolescence—the idea that what is not new is not desirable and should be phased out—is the credo of the industrial world. It is a way of life many have grown up taking for granted over the last few decades.

And so it follows, according to this reasoning, that when people wear out—when they become “old-fashioned” or “out-of-date”—they are also to be put aside. When the older generation is put aside as old and useless, the elderly are stuck with being mere spectators of the world as it passes them by, and they often struggle with feelings of uselessness, loneliness, depression and fear.

Our society has placed a wrong emphasis on youth and being young. The entertainment and sports industries have led people to believe that if you are not young and beautiful, there is no place for you in this world. Older people have been systematically ignored and pushed aside. Today’s younger generation shows great disregard and disrespect to the elderly. This is a tragic situation.

An article in the September 1984 Plain Truth made this point: “Imagine, if you will, a person going through kindergarten, grammar school, junior high school, high school, junior college, college, doing postgraduate work, sacrificing, working hard, finally obtaining a doctorate in some field, and then being told he must quit and be unproductive the rest of his days.

“Sound unreasonable? It would be.

“Most older people have gone through the ‘school of hard knocks’; by experience they have learned valuable lessons about handling life’s difficult moments as well as its rewarding moments. And what happens when they are at the stage in life where they could share that information with younger generations? The younger generations for the most part turn a deaf ear.

“Modern youth-oriented society as it is set up simply does not warmly welcome the participation of the elderly. It does not as a whole show a genuine interest in the well-being of its senior members.”

In this world, several factors have led to the elderly being ignored:

Distance. Modern families have been divided by distance. During and after the Industrial Revolution, many families moved to cities or split up to find work. These changes have destroyed family unity. Families have been separated geographically in the pursuit of personal goals or economic survival. For so many children, words like “granddad” and “grandma” have come to mean little more than distant voices at the other end of the telephone.

Generation gap. Given the rapid rate of change in society, the experiences and values of one generation appear increasingly old-fashioned and strange to the next. Hence the term “generation gap,” which has wheedled its way into our dictionaries. Meanwhile, each new punch at traditional values made by rebellious pop culture and shocking trendsetters has shaken whole eras and chipped away at the values that once united society. The result? Most older people are marginalized and can’t keep up with the changes.

Change. Unfamiliar surroundings can sever vital links with the past. Having grown up in a particular mode of life—in a rural setting, for example—can make new environments, such as city life, appear impersonal and painfully unfamiliar. In their old age, elderly people often struggle to fit in with new surroundings.

Big, busy cities are not the best places to hold on to personal and cultural history. Even young people feel compelled to conform and blend into the crowd to the point where their personal identity is often threatened, if not totally swept away, by the impersonal nature of city life. For older people, it can be extremely hard when suddenly forced to change the habits of a lifetime and adapt to new ways of life.

Divorce. Broken families spell tragedy for senior citizens. The dreams and hopes that married couples build around their families can be shattered in old age by the divorce of one of their children. The implications, as they settle in to enjoy their golden years, can be dire. Suddenly, the whole family is thrown out of joint, sometimes irreparably. The grandparent-grandchild relationship is immediately complicated when divorced couples with children remarry.

Cost. Looking after the aged usually comes with an expensive health-care price tag. The post-World War ii baby boomers are now senior citizens claiming retirement pensions. Many local authorities are struggling to provide for the disproportionate number of older people in society. Bureaucracies are feeling the weight of the responsibility, which many nations took on under socialist governments during times of relative affluence, and they are now struggling to cope with what has become a giant burden.

Also, the real value of pensions and fixed income from savings is deteriorating in an inflationary economic system. Older people on initially adequate pensions can easily decline into poverty as transportation, food, rent and medical costs shoot through the roof. Compensating for these deficiencies can become an insupportable financial burden for many families.

Misplaced values. Older people are seen as being of little economic worth, except for what they might leave behind when they die. In a results-oriented world, the elderly are regularly looked down upon or ignored because they are not seen as useful or productive.

But God puts a strong emphasis on respecting and seeing to the needs of the elderly.

The societies around us in the United States, Britain, Canada, etc., have sunk to such a lamentable moral low that the majority of less-developed, even primitive societies demonstrate more respect for the elderly than we do. Aborigines pay great respect to elderly people. In China, the whiter a teacher’s hair is, the more honor he receives. In Japan, it is considered a natural duty of the family to care for grandparents in their old age. In Eastern European countries, one of the offspring traditionally stays at home to care for the aging parents. Grandparents take a leading role in instructing the young in the Bantu tribe of Kenya. Even many young Arabs will tell you that there is no greater disgrace than to abandon the old. Yet in America and Britain, the elderly are pushed aside, dishonored and despised.

These nations of Israel in particular should know better. God hates disrespect being shown toward the elderly. He hates the way they are being mistreated, undervalued and abused in our societies.

So the question is: Do you hold great respect for the elderly?

Proverbs 16:31 tells us, “The hoary head is a crown of glory, if it be found in the way of righteousness.” And Proverbs 20:29 tells us, “The glory of young men is their strength: and the beauty of old men is the gray head.” What young person sees that today? Do you see that?

Isaiah the prophet foretold the kind of society we have today: “And I will give children to be their princes, and babes shall rule over them. … [T]he child shall behave himself proudly against the ancient, and the base against the honourable” (Isaiah 3:4-5). This was prophesied to occur in the world, but it should not be this way in the Church.

One minister relayed this story to me: “An older woman telephoned me recently. Even over the telephone, I could detect concern in her voice. She had made some financial decisions and wanted to be sure that she tithed properly on the outcome of her decisions. During the course of the conversation, this very friendly person related to me how difficult it was for her to have to make serious decisions on her own. You see, her long-time friend and husband had died rather unexpectedly several months ago.

“They had done everything together. They worked together, built a life together, and saved a solid retirement income. But her husband was never to see retirement. He had a sudden heart attack while dressing for work one morning. Their plans for an active retirement were cut short by death.

“Having answered her tithing questions, she said, ‘Oh, by the way, could you give a Bible study or sermon on taking care of the widows?’ I noticed a tone of sadness and discouragement in her voice.

“She said that since her husband died, she has been incredibly lonely. She said, ‘I never seem to get invited to someone’s home for dinner anymore.’

“This widow related to me that her husband had more than adequately prepared for her financial security. Her monetary needs were met. She also said, ‘The younger people don’t include me in their social activities. I love to be with the young people.’

“This woman lives in a lovely home in a nice neighborhood. On the surface, the quality of this woman’s life appears very good. But she explained to me, ‘What I need most is someone to talk with.’”

Job wrote: “[W]ith the ancient is wisdom; and in length of days understanding” (Job 12:12). He also wrote, “Days should speak, and multitude of years should teach wisdom” (Job 32:7). That requires someone for them to teach; it requires young people spending time around these older and wiser members. God even tells us that we should stand up as a sign of respect when a senior citizen walks into our presence: “Thou shalt rise up before the hoary head, and honour the face of the old man, and fear thy God: I am the Lord” (Leviticus 19:32). Notice that God links the concept of respecting the elderly with fearing and revering Him!

Remember that Jesus Christ Himself has a hoary head—He is described as having hair as white as wool! (Revelation 1:14). Follow the example He set when He arranged for the care of His elderly mother while undergoing the final trial of His physical life, putting her needs above His own even while on the stake (John 19:26-27). Dismiss the twisted view that society has of its older members and give them the love and respect that our Father—the most ancient Being in the universe—tells us they deserve.

Show that you value our senior citizens for the wisdom and experience they bring to the God Family—and give them the encouragement they really need from you as God’s young people.

Sidebar: Tips for Interacting With the Elderly

How can we better meet this widow’s needs—and honor the older generation? Here are seven action points:

1. Pray for the right attitude and motive.

Ask God to make sure your attitude toward the elderly is right. Make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons.

2. Sit down and talk with the seniors at Sabbath services.

You could even call them on the phone. If you’re wondering what to talk to them about, here are some suggestions:

· Ask them about their teenage years.

· How did they come into the Church?

· Find out what some of their most embarrassing moments were.

· How did they feel at their first dance?

· What troubled them the most in high school?

· What are/were their greatest joys, pains and fears?

· Ask about their families—children, grandchildren, etc.

· Ask them about their living arrangements.

· Ask them if they need anything. Can you drive them somewhere?

· Ask them for some words of wisdom for practical application of life lessons they have learned.

· What miracles have they experienced in their lives?

· What trials have they gone through?

Most seniors will be happy to share their stories with you. Remember: The elderly understand what it is like to be a teen more than you may realize! They truly do understand—they were also young once.

3. Allow them to give you gifts (treats, mementos, etc.).

It is their way of saying thank you. (If it is very valuable, clear the gift with your parents first.)

4. Don’t do things for them that they want to do for themselves.

Look for opportunities to serve, but let them do things that they really want to do themselves, even if it takes longer. No one likes to feel useless.

5. If you can, have a senior over to your house. Organize an outing that you can take them on.

Try to include them in your activities as much as possible. Or try to visit them in their own residences.

6. When you spend time with the seniors, know when it is time to leave.

Don’t overstay your welcome.

7. Ask them for advice.

They can give you a lot of wisdom, and you can learn a lot from their experiences. If you ask them for advice, it also helps them to feel needed and wanted, instead of useless.