Friday, September 27, 2013

Earth Stewardship and Human Aging

My transition from full time employment to what I am calling a redirection has allowed me some time to consider how God might use me in this new chapter of life.  I have already blogged on this subject, in 2011 and 2012.  Just search Oikononia using the keyword, redirection.

In the past two years, health matters in our family have been front and center.  Abby and I have made frequent visits to the Golden Age Retreat in Carrollton, OH where Marietta Moser, Abby’s mother (and thankfully, mine by marriage) is a resident.  During our visits with “Mom,” we have met other residents who have entered this dependent stage of their lives.  Most have severe limitations in mobility, continence, mental alertness, and communication.  Yet, each of them can express traits of their personality that shine through their worn, wrinkled faces and stooped postures, reflecting who they were in their younger days. 

Until her debilitating stroke in 2011, “Mom” had resided in a small home in Kilgore, Ohio where she and her husband, Don, had lived since the late 1940’s.  During those years, she was committed to the task of raising seven daughters and pointing them to faith in God through her words and actions.  “Mom” always lovingly served family and friends who came into her home.   She also provided a godly example to her husband for 33 years of their marriage, and he finally found peace with God through faith in Christ during the final months of his life.  Since “Dad’s” death in 1980, “Mom” has lived another 33 years as a widow.  Now, confined to wheelchair and short ventures with a walker, her heart still pours forth kindness and generosity toward fellow residents, and to her family and friends who visit.  Though sadness and loneliness must creep over her at times like darkening shadows, her face brightens upon our arrival, and her smile is still beautiful when we speak of fond memories of days gone by.

Our fast-paced, “get it now” culture tends to devalue older adults who speak with difficulty, move slowly, and spill their food and drink.  Yet, I’m learning that it can be a blessing to become acquainted with the elder folks at Golden Age.  Taking time to greet them with at least a smile, and where possible with words, often brings a smile and greeting in return.  Wrinkles, blemishes, and soiled bibs sometimes create a dreary atmosphere, but brightened faces shine forth amid any apparent dreariness like the faces in Rembrandt’s paintings.  Instead of wondering about who they once were, I’m inspired by who they are.

Having reflected on the joy that still radiates from Marietta Moser and others who reside at Golden Age, I wonder “how then, I should be living” so as not to have a dismal, joyless existence if I should be allowed to enter into this period of dependency in life.  Such pondering brings me to yet another facet of that important concept of stewardship.  Biblical stewardship reminds us that God is Owner and Master, and we are His servant stewards to whom He has entrusted all that we have.  If this is true, then the Apostle Paul’s questions apply to any stage of our lives:
For who regards you as superior?
What do you have that you did not receive?
And if you did receive it,
why do you boast as if you had not received it?
– 2 Corinthians 4: 8

Stewardship means that we view our responsibility as managers of time, talents, and treasures at every stage of our lives.  As children our parents taught us elementary lessons of stewardship when they encouraged us to share “our toys” with other children or return toys to the toy box or shelf when we were finished.   It follows that stewardship that is nurtured and applied by God’s grace and truth can keep us on a trajectory that is appropriate for every stage of life.  After all, the lessons of the playroom or pre-school also apply to the workplace and profession of adulthood.  All that differs is the kind of “toys” we choose to accumulate, how many “toys”, and how we choose to share them.

A stewardship mindset applied to human health itself explains how older adults can still have joy when they become dependent on others for nearly everything.  While there are genetic factors and events beyond our control as we age, with God’s help it is within our stewardship responsibility to thank Him each day for our health and for the food, shelter, and support system upon which we are very dependent.  Again, the Apostle Paul, writing to young Timothy, gives helpful instruction to us (1 Timothy 6: 7-11):

But godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment. For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content.
But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction.  For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.  But flee from these things, you man of God, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness.

Happiness is not about accumulating wealth any more than spirituality is about living a monastic existence.  Abraham and Job show us how men of great wealth can also walk closely to God and be a blessing to man.  But Jesus taught us that …from everyone who has been given much, much will be required…(Luke 12: 48).  The one who holds his or her “toys” and other possessions loosely and generosity during their “active years” will more likely be inclined to release  them peaceably and even thoughtfully when it’s time to enter a state of dependent living.

Chuck Dolph, senior professor of psychology at Cedarville University, supports the notion that aging need not be the dreaded part of life.   Rather, for the Christian, aging is a valuable season with meaning and purpose along life’s path to a glorious eternity with God.  In his article, “Thank God for Aging” (Torch magazine, Spring-Summer, 2007), Chuck beautifully expresses how aging can help us apply the truth of Psalm 90 which reminds us of the finiteness of our lives on Earth; and therefore, the need to number our days, That we may present to You [God] a heart of wisdom (v. 12).  He writes:

We must not forget that there is always meaning and purpose, even in aging and illness.  Aging strips us.  If we live long enough, we will lose our beauty, our strength, our wealth, our independence, the control of our bodily functions, our pride, and perhaps our very self.  These are our idols, all the things that we trust in life to make us attractive, valuable, and self-sufficient.

If our aging is successful, we will end our lives striped of everything but God, totally naked and helpless, utterly dependent on Him and the love of others.  Everything that we trusted in life for our worth will have been stripped away.  

Dr. Dolph concludes, What a blessing to finally find our right relationship to God!  Thank God for aging. 

For the Christian steward, the reality of aging can be a North Star of sorts to which he or she can chart a trajectory during the “younger years.”   This trajectory is based on an awareness that all we have belongs to God, and part of our stewardship can be a Spirit-led, creative adventure of discovering how to use our time, talents, and treasures in accordance with each stage of life.  

Returning to the Golden Age Retreat, in Carrollton, OH, I am reminded of one of the residents whose name is “George” (not his real name).  George ambles slowly with the help of a walker on wheels.  He speaks slowly and explains that his hands are affected by arthritis.  But his smile brightens when I ask him to play some tunes with his harmonica.    See YouTube Video.

As I conclude this article, I thank God for both Marietta Moser and my friend, George.  Both of them are teaching me how to set a trajectory on my path toward eternity; one that holds loosely and manages wisely what God has entrusted to me.  Folks like Marietta and George have little left to manage, but what they do have brings praise to their Creator.  The sweet musical notes from George’s harmonica bless all who hear them there on the porch of Golden Age Retreat before they float out across the quiet countryside and off into the heavens above.

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