Observations on Old People

Today I went to a 12 step meeting and made an interesting observation. There were about 15 people in the room and 2 or 3 of the guys are old enough to be my grandparents. That’s not the interesting part, but what is, is that I think most of the people, including myself, look up to those men. It is assumed that they have more experience, wisdom, and more value in how they think and act than the rest of us.

31212557040kastamonu_some_senior_citizens_june_04

Hmmmm… big deal.

I think what makes this so interesting is that I don’t think this about all old people. In fact in most church settings I have come to believe the exact opposite. When I see an old person, in a church setting, I almost automatically assume that they are obsolete in their tactics and understanding of this world and how to operate in it.

This is a tragedy. Why do I think this? Why does most of my generation think this?

This is how I picture old people (Good luck trying to figure out that computer)
This is how I picture old people (Good luck trying to figure out that computer)

In many of the churches I grew up in, the elders were the gatekeepers of legalism. Their role was to preserve the past and they were not looked to for wisdom of the future.

Anyone else experience this? How have we got here and how can we make sure that when we are old, our wisdom and maturity is focused on the future? Is it possible?

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2 thoughts

  1. the church we went to when I was a child consisted of maybe 80% senior citizens… at least it felt that way, the congregation like a sea of grey heads… in that environment, you’d think there would have been tons of elderly wisdom going around, but that was never my impression. mostly i remember lots of cheek-pinching during the after-service coffee-hour… anyway… I have also witnessed incredible humility, and servant-hearts through the lives of the few older people that God has put in our lives, but it’s true that it is more the exception than the rule…

    maybe the problem is more connected to the fact that we do not tend to do much to have the different age groups and generations interact all that much. most churches today chop up their congregations into all these different demographics (children, youth, college, singles, married, seniors…) it’s all fractured, apparently because we think we’re better off being around those who are most like ourselves…

    what if elders were not so much the ones meeting behind closed doors, deciding sunday-school curriculum or which color carpet to go with, but actually present in most or all gatherings, able to bring their wisdom and experience to bear on what others are going through? what if this was actually more of an expectation of the group as a whole? this is the kind of “eldership” I am anxious to see someday….

  2. I think the main thing is getting to know people on a personal level. We all have biases or stereotypes of other groups that are unlike us, whether it be age or something else. The more you get to know people in a different group, the more you are open to understanding the diversity among the group. At least that has always been my experience. When it comes to older adults, I always look at them as my grandparent and feel that they are fragile and need my help, as opposed to being able to offer me anything. I hate that automatic response of mine. All in all, it hurts me because I lose out on opportunities for growth and learning when I write them off like that.

    As far as them being gatekeepers of legalism, I think there is truth in that, but a lot of times it can be just because that is their tradition and they haven’t been challenged beyond that. I’ve seen growth and grace develop in that crowd when given time, attention, and guidance by others. My grandma is a typical North Dakotan Nazarene. She comes across as very legalistic, unemotional, and caring more about the tradition than the relationship. However years ago, the night before one of my dad’s surgeries, I asked our family to pray together (not something we have traditionally done). I was amazed at listening to her prayer – not only was it heartfelt, but you could sense the depth of her relationship with God. Since that time, I have seen her in a different light and have taken the time to seek her out away from the traditionalism. She has incredible faith that isn’t always apparent because of her decades of habits (silent, private spiritual lives). That has been cool to learn and see.

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