Friday, January 27, 2012

What Do You See?

When you see an old person, what do you see? Do you see a person who shuffles when they walk; who is slower than the world around them? Or do you see the person that they are? Do you see someone who was once vibrant and full of life? Do you see someone who had passion and wit? Or are you blinded by outward appearances? What do you see? 

For close to twenty years my family and I have done nursing home ministry. Both my husband and I have led Bible studies as well as conducted Sunday church services. But more than that, we have visited the residents and spent time with them, getting to know them. When we were pastoring a church outside of Yarmouth N.S., many years ago, there was one man in particular who stood out from among the other residents at the local nursing home. His name was Elroy Shand and he was 105 years old. He loved to see our children come with us and would gladly tell them stories about boat building and fishing after the Bible study was over. Because he talked of when he was young, our kids knew he had a life other than the one they were seeing right now. 

At our local nursing home, here in Barrington, N.S. I saw an all too familiar, unwanted, scene happen one day. Sometimes when people get old those caring for them become very condescending towards them and this should never happen. I don't think the caregivers meant to be disrespectful but what happened only went to show me that they didn't take the time to look beyond outward appearances. I had just finished a Bible study and out of the corner of my eye I noticed a certain man sitting off by himself against the wall. So I called out to him by name and went to see him. Immediately the caregivers began lighthearted teasing that now he had a girlfriend and wasn't he lucky? etc. etc. They didn't mean any harm but I wanted them to see him as I saw him: as a hero. 

When this man was younger he had helped my father's family in such a way that could only be described as heroic. Times were hard, back then, and there were seven children in my father's family. Someone had shot a moose and was willing to give the meat to the family if they had a way to transport it. This was more meat than they had ever had and would provide for the family for many months. But transportation wasn't something that everyone had at those times. They thought of Terry because he had a paneled van to hold it all. (That's why his nickname was Bus Driver.) Terry gladly said he would help and he did. It might seem like he didn't do very much, but he helped my father's family in a bad time and the story of that night has been told over and over again. Because of his actions we have always made it a point to honor him because we know him for who he was, not just for who we see now. 

I told this story to the caregivers that day and you could visibly see the difference in the way they looked at Terry. They treated him with more respect and asked him all about the night he helped this family. Because of the way they were now speaking to him, he sat up a little straighter and he smiled more. 

When you see an older person, what do you see? Do you remember that they were once some mother's baby? Do you know that they once had loves and family and memories? That they once told jokes and laughed and worked hard and provided for their family? Do you see that they were once just like you? What do you see?

"The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7

The aged deserve kindness and respect.
“Do not rebuke an older man, but exhort him as a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and with all propriety…” (1 Timothy 5:1-2).
“You are to rise in the presence of the elderly and honor the old… I am the Lord” (Leviticus 19:32).
“Listen to your father who gave you life, and don’t despise your mother when she is old” (Proverbs 23:22).

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