Written by Reverend Jim Stinson, Director of Spiritual Life for United Methodist Homes and Consultant on Older Adult Ministry
“My Days Are Numbered”
“How did the visit to the doctor go today?” “Nothing is different that the last time, which means I’m still dying. I might not go back for my next appointment. What’s the use, my days are numbered anyway.” A discussion followed about the results of making that decision.
If he was seeing the doctor, would the doctor still prescribe the medicine that was keeping him comfortable? Might something other than his current diagnosis pop up that the doctor might easily treat? And on it went! The conversation ended with an observation and a reference to scripture.
It was Psalm 90:12. After speaking of an eternal creator, who can and does “sweep us away like grass” and of human fragility and God’s power, the Psalmist realizes that the only wise choice for him is to go with the will of God. “So teach us to measure our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”
Holding on to Old “Certainties”
Working and ministering with older adults every day, and increasingly becoming an older adult myself, it seems apparent that there is wisdom in this psalmist. As we age it often becomes difficult to hold on the old “certainties.” The canned responses learned in our younger years often prove false or unusable. “Things will get better, they always do” becomes more difficult to believe as bodies and minds begin to fail. “God still has a purpose for you” is more difficult to hear when you are confined to a bed or a wheelchair, dependent on others for help with the simple needs of life that you used to meet automatically. “You’re still a vital part of this family, this group, this church, this community…” doesn’t feel likely when you can’t participate as fully as you once did.
Our Limited Wisdom
It takes skill, determination, and courage, born of faith, to grow old trusting the wisdom of God, rather than our own rather limited wisdom. We do well to “measure our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” We do well to know we don’t have all the answers about the meaning and purpose of our lives and of the various ways they draw to a close.
A Simple Prayer
One way I’ve discovered to help people see that wisdom, born of the awareness that their days are numbered, that there is a need to measure our days came when seeking an answer to the woman who always seemed to be grousing about how old age “stinks,” and how limited she has become. One morning she said, at breakfast, “I don’t know why I am still here.” “Neither do I,” was the reply, ”but the fact is the fact, you are still here. The only question is what are you going to do about it. How are you going to live this day? Perhaps the question is better phrased, if I can’t do what I used to do, what can I still do that feels of value to me?”
“So teach us to measure our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” What a simple prayer! What a powerful reminder to those of us working and ministering with older adults. Our task is not to offer all the answers, but to offer a direction in which wisdom might be found.
Jim is also the author of a new book, Just Because I Am Old: A Practical and Theological Guide to Caring. Through true stories and Jim’s insight on aging, Just Because I Am Old presents theological and practical information regarding senior and end-of-life care.
I first became an ordained member of the New York Conference of the United Methodist Church fifty years ago. Through my time with the pastoral ministry, I worked extensively with older adults, many of whom were members of my congregation. I also served as the Director of Spiritual Life for United Methodist Homes from July 2002 until my retirement in July 2015, providing guidance and support to residents, family members, and staff. I love reminding people that “old” is not a dirty word and encourage others to adopt a healthy perspective on aging. I am also the author of a book, Just Because I Am Old – A Practical and Theological Guide To Caring, which was recently published in 2014.
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