SPEAKING OF FAITH: Joining the Army of the Elderly

by Jun 10, 2022OPINIONS0 comments



Retired Pastor


When my daughter, Hope, was five, her Kindergarten teacher invited her and her classmates to share a little bit about what their parents did for a living. Hope later told me that she told her class, “My mommy works at a hospital and my daddy tells old people about Jesus all day long and he always visits his friends.” At first, I thought, “What an outrageous way to describe the work of a pastor.” But the more I thought about it, the more my six-year-old’s statement seemed fraught with wisdom.

Jesus, our Savior was also known for some pretty outrageous, yet wisdom-filled statements during the days when he walked the earth.  To Peter, in John 21:18 KJV, he promised unimagined trauma and death in his old age:

“Verily, verily, I say unto thee, When thou wast young, thou girdedst thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not.”

In 1975, when I was a 17-year-old Cherokee High School student, I imagined that Jesus would return before this saying came true for me. But now, I have achieved the famous age about which the Beatles sang, 64. I don’t know why I never imagined that being old would be so difficult.

It was tough news to hear my neurologist tell me the reason that my hand trembled, that my memory was beginning to fail and that I was being visited by golden angels at night. She told me that I suffered from Parkinson’s Disease with related psychosis and dementia.  I wouldn’t believe it.  The nightly visitors seemed more like a vision in answer to years of prayers than a psychotic symptom.

Forgetfulness is a natural progression of age, just as a tremor can be. But as I learned more  about Parkinson’s Disease, her diagnosis seemed spot on.

Over the years, my tremor has worsened, and my memory has shortened, but I dream the most awe-inspiring dreams. I finally had to retire last month (a year and a half early) because my memory had worsened to the point that I was having a hard time remembering my sermons, or important meetings or visits. In short, I had grown ineffective in the work of a pastor.

I guess, that I have become a part of the growing army of people with whom my daughter once said I spent my days talking about Jesus. One might feel sorry for me and imagine that I no longer have a purpose or a reason to live. After all, I do need help getting dressed, now. It is very difficult for me to button my own buttons. I also have to be driven everywhere by my beautiful wife, Adele, because I can no longer safely operate a motor vehicle, so my neurologist had my license revoked.  I can no longer do the work that I loved for 23 years, nor can I do the work that I did for the 13 years before that, teaching.

Oh, I guess I could sit around, take my pills, and watch TV all day, waiting for Jesus to come back or for my own death.  But the same Jesus who predicted the suffering and death associated with old age, also promised in Matthew 28:20 to be with me always—even unto the end of the world. That means that he will be with me for as long as I am aware of myself and my shortcomings. For as long as I live. I am not the first person to suffer from Parkinson’s.  I’m not the first to struggle with memory issues. I’m certainly not the first person to experience what seems to me to be God-given dreams and visions. The doctor says that those dreams are a symptom of my disease. I prefer to think that God allowed me to see golden angels and have visions to comfort me during the next chapter of my life.  I prefer to think that they are signs that God has not abandoned me, and that I still have meaningful work to do in this life.

Joining the army of the elderly is nothing new. Physically, we change from the moment of our birth. First we grow into those beautiful people that we are in our late teens and early 20’s. Then, after what seems like a very short time we begin to notice that our hair starts graying, that our formerly smooth skin starts to wrinkle and spot. Next thing, we wonder how it could be possible that we are already filling out Medicare applications, or watching our first Social Security payments being deposited to our checking accounts. Suddenly, we find ourselves wondering, “Did I save enough for retirement?  Do I have enough insurance? What will happen if I outlive my money?” Since 2011, about 10,000 people in the United States turn 65 each day! So I am certainly not alone from a human perspective.

From my point of view, my body may be older, it may slowly be wearing out, my organs may be deteriorating. But by God’s reckoning, since I gave my life to Christ, I extended my life from 70 or 80 years to eternity. Even as the little known fourteenth verse of “Amazing Grace” says:

Yea, when this heart and flesh shall fail

And mortal life shall cease;

I shall possess within the veil

A life of health and peace.

Sure, when my back aches, or my vision dims, when I can’t find my cane or when I cannot remember that woman’s name, I could complain to God. But instead, each wrinkle, each spot, each gray hair, each forgotten memory reminds me that Jesus promised that he would be with me always. He knows each sorrow. He knows the reason for every tear. One day, God will wipe away all tears. One day I’ll have a beautiful new body which will never grow old, instead I will live forever, without pain, without suffering, to rejoice forever in God’s presence surrounded by each person who ever loved me or prayed for me over the years. Suddenly, being old doesn’t sound so bad.