Thursday, January 18, 2018

The Power of Touch

When Jesus extended his hand and touched the leper, he illustrated a need every human being has and, if were honest, would admit craved – the need to be touched. The Gospel writer Matthew records one illustration of this.

Mat 8:1-3 “When he came down from the mountain, great crowds followed him. And behold, a leper came to him and knelt before him, saying, ‘Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.’ And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, ‘I will; be clean.’ And immediately his leprosy was cleansed.

Multiple studies have been done in numerous contexts proving the health of newborn children, both in the beginning and as they grow, is greatly impacted by the physical contact they receive. They need to be touched, held, and feel the nurture of another human being. Touch is essential for healthy development of mind, body, and emotions.

What is so critical for the tiny infant is just as critical for the aging adult. And in the same way, the need is for that contact to be supportive, compassionate, and conveying safe love. Perhaps as active and healthy individuals beyond childhood and before our declining years, we can try to ignore the need for physical contact as a source of reassurance. In our later years, however, that need for touch translates into the need for respect and the knowledge someone believes we still have value.

The infant must be held in a way that will not hurt it, will provide reassurance it will not fall, and convey a sense of security. For the aging adult the touch must also convey that which is positive and never that which brings pain or a sense of rejection. Touch must convey what the caring heart seeks to reveal.

Jesus touched others, and he also let others touch him. The Gospel of Mark records one such incident that became very public.

Mar 5:25-34 “And there was a woman who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years, and who had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse. She had heard the reports about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his garment. For she said, ‘If I touch even his garments, I will be made well.’ And immediately the flow of blood dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. And Jesus, perceiving in himself that power had gone out from him, immediately turned about in the crowd and said, ‘Who touched my garments?’ And his disciples said to him, ‘You see the crowd pressing around you, and yet you say, “Who touched me?”’ And he looked around to see who had done it. But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling and fell down before him and told him the whole truth. And he said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.’”

When we are willing to touch and to be touched by those whom society may see as inconvenient or has chosen to ignore, we express the spirit of Jesus Christ as he dealt with people each day. No one was an outcast to Jesus. No one was beneath his attention. Each person needed what he had to offer, the unconditional love of God.

If we are to have the influence upon this world we are called to have as followers of Christ, then we must make ourselves available to others even as Christ did. Social media will never be sufficient. Love allows itself to be touched and even used while it reaches out to people like aging adults and says, “You are valuable to me. I will touch you with my life, and we will both be better off.”

Friday, January 5, 2018

The Measure of Compassion

One of my favorite organizational mottoes belongs to the Shriners who say something like, “No man stands taller than when he stoops to help a crippled child.” Helping those who cannot help themselves is a sign of compassion, of greatness, and of following in the spirit of Jesus Christ. Throughout his teachings, Jesus emphasized the need to assist the individual who had become a victim of the evil of this world, whether natural or manmade. He added his words to the message of the revelation of God before him. Help the widow, the orphan, and the sojourner in your midst.

The following words of Jesus have become the motivation for what is now a worldwide effort to show compassion through random acts of kindness. Operation Inasmuch can find in aging adults those who contribute to the support of others as well as be recipients of that same support.

Mat 25:40 “And the King will answer them, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.'” (ESV)

These words fulfill the intent of the Old Testament thought found in the Law, the Prophets and the Writings as illustrated by this verse from the Psalms.

Psa 146:9 “The LORD watches over the sojourners; he upholds the widow and the fatherless, but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.” (ESV)

We need to look at our society, identify who these helpless are, and invest ourselves in showing them the love and compassion of the God who is also watching over them. Some have their focus on the unborn and children in general. Others choose to focus their energies on women and men who are trapped in slavery in a multitude of settings. The crisis of immigration draws the passion of others. Then there are those of us who see the aging adult as another of these who have become members of an outcast group that has in many ways become abandoned by society.

Many of these aging adults are still active in their communities, the “Go-Go” group, and we welcome their participation as long as they recognize their positions of power must be relinquished to a younger generation. Those aging adults that cannot keep up with the crowd are too often slowly pushed to the side, catered to as may be convenient, and eventually cared for out of necessity if at all. I have referred to these as adults who fit into the “Will-Go”, “Slow-Go”, and Can’t-Go” categories. The “Won’t-Go” category is mostly ignored by the church as being too obstinate to deserve attention.

Yet the Church and its individual members are called by God to see all these people as valuable members of his creation. He sees their needs and grieves when they are abandoned by the society they helped create. Aging adults are a part of our family. They are a part of the Family of God. We have a responsibility to care for them and to respect them. If we do not, one day they will stand up and be our judges.

We need to add the Church and Christians in general to the test suggested by the late US Senator Hubert H. Humphrey. Will we pass the test?

"...the moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; those who are in the shadows of life; the sick, the needy and the handicapped."
~Last Speech of Hubert H. Humphrey

Monday, December 4, 2017

Senior Adults Are People

We may see them as individuals who are always on the go. They volunteer with non-profit organizations. They use a life time of accumulated skills to help others. They begin second careers. They continue to learn in a variety of ways. They pursue hobbies long postponed and develop new interests in areas of life never before explored. They travel with and without their extended families. The Go-Go individuals among our senior adults can be hard to slow down.

Those who have less initiative are just as willing to participate but need the encouragement of family and friends to be a part of the life around them. They need others to plan and include them in the activities that will keep them a part of the social circles they have valued all their lives. The Will-Go individuals are ready to go and be a part of the plans designed by others. They only need to know others want them.

Extra concern must be shown for those who need more than just an opportunity to be a part of friendship circles. They need consideration for how they feel each day. They need the consideration of how they will be able to get around either with extra support or with others providing transportation. These Slow-Go individuals are special members of our groups and must never be forgotten.

All too often the Can’t-Go individuals are out-of-sight/out-of-mind among their acquaintances. Their caregivers often suffer the same fate. Yet these people are valuable to the Kingdom of God and to society. The efforts others must make to include them will be more than worth the time and energy as everyone gains an enhanced sense of value and ability to contribute. Such efforts must be intentional. They must be planned, and the needs of the restricted individual must be a priority consideration. The result will be a blessing for all.

That fifth category can be frustrating, but it cannot be overlooked. Won’t-Go individuals may say they have no interest in being involved, but rare is the individual who has no desire to relate to others on some terms or in some type of situation. The task is to find the outlet in which these individuals will become involved and then lead them to see such involvement can be a positive addition to their own lives and to the lives of others. These need to know they are loved and of value to the Kingdom of God as much as any other human being.

In some form or fashion all our senior adults fall into one of these five groups. Each group has special qualities, abilities, and needs. As physical abilities deteriorate and the opportunities to interact outside of the residence become more limited, these opportunities become more of a priority in the social relationships of the individual. Social contacts decrease and more time is spent seeking to maximize physical strength.

Whether the focus is maximizing social interaction or in maintaining a sense of good health, spiritual development must be a priority. Every opportunity to strengthen the spiritual life must be optimized in whatever ways the individual can respond. The differences may be great, but when the senior adult ensemble takes its music to the nursing home, those who can sing share their abilities. Those who can only sit and listen lift the musicians up in prayer. All are given the chance to contribute to the work of the Kingdom of God and everyone receives a blessing.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Give the Go-Go a Reason to Go

A fifth category among our oldest generation is the Go-Go group. They have probably retired from their careers. They find themselves with a lot more time if not a lot more money. They have a wide variety of interests. They are in good health. They are the ones you will hear say, “I have less free time now than when I was working full time!”

They may take a nap in the middle of the day, but they are looking for something to do when they awaken. They play golf regularly, work out at the fitness center, or take walks either early in the morning or late in the afternoon several times a week. They may not be health nuts, but they know they need to be in good health to do what they want to do.

This Go-Go crowd makes up your senior volunteers at Habitat for Humanity home builds and repair projects. You’ll find them on highway clean-up crews and volunteers with recycling drives. They go flower and bird hunting with cameras. They are the leaders in flower and garden clubs and at the forefront of community beautification programs. When they are not home planting flowers, they are touring the United States or the far reaches of the world.

In brief the Go-Go crowd is on the go, they enjoy being on the go, and they wouldn’t be happy if they weren’t on the go. So the question is, how do you make life richer for the individual who is always on the go.

You give them a reason, a purpose, an inner motivation that is bigger than they are. They realize their on-the-go energy can make life better not just for themselves but others around them and even for the generations to come. From the perspective of those who are followers of Christ, it is a matter of doing something not for yourself, but for an eternal cause that is greater than any human purpose.

When the Apostle Paul wrote these words to the members of the Christian fellowship in Colossae, he was seeking to convey the importance of purpose in our actions. We may do a lot, but does it accomplish anything of value. Why we do something is of immense importance.

Col 3:23 Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as though you were working for the Lord and not for people.

This verse was written in the context of instructions to slaves. The slaves had to be obedient, but if they kept their eyes on a greater motivation, then the quality of their work and their attitude in the midst of it would be far better. By placing your efforts in the hands of God, things have a greater chance of accomplishing their true purpose.

The Go-Go will be in involved. Where they will be involved is their choice, but being involved is simply a result of their internal drive “to do”. As we seek to enrich the lives of these people who find satisfaction in being involved, we must let them see a motivation that will lead them to exceed the expectations of others and perhaps even their own. It is a simple result of doing something for someone else. The more we value that other person, the more fulfilling our work will be.

Do your service in the name of the Lord. There is no one who has a greater claim on your life and all that you are. Give him the quality of work his position in your life deserves. You might think in terms of “good enough” for a human boss, but with Jesus “good enough never is” to quote the founder of Mrs. Field’s Cookies.

Give the Go-Go member of your group a divine purpose, a sense of motivation grounded in the person of God. Then you will see a person who gives their very best all the time and finds deep satisfaction in the process.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Give Them the Opportunity

With the Can’t-Go senior adult, patience must be exercised as the effort is made to engage the individual in activities that will lead them to a vital relationship with Jesus Christ. Real concern must be shown so that no one ends up believing they are wanted only because they are another warm body. They must be shown they have a serious contribution to make to the work of the Body of Christ.

The Can’t-Go individuals need to see they still are valuable members of the Body of Christ. They may not be able to do what they once did, but their current limitations are not a barrier to meaningful ministry in serving others.

Those who want to do more and are capable of doing more but only under more limited conditions also need to be shown the variety of ways they can still contribute to the Church at work. Assistance can and should be given to these Slow-Go individuals. The Body of Christ will suffer great loss if these senior adults are denied a chance to participate and add their unique gifts to the ministries of the local family of faith.

A fourth category of older adults is the Will-Go part of the family. The mental capacity is still sharp. The physical ability can still deliver. The one area that is lacking is the personal energy needed for initiative. The weariness often felt is more the weight of years than actual physical limitations.

Think of some of the developments in an older adult that will inhibit the natural initiative to be involved. These may include periods of physical weakness related to diseases such as arthritis and weakened lung capacity. These detriments to involvement may also not be so much related to physical problems as to relational issues. Difficulties among family members may not directly involve the senior adult, but worry over these other family members can dampen the desire to take the initiative to be involved in social activities.

These relational issues that lessen a Will-Go’s desire to participate can also be focused on other members of the church or organization. When relationships are under stress, excuses may be made to avoid the possibility of being in the company of individuals who may be seen as the source of the estrangement. Since relationships are the primary product of the church, these fractures must be resolved if at all possible.

Show the Will-Go the positive. Show how their involvement will be a significant contribution to the activity and to the group as a whole. They must see the value in being a part of the project, the program, or mission. They must realize the contribution they are able to make even if they are not the one in charge.

Thus a wide diversity of opportunities for service must be provided. In some cases the positions can involve up front responsibilities. Because the Will-Go may not want to take the initiative to get something started doesn’t mean they do not have the ability to lead. If the servant role is still more comfortable, then it should be clearly shown how success in the endeavor is dependent upon a team effort in which one may be leading but progress can only occur as all pull together.

Inclusion is critical to keep the Will-Go involved. Publicity is prominent. Purpose is clearly stated. The how-to is shown to everyone. Make the members of this senior adult group realize they are important, they have something to contribute, and progress cannot be made without their involvement.

They can be the active support staff. They can be the critical element in having sufficient labor to fulfill a task. They can be the ones who set the example for the next generation to show because the years mount up, it doesn’t mean the important contributions have to stop. The Will-Go can definitely still go.