Let’s recognise that senior adults have as much worth as people at any other stage of life. Julia Neuberger, the liberal Jewish rabbi and a member of the House of Lords, drew up a thought-provoking manifesto of ageing entitled ‘Not Dead Yet’.
Don’t make any assumptions about my age
Don’t waste my skills and experience
Don’t take away my pride
Don’t trap me at home
Don’t make me brain dead, let me grow
Don’t force me into a care home
Don’t treat those who look after me as rubbish
Don’t treat me like I’m not worth repairing
Don’t treat my death as meaningless
Don’t assume I’m not enjoying life.
So let’s stop using the phrase “old people” – that phrase has derogatory associations. Let’s call them “senior adults”: the very word adult indicates that seniors possess wisdom and maturity.
Let’s recognise that many senior adults are fit and healthy, full of experience, and are as keen as ever to serve God and their fellows. Even at the ripe old age of 85, Caleb felt as vigorous as ever (Joshua 14.11). Caleb didn’t want a rocking chair, he wanted a challenge – and so too do many seniors today.
Let’s recognise that even those who are technically ‘elderly’ do not necessarily feel any different from when they were young. In a research survey of people over 80, although 53% admitted they were old, 36% reported that they considered themselves middle-aged, and 11% young!
Let’s recognise that senior adults have still enormous potential for growth. Many in their retirement years have more opportunity for growth and development than those at work. A friend of mine taught himself classical Greek and read all of Homer in his retirement!
Let’s recognise that senior adults are perhaps more open to the Gospel than any other group. The fact is that the older senior adults become, the more they experience life-changing events. These events provide ‘windows of opportunity’ in which people seem to move from resistance or indifference to the Gospel, on the one hand, to receptivity and openness, on the other hand. Old age provides an opportunity for sensitive evangelism.
Let’s celebrate old age. Over against the prevailing prejudice within the church toward old age (Come on, let’s admit it, it’s there!), Arthur Creber wrote:
It really cannot be satisfactory for us to present a gospel which encourages older people to withdraw from life and to prepare for death (although this may be wholly appropriate for a person suffering from a terminal illness). Neither is it satisfactory to reduce our ministry to the patronizing provision of free handouts or cheap trips to the pantomime at Christmas. If the gospel has to do with new Life we should be encouraging older people to explore their potential for creative activity, for maintaining and improving their health, and for establishing or re-establishing loving relationships with other people and with God. We should be providing opportunities for the development of understanding, growth and experimentation. A positive approach to the potentialities of old age will motivate us as ministers and will ensure that the necessary resources are made available for the provision of creative opportunities.