Today I will be visiting my elderly impaired mother. Almost ninety-seven years of age, she suffers from macular degeneration and can see very little. Her hearing has deteriorated and can no longer use a telephone. She suffers too from back problems, which means that tasks like washing and dressing herself are beyond her. As a result she lives in a small ‘rest home’ where she is wonderfully looked after by the staff.
To my amazement, like the Apostle Paul (Philippians 4.11) she has learnt to be content with her circumstances. I have never heard her complain or grumble about her limitations. Instead she thanks God for the many years when she was able to see and hear and move about freely. Widowed since 2000, she still misses my father, “the sweetest of men”, but again her focus is on all the good years she had with him rather than on any loneliness she may now experience.
As a family we visit my mother regularly. My youngest brother who lives in the same town visits her at least once a week; my other brother who lives almost three hundred miles away visits for a couple of days every other month; my sister who lives just over sixty miles away visits three times every fortnight; while I make the almost two-hundred-mile round trip every month. Her grandchildren and her great-grandchildren also visit from time to time. She is the most visited resident in the care home – and for that she is very grateful too.
Sadly, my mother is increasingly living in a world of her own. Brexit, for instance, is not a concern of hers! Much as she loves her family, she takes little interest in our news – her focus for some time has been on the past. She comes to life when she talks to us about the ‘Battle of Britain’ and the ‘Blitz’!
At one stage my mother could listen to ‘talking books’ – what a wonderful service in this respect is offered by the Royal National Institution for the Blind, as also by the smaller Christian equivalent, the Torch Trust. However, my mother can no longer assimilate stories of any kind. Instead, she draws strength and comfort from the hymns, songs, and choruses of her youth. On one of my recent visits she asked me if I could hear “the hymns coming from the other room”. But there were no hymns to be heard, and ever so gently I had to tell her that the hymns were all in her mind. But this doesn’t deter her. She quotes at length from the hymns, songs and choruses of former years. Indeed, she will often sing to herself – and we will join in. To my dismay, her memory is better than mine – on reflection what I need to do is to bring down with me a copy of Sankey’s Sacred Songs and Solos and copy of the old CSSM (Children’s Special Service Mission) Chorus Books! My mother has no fear of dying – instead, made all the more confident by the hymns, songs and choruses which constantly fill her mind, she looks forward to the day when she will see the Saviour “face to face”.
I confess that at this point I am impressed by my mother. My mother has what the Psalmist calls “a goodly heritage” (Psalm 16.6). She has stocked her mind with Gospel truth. This I am sure is the source of her contentment and of her hope. I wonder what kind of heritage the younger generations will have when they begin to grow old? Sadly, in many churches the old traditional hymns have for the most part disappeared. Am I just being ‘a grumpy old man’ when I say that many of the modern songs no longer have the same substance? Certainly, there was a stage when one could liken some modern songs to ‘paper tissues’ which quickly wear out through use! In the ‘old days’ we as children had to learn Scripture verses by heart – and even recite them in public at the morning service! Those too were the days when every child learnt to say the Lord’s Prayer – it was part of the school curriculum. By contrast today the Lord’s Prayer is no longer taught at school – nor in many churches. Indeed, in many ‘contemporary worship’ services the Lord’s Prayer is no longer said. What kind of heritage will our children have to draw upon when they become old?
One of the great privileges I had as a minister was to prepare hundreds of young people for believers’ baptism. To be baptised then involved attending weekly baptismal classes over a three-month period. I would expect the candidates to learn Scripture verses – indeed, every week there was a ‘memory verse’. I used to say, “If we are to be effective Christians we need to programme our minds, just as a computer is only effective as its ‘memory’ is programmed”. I would also expect them to ‘go the extra mile’ and learn off by heart the order of the books of the Bible. It all now sounds frightfully ‘old-fashioned’, and yet learning Bible verses (as distinct from learning the order of the books of the Bible) is part of creating a ‘godly heritage’ for the future.
The Apostle Paul wrote: “Let the word of Christ dwell in your richly… and gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs” (Colossians 3.16). There will come a stage in our lives when we can no longer rely on checking things on our phones, iPads, or computers – how then I wonder will our children be able to manage?