My grown children love to tell the story of a time they took a road trip with my parents in their RV. They had stopped at a convenience store to fill up with gas and to take a bathroom break. Somehow in all the commotion that comes with corralling three young kids, my dad drove away from the pump with the kids in tow but leaving my mother behind.
It was not until they were several miles down the road that my son finally noticed that his grandmother was not with them. He alerted his grandfather who quickly turned around and returned to the convenience store where my mother stood outside with a very confused look on her face.
It made me think of how easy it is in the busyness of life to overlook people, even people we love. We don't intentionally neglect them, but we get so caught up in our own lives that we drive off and leave them standing alone on the curb of life, confused and even afraid.
It is especially true for older adults who have grown weak or frail in their late years. As their energy fades, often so does their enthusiasm for living. They begin to question why they are still living. They wonder what purpose God could have for them now that they have grown old. Sadly, for many older adults, no one is paying attention.
Sure there is much media attention on aging as it relates to health care issues or the latest trends in senior care facilities. There are countless Internet sites for helpful eldercare products and services. But there is little said about the spiritual nature of aging.
Even the faith community is struggling under the weight of a fast-growing senior population. As older adults become less mobile and more dependent upon others, they gradually fade from the life of their faith communities. Regular worship attendance becomes occasional, then not at all. Some older adults uproot to move to senior care centers or to unfamiliar cities to be near family. One day someone from the faith community looks up and wonders what ever happened to Mrs. Jones or Mr. Smith.
For a while, just imagine walking in the orthopedic shoes of an older adult in our youth-crazy culture. With such an emphasis on anti-aging products and procedures, the secular message is clear. There is value in youthfulness, not age. Except for the occasional Betty White or sky-diving granny, older adults are mocked or pitied, not esteemed.
At a time when older adults are facing end-of-life questions and wondering if their lives still have meaning, it is as though we -- the community of faith, family and friends -- have driven off and left them standing alone to deal with the loss and isolation that often comes with longevity.
Without a faith community to support and encourage them, even the most faithful older adults may find themselves wandering into a spiritual desert. Alone in their rooms in assisted living centers and nursing homes across the country, people are yearning for dignity and respect. They need to be reminded that the Creator designed the aging process for His good purpose. Old age is not a punishment. It can be a time of spiritual growth, a time of learning how to let go of earthly things and a time for passing on wisdom to future generations.
In fact, the faith community has a calling to nurture multigenerational friendships, to show compassion and to teach younger generations how to care about each other. This can only be done by intentionally building relationships, and relationships take time and effort.