One of my cherished friends here in Charlotte has a marvelous ministry to the elderly. She happened upon it by way of a dear, old neighbor that now resides at a nursing home. Every week my friend painstakingly prepares a Bible Study lesson, which she then shares with this neighbor and several of her companions. Each time my friend enters the facility she is unaware who will attend the study; a nursing home is a rather transient place.
Recently she told me she ordered a couple books to help better counsel these precious, battered souls. Since I am interested in counseling of late, I requested she enlighten me as to the specifics of counseling the elderly. Here are some of her profound observations….
“In my experience so far, there are a lot of special counseling needs for the elderly.
First, they are usually without any live pastoral care. If anyone at all from their church comes to see them, it is usually a kind-hearted volunteer with no counseling training and no previous relationship with the elderly person. They are thinking about eternity, and need some solid answers right away. That generation looks to Pastors as the real authority figures. They are afraid of suffering and dying. People all around them are constantly “disappearing” suddenly, and so there is a lot of denial in order to face each day and the realization of their own impending death. It reminds me of the Eloi in The Time Machine.
Their bodies are decaying and painful, which makes them extremely cranky and self-centered. There is a lot of personnel turnover (particularly the night shifts), and so they are always on edge about them not knowing their needs, or making mistakes (which happens all the time). They are ashamed of their skinny, wrinkly, scaley, scabby, smelly, disgusting bodies, and are constantly subjected to humiliating interventions (being showered by an aide who could care less, being caught on the toilet by a repairman who did not knock, having to ask an aide to clean up the diarrhea on their floor and furniture that couldn’t be held in for the long slow trip t o the bathroom with a walker, having to ask someone to give them some more Depends, etc.).
I think that counseling would resemble more of what a POW would receive, rather than what you might think an elderly person would need. Most of all, there is the fear of having to depend on other people for absolutely everything – everything – and knowing that you never know when you will be let down (and you will be let down). They have outlived almost all of their friends, and the ones still alive can’t drive and can hardly get around in a wheelchair anyhow.
Many in that generation have a ‘criminal ignorance of the Bible’ (Mark Twain’s expression – I like it), and so hitting them with a bunch of Classic Comforting Verses is like throwing Nerf balls at them. I am beginning to think of my ministry at assisted living as
1) Primarily emergency evangelism, to people who think they are already Christians because they ‘believe in Jesus’ (whatever that means) and who may not be on this earth the next day, and
2) Ministry of hope and encouragement to POW’s, with a kind of Red Cross package of emotional respite and distraction.”
Understand why I cherish her? Anyway, yesterday I stared a chapter entitled “Assurance” in Holiness by JC Ryle. I approached this chapter (with a sinful attitude- no surprise there) of, “yada, yada, yada, how important can this actually be to my pursuit of holiness?” Coincidentally, I had also listened to a podcast Tuesday night where the (English) author had mentioned this assurance factor, and stated that it is difficult to give a Scot a firm belief in assurance of salvation, where as he never met an American who did not think they were going to heaven. Needless to say that caused my antenna to go up while I read the chapter.
What I read was truly profound. I sent it off to my dear friend and a couple others who are dealing with an end-time ministry, and I include it here for your enlightenment. I realize it is long, however the implications are imperative to comprehend.
PS Happy 50th Birthday Bro…. Celebrating another year gifted to you from the Savior…
“Assurance (of salvation) is to be desired because of the present comfort and peace it affords.
Assurance goes far to set a child of God free from painful bondage and thus
ministers mightily to his comfort. It enables him to feel that the great
business of life is a settled business, the great debt a paid debt, the
great disease a healed disease, and the great work a finished work; and all
other business, diseases, debts and works are then by comparison small. In
this way assurance makes him patient in tribulation, calm under
bereavements, unmoved in sorrow, not afraid of evil tidings, in every
condition content, for it gives him a fixedness of heart. It sweetens his
bitter cups; it lessens the burden of his crosses, it smoothes the rough
places over which he travels, it lightens the valley of the shadow of death.
It makes him always feel that he has something solid beneath his feet and
something firm under his hands—a sure friend by the way, and a sure home at
Assurance will help a man to bear poverty and loss. It will teach him to
say, ‘I know that I have in heaven a better and more enduring substance.
Silver and gold have I none, but grace and glory are mine, and these can
never make themselves wings and flee away. Though the fig tree shall not
blossom, yet will I rejoice in the Lord. (Hab. 3:17-18)
Assurance will support a child of God under the heaviest bereavements, and
assist him to feel ‘it is well.’ An assured soul will say, ‘though beloved
ones are taken from me, yet Jesus is the same and is alive for evermore.
Christ, being raised from the dead, dieth no more. Though my house be not as
flesh and blood could wish, yet I have an everlasting covenant, ordered in
all things and sure.’ ( 2 Ki 4:26; Heb 13:8; Rom 6:9; 2 Sam 23:5)
Assurance will enable a man to praise God, and be thankful even in prison,
like Paul and Silas at Philippi. It can give a believer songs even in the
darkest night, and joy when all things seem going against him. (Job 35:10;
Assurance will enable a man to sleep with the full prospect of death on the
morrow, like Peter in Herod’s dungeon. It will teach him to say, ‘I will
both lay me down in peace and sleep, for Thou, Lord, only makest me dwell in
safety.’ (Ps 4:8)
Assurance can make a man rejoice to suffer shame for Christ’s sake, as the
apostles did when put in prison at Jerusalem. (Acts 5:41) It will remind him
that he may ‘rejoice and be exceedingly glad’ (Matt 5:12) and there is in
heaven an exceeding weight of glory that shall make amends for all (2 Cor
Assurance will enable a believer to meet a violent and painful death without
fear, as Stephen did in the beginning of Christ’s church, and as Canmer,
Ridley, Hooper, Latimer, Rogers and Taylor did in England. It will bring to
his heart the texts: Be not afraid of them which kill the body, and after
that have no more that they can do’ (Luke 12:4). ‘Lord Jesus receive my
spirit.’ (Acts 7:59)
Assurance will support a man in pain and sickness; make all his bed and
smooth down his dying pillow. It will enable him to say, ‘if my earthy
house fail, I have a building of God’ (2 Cor 5:1) ‘I desire to depart and be
with Christ’ (Phil 1:23). ‘ My flesh and my heart may fail but God is the
strength of my heart and my portion forever.’ (Ps. 73:26)
The strong consolation which assurance can give in the hour of death is a
point of great importance. We may depend on it, we shall never think
assurance so precious as when our turn comes to die. In that awful hour
there are few believers who do not find out the value and privilege of an
‘assured hope’, whatever they may have thought about it during their lives.
General ‘hopes’ and ‘trusts’ are all very well to live upon while the sun
shines and the body is strong; but when we come to die, we shall want to be
able to say ‘I know’ and ‘I feel.’ The river of death is a cold stream, and
we have to cross it alone. No earthly friend can help us. The last enemy,
the king of terrors, is a strong foe. When our souls are departing, there
is no cordial like the strong wine of assurance.”