True Christians Honor Older Ones!
“THE aged,” says researcher Suzanne Steinmetz, “are at the end of their economically productive life, which is the basis on which our culture values individuals and provides them with deference, status, respect and rewards.” Modern society’s view of the elderly is thus a gloomy, negative one. Little wonder, then, that we often read of their being neglected and abused.
However, what view of the elderly does the Bible take? God’s Word realistically acknowledges that growing old is not easy. Prayed the psalmist: “Do not throw me away in the time of old age; just when my power is failing, do not leave me.” (Psalm 71:9) In his old age, he felt more need than ever of Jehovah’s support. And the Bible’s view is positive in showing that we, too, should give attention to the needs of the aged.
True, Solomon called old age “the calamitous days” in which one would “have no delight.” (Ecclesiastes 12:1-3) But “length of days and years of life” are also associated in the Bible with blessings from God. (Proverbs 3:1, 2) To illustrate, Jehovah promised Abraham: “As for you, . . . you will be buried at a good old age.” (Genesis 15:15) Surely, God was not sentencing faithful Abraham to dismal, “calamitous days” in which he could “have no delight.” Abraham found peace and serenity in his latter years, looking back with satisfaction on a life spent in service to Jehovah. He could also look forward to a “city having real foundations,” God’s Kingdom. (Hebrews 11:10) Thus he could die “old and satisfied.”—Genesis 25:8.
Why, then, did Solomon call old age “the calamitous days”? Solomon referred to the unrelenting deterioration of health that occurs in old age. However, one who has failed to ‘remember his Grand Creator in the days of his young manhood’ finds his declining years particularly calamitous. (Ecclesiastes 12:1) Because he has wasted his life, such an old person ‘has no delight’ in his latter days of life. His godless life-style may even have resulted in physical problems that aggravate the discomforts of old age. (Compare Proverbs 5:3-11.) So when looking ahead, he sees no future but the grave. A person who has devoted his life to serving God also experiences “calamitous days” as his body weakens. But like Abraham, he can find joy and satisfaction in a life well spent and in using his remaining strength in God’s service. “Gray-headedness is a crown of beauty when it is found in the way of righteousness,” says the Bible.—Proverbs 16:31.
In fact, old age even has certain advantages. “Youth and the prime of life are vanity,” says Solomon. While young people may enjoy vibrant health, they often lack experience and judgment. Old age, though, brings with it a lifetime of experience. The elderly one ‘wards off calamity,’ unlike the impulsive youth who often rushes headlong into it. (Ecclesiastes 11:10; 2 Timothy 2:22) Consequently, Solomon could say: “The splendor of old men is their gray-headedness.”—Proverbs 20:29.
The Bible therefore honors the elderly. How does this affect the way in which Christians deal with them?
‘Rising’ Before Elderly Ones
God made respect for the aged a national policy in Israel. The Mosaic Law stated: “Before gray hair you should rise up, and you must show consideration for the person of an old man.” (Leviticus 19:32) Jews in later years evidently took this law quite literally. Says Dr. Samuel Burder in his book Oriental Customs: “The Jewish writers say that the rule was, to rise up to them when they were at the distance of four cubits; and as soon as they were gone by, to sit down again, that it might appear they rose purely out of respect to them.” Such respect was not limited to men of prominence. “Respect even the old man who has lost his learning,” declared the Talmud. One rabbi argued that this respect should also include an ignorant and unlettered old man. “The very fact that he has grown old,” he reasoned, “must be due to some merit.”—The Jewish Encyclopedia.
Christians today are no longer subject to the sanctions of the Mosaic Law. (Romans 7:6) But this does not mean that they are no longer obliged to show special regard for the elderly. This is evident from the instructions the apostle Paul gave the Christian overseer Timothy: “Do not severely criticize an older man. To the contrary, entreat him as a father, . . . older women as mothers.” (1 Timothy 5:1, 2) Paul told young Timothy that he had authority to “command.” (1 Timothy 1:3) Nevertheless, if someone older than he—especially one serving as an overseer—erred in judgment or made an incorrect statement, Timothy was not to “severely criticize” him as an inferior. Rather, he was respectfully to “entreat him as a father.” Timothy was to show similar respect to older women in the congregation. Yes, he was still, in effect, to ‘rise before gray hair.’
Christianity is thus a religion that respects the elderly. Ironically, though, much of the mistreatment of older ones takes place in nations professing to be Christian. There are, however, worshipers that still adhere to Bible standards. Jehovah’s Witnesses, for example, enjoy the presence of many thousands of elderly ones in their midst; they do not view them as a burden or a liability. While fragile health may prevent such older ones from being as active as they once were, many have long records of faithful Christian service, and this encourages younger Witnesses to imitate their faith.—Compare Hebrews 13:7.
The elderly, however, are not expected to take a passive role in the congregation. They are urged to set fine examples in being “moderate in habits, serious, sound in mind, healthy in faith, . . . reverent in behavior,” freely sharing their wisdom and experience with others. (Titus 2:2, 3) Joel prophesied that among those sharing in the proclaiming of the Bible message, would be “old men.” (Joel 2:28) No doubt you have personally observed that many elderly Witnesses still delight to share actively in the door-to-door preaching activity.
Showing Them Honor “in Fuller Measure”
Jehovah’s Witnesses endeavor to give older ones special consideration in many ways. At yearly religious conventions, for example, they often arrange for seats to be set aside for older ones. Consideration is also shown them on an individual basis. In Japan one Witness gives up his seat in the family car so that an 87-year-old woman can have a ride to congregation meetings. How does he get to the meetings himself? By bicycle. In Brazil there is a full-time evangelizer 92 years of age. Observers report that Witnesses there “treat him with respect, talk with him . . . He is a useful part of the congregation.”
This does not mean that there is no room for improvement in honoring older ones. Paul wrote to Christians in Thessalonica: “However, with reference to brotherly love, . . . you are doing it to all the brothers in all of Macedonia. But we exhort you, brothers, to go on doing it in fuller measure.” (1 Thessalonians 4:9, 10) Similar counsel is at times needed today when it comes to our treatment of older ones. One 85-year-old Christian, for example, was very disappointed when he did not receive a copy of a new Bible-based publication. The problem? He is nearly deaf and did not hear an announcement reminding everyone to order the book; nor did anyone in the congregation think of ordering it for him. The situation, of course, was quickly rectified. It nevertheless illustrates that there is a need to be especially conscious of the needs of older ones.
There are any number of ways in which God’s people today can do this “in fuller measure.” Christian meetings afford an opportunity to “incite” older ones “to love and fine works.” (Hebrews 10:24, 25) And while young and old already mix freely at Kingdom Halls of Jehovah’s Witnesses, perhaps even more effort can be made along those lines. For example, some parents encourage their children respectfully to approach and talk with senior members of the congregation.
Honor can also continue to be shown the elderly on an informal basis. In harmony with the principle Jesus set forth at Luke 14:12-14, more effort can be made to invite older ones to social gatherings. Even if they are unable to attend, they will certainly appreciate your remembering them. Christians are further exhorted to “follow the course of hospitality.” (Romans 12:13) This need not call for something fancy or elaborate. Suggests one Witness from Germany: “Invite older ones over for a cup of tea, and let them tell their experiences from the past.”
The apostle Paul said: “In showing honor to one another take the lead.” (Romans 12:10) Among Jehovah’s Witnesses, appointed congregation elders especially take the lead in showing honor to elderly Christians. Often the elders are able to assign older ones appropriate tasks to perform, such as training new ones as evangelists or assisting with maintenance at Christian meeting places. Younger men serving as congregation elders show older overseers honor by humbly approaching them for advice, using discernment in getting their mature viewpoints. (Proverbs 20:5) At meetings of such elders, they follow the Biblical example of young Elihu and respectfully defer to older, more experienced men, giving them full opportunity to express themselves first.—Job 32:4.
Admittedly, it is easy to become impatient with elderly ones because they may not be able to move or think as fast as younger ones do. Dr. Robert N. Butler well describes some of the problems old age can bring: “One loses one’s physical stamina, one’s ability to keep up, and that in itself can be extremely frightening. One may lose important sensory elements such as hearing or vision.” Appreciating this, should not younger ones show fellow feeling and be compassionate?—1 Peter 3:8.
Yes, Christians today are obliged to show true love, concern, and respect for the older ones in their midst. And among Jehovah’s Witnesses, this is being done in an exemplary way. What happens, though, when elderly Christians—or the parents of Christians—become ill or impoverished? Whose responsibility is it to render them care? The following articles will explore how the Bible answers these questions.
Keeping An Eye On the Interests of the Elderly
“Keeping an eye, not in personal interest upon just your own matters, but also in personal interest upon those of the others.”—PHILIPPIANS 2:4.
1, 2. (a) How did the first-century governing body demonstrate an interest in the needs of the elderly? (b) What evidence is there that the preaching work was not neglected?
SHORTLY after Pentecost 33 C.E. “a murmuring arose [in the Christian congregation] on the part of the Greek-speaking Jews against the Hebrew-speaking Jews, because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution [of food to the needy].” No doubt a number of these widows were elderly and unable to fend for themselves. At any rate, the apostles themselves intervened, saying: “Search out for yourselves seven certified men from among you, full of spirit and wisdom, that we may appoint them over this necessary business.”—Acts 6:1-3.
2 Early Christians thus viewed caring for the needy as “necessary business.” Years later the disciple James wrote: “The form of worship that is clean and undefiled from the standpoint of our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their tribulation.” (James 1:27) Did this mean, then, that the all-important preaching work was neglected? No, for the account in Acts says that after the relief work for widows was properly organized, “the word of God went on growing, and the number of the disciples kept multiplying in Jerusalem very much.”—Acts 6:7.
3. What encouragement is given at Philippians 2:4, and why is this particularly appropriate today?
3 Today we face “critical times hard to deal with.” (2 Timothy 3:1) Caring for the demands of family life and secular work may leave us little energy—or desire—to concern ourselves with the needs of the elderly. Appropriately, then, Philippians 2:4 urges us to be “keeping an eye, not in personal interest upon just [our] own matters, but also in personal interest upon those of the others.” How can this be done in a balanced, practical way?
Rendering Honor to Widows
4. (a) Why and how did the first-century congregation “honor” widows? (b) Were such provisions always necessary?
4 In 1 Timothy chapter 5, Paul shows how early Christians looked after elderly widows in the congregation. He urged Timothy: “Honor widows that are actually widows.” (1 Timothy 5 Verse 3) Elderly widows were singled out as particularly worthy of receiving honor in the form of regular financial support. Such ones were cut off from all visible means of support and could only ‘put their hope in God and persist in supplications and prayers night and day.’ (1 Timothy 5 Verse 5) How were their prayers for sustenance answered? Through the congregation. In an organized manner, deserving widows were provided with a modest livelihood. Of course, if a widow had financial means, or relatives capable of supporting her, such provisions were unnecessary.—1 Timothy 5 Verses 4, 16.
5. (a) How might some widows have ‘gone in for sensual gratification’? (b) Was the congregation obligated to support such ones?
5 “But the [widow] that goes in for sensual gratification,” cautioned Paul, “is [spiritually] dead though she is living.” (1 Timothy 5 Verse 6) Paul does not explain how some were, as the Kingdom Interlinear literally renders it, “behaving voluptuously.” Some may have been fighting a battle with their “sexual impulses.” (1 Timothy 5 Verse 11) However, according to Liddell & Scott’s Greek-English Lexicon, “behaving voluptuously” could also have involved ‘living softly or in excessive comfort or indulgence.’ Perhaps, then, some wanted the congregation to enrich them, to finance an extravagant, self-indulgent life of immoderation. Whatever the case, Paul indicates that such ones were disqualified from receiving congregation support.
6, 7, and footnote. (a) What was “the list”? (b) Why were those under age 60 disqualified from receiving support? (c) How did Paul assist young widows from receiving an adverse “judgment”?
6 Paul then said: “Let a widow be put on the list [of those receiving financial support] who has become not less than sixty years old.” In Paul’s day a woman over age 60 was evidently viewed as unable to support herself and unlikely to remarry.* “On the other hand,” Paul said, “turn down younger widows [for enrollment], for when their sexual impulses have come between them and the Christ, they want to marry, having a judgment because they have disregarded their first expression of faith.”—1 Timothy 5 Verses 9, 11, 12.
7 Had “the list” been open to younger widows, some might hastily have declared an intention to remain single. As time passed, though, they might have had difficulty controlling their “sexual impulses” and wanted to remarry, ‘having a judgment for disregarding their first expression of faith’ to remain single. (Compare Ecclesiastes 5:2-6.) Paul averted such problems, further declaring, “I desire the younger widows to marry, to bear children.”—1 Timothy 5 Verse 14.
8. (a) How did Paul’s guidelines protect the congregation? (b) Were needy younger widows or elderly men also cared for?
8 The apostle also limited enrollment to those with long records of fine Christian works. (1 Timothy 5 Verse 10) The congregation was thus not a “welfare state” for the lazy or the greedy. (2 Thessalonians 3:10, 11) But what of elderly men or younger widows? If such ones fell into need, the congregation would no doubt have cared for them on an individual basis.—Compare 1 John 3:17, 18.
9. (a) Why would arrangements for the care of the elderly today differ from those made in the first century? (b) What does Paul’s discussion of widows in 1 Timothy chapter 5 help us appreciate today?
9 Such arrangements were likely quite adequate for the needs of first-century congregations. But as The Expositor’s Bible Commentary observes: “Today, with insurance income, social security, and job opportunities, the situation is very different.” As a result of a changed social and economic picture, rarely is it necessary for congregations today to maintain lists of elderly beneficiaries. Nevertheless, Paul’s words to Timothy help us appreciate: (1) The problems of the elderly are of concern to the entire congregation—particularly the elders. (2) The care of the elderly should be properly organized. (3) Such care is limited to those truly in need.
As Elders, Keeping An Eye On Their Interests
10. How can elders today take the lead in showing an interest in older ones?
10 How do overseers today take the lead in showing an interest in older ones? From time to time they can feature the needs of the elderly on the agenda of their meetings. When specific help is needed, they can arrange for it to be given. They may not personally render the care, inasmuch as there are often many willing ones—including youths—in the congregation who can help out. However, they can closely supervise such care, perhaps by assigning a brother to coordinate the care given to an individual.
11. How can elders acquaint themselves with the needs of the elderly?
11 Solomon counseled: “You ought to know positively the appearance of your flock.” (Proverbs 27:23) Overseers can thus personally visit the elderly so as to determine how best to “share . . . according to their needs.” (Romans 12:13) A traveling overseer put it this way: “Some elderly ones are very independent, and just asking them what needs to be done is no good. It is best to discern what needs to be done and get on with the job!” In Japan some overseers found that an 80-year-old sister needed much attention. They report: “We now see to it that someone has contact with her twice a day, morning and night, by visit or by telephone.”—Compare Matthew 25:36.
12. (a) How can elders see to it that elderly ones get the benefit of congregation meetings? (b) What good use can be made of tapes produced by the Society?
12 Overseers are also concerned that elderly ones get the benefit of congregation meetings. (Hebrews 10:24, 25) Do some need transportation? Are some simply unable to “listen and get the sense of” meetings because of hearing impairments? (Matthew 15:10) Perhaps it would be practical to install headphones for them. Similarly, a number of congregations now have meetings carried over the telephone lines so that infirm ones can listen in at home. Others record the meetings on tapes for those too sick to attend—in some cases purchasing the tape recorders for them. And speaking of tapes, an elder in Germany observed: “I have visited several elderly ones who just sat in front of the television and looked at programs that could hardly be described as being spiritually upbuilding.” Why not encourage them to listen instead to tapes produced by the Society, such as those containing Kingdom melodies and Bible reading?
13. How can older ones be helped to stay active as Kingdom proclaimers?
13 Some senior members of the congregation have become irregular or inactive as preachers. Age, though, does not necessarily prevent one from proclaiming the “good news of the kingdom.” (Matthew 24:14) Some might respond to a simple invitation to work with you in the field service. Perhaps you can rekindle their love for preaching by sharing field-service experiences with them. If walking up stairs is a problem, arrange for them to work apartments with elevators or residential areas without steps. Some publishers can also have elderly ones accompany them on Bible studies—or hold the study in the elderly one’s home.
14 and box. (a) What can the elders do if an elderly brother or sister falls into dire financial straits? (b) How have some congregations met the needs of elderly publishers?
14 ‘Money is a protection.’ (Ecclesiastes 7:12) Yet many an aged brother or sister is in dire financial straits and has no relatives willing to help out. Individuals in the congregation, though, are usually happy to assist when made aware of the need. (James 2:15-17) The elders can also look into what government or social services, insurance policies, pensions, and so forth, are available. In some lands, however, such services are hard to come by, and there may be no alternative but to follow the pattern at 1 Timothy chapter 5 and arrange for the congregation as a whole to provide relief. (See Organized to Accomplish Our Ministry, pages 122-3.)
Publishers in Nigeria regularly assisted an 82-year-old regular pioneer and his wife with material gifts. After the government scheduled for demolition the building they lived in, the congregation invited them to move into a room attached to the Kingdom Hall until other accommodations could be arranged.
In Brazil a congregation hired a nurse to care for an elderly couple. At the same time, a sister was assigned to keep the house clean, prepare their food, and care for other physical needs. Each month the congregation sets aside funds for their use.
15. (a) Are there limitations on the help the congregation can provide? (b) How might the counsel at Luke 11:34 be appropriate for certain ones who become overly demanding?
15 As in the first century, such provisions are for worthy ones who truly need them. Overseers are not obliged to meet extravagant requests or cater to unreasonable demands for attention. Elderly ones, too, must keep a ‘simple eye.’—Luke 11:34.
As Individuals, Keeping An Eye On Their Interests
16, 17. (a) Why is it important for others besides elders to take an interest in the elderly? (b) How can busy publishers ‘buy out time’ for the elderly?
16 Some time ago an elderly sister was admitted to a hospital. The diagnosis was malnutrition. “If more in the congregation had taken a personal interest in her,” wrote an elder, “perhaps this would not have happened.” Yes, elders are not the only ones who must take an interest in the elderly. Paul said: “We are members belonging to one another.”—Ephesians 4:25.
17 Doubtless some of you are already burdened with personal responsibilities. But ‘keep an eye, not in personal interest upon just your own matters.’ (Philippians 2:4) With proper personal organization, you can often ‘buy out time.’ (Ephesians 5:16) For example, could you visit an elderly one after field service? Weekdays are particularly lonely periods for some. Teenagers, too, can get involved in visiting the elderly and doing chores for them. Prayed one sister who was helped by a youth: “Thank you Jehovah for young Brother John. What a fine person he is.”
18. (a) Why may conversation with an elderly one be difficult at times? (b) How can one make a visit or a conversation with an older person mutually upbuilding?
18 At meetings, do you simply give older ones a cursory greeting? Granted, it may not be easy conversing with someone who is hard of hearing or has difficulty expressing himself. And since failing health takes its toll, not all elderly ones have cheery dispositions. Nevertheless, “better is one who is patient.” (Ecclesiastes 7:8) With a little effort, a real “interchange of encouragement” can ensue. (Romans 1:12) Try relating a field-service experience. Share a point you read in The Watchtower or Awake! Or better yet, listen. (Compare Job 32:7.) Older ones have much to share if you let them. Admitted one elder: “Visiting that elderly brother did me a lot of good.”
19. (a) Our concern for the elderly extends to whom? (b) What are some ways in which we can prove helpful to families caring for older parents?
19 Should not your concern for the elderly also extend to the families caring for them? One couple looking after aging parents reported: “Rather than encouraging us, some in the congregation have become quite critical. One sister said: ‘If you keep missing meetings, you’ll get spiritually sick!’ But she wasn’t willing to do anything to help us get to more meetings.” Equally discouraging are vague promises such as, If you ever need help, let me know. These often amount to little more than saying, “Keep warm and well fed.” (James 2:16) How much better it is to let your concern translate into action! Reports one couple: “The friends have been wonderful and supportive! Some will take care of Mom for a couple of days at a time so that we can have an occasional break. Others take her on Bible studies. And it really encourages us when others inquire as to her welfare.”
20, 21. What can older ones do to assist those rendering them care?
20 By and large our older ones are well cared for. However, what can elderly Witnesses themselves do so that such work is done with joy and not with sighing? (Compare Hebrews 13:17.) Cooperate with the arrangements elders make for your care. Express thanks and appreciation for whatever deeds of kindness are performed, and avoid being overly demanding or overly critical. And though the aches and pains of old age are quite real, try to manifest a cheerful, positive attitude.—Proverbs 15:13.
21 ‘The brothers are wonderful. I do not know what I would do without them,’ many older ones have been heard to say. Nevertheless, the prime responsibility of caring for the elderly rests upon their children. What does this involve, and how can this challenge best be met?
Leviticus 27:1-7 refers to the redemption of individuals ‘offered’ (by means of a vow) to the temple as laborers. The redemption price varied according to age. At age 60 this price fell precipitously, evidently because a person that old was felt to be unable to work as hard as a younger one. The Encyclopædia Judaica further says: “According to the Talmud, old age . . . begins at 60.”
Do You Remember?
□ What provisions were made in the first century for elderly widows?
□ How can overseers organize the care of older ones in the congregation?
□ How can individuals in the congregation display an interest in elderly brothers and sisters?
□ What can older ones do to assist those rendering them care?
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Helping the Elderly—What Some Are Doing
A congregation in Brazil found a convenient way of caring for the physical needs of a brother who lives near their Kingdom Hall: The book study group assigned to clean the hall also cleans his home.
Another congregation there found a simple way to keep an infirm brother active in the Theocratic Ministry School. When his turn to give a talk comes up, a brother is assigned to take two or three publishers with him to visit the brother. A brief meeting is opened with prayer, and the brother delivers his assignment. Necessary counsel is given. What an encouragement this visit proves to be!
Traveling overseers have set a fine example in taking the lead. In one congregation an elderly brother who was confined to a wheelchair became quite irritable and as a result was seldom visited. A traveling overseer, however, arranged to give the brother a private viewing of his slide talk. The elderly brother was moved to tears by what he saw. Says the overseer: “I felt greatly rewarded to see how a little attention and love could bring such results.”
Some elders in Nigeria made a shepherding call on an aged brother and discovered that he was seriously ill. He was immediately taken to the hospital. The aged brother was found to need extensive medical treatment, but he was unable to pay for it. When the congregation was informed of his need, the publishers came up with enough money to care for his expenses. Two elders took turns driving him back and forth to the hospital, although this required their taking time off from work. They had the joy, though, of seeing the brother recover from his illness and auxiliary pioneer until his death some four years later.
In the Philippines an elderly sister had no family. The congregation made arrangements for her care during three years of illness. They provided her with a small place to live, brought her meals each day, and cared for her hygiene.
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All can have a share in honoring our older ones in the congregation
Practicing Godly Devotion Toward Elderly Parents
“Let [children or grandchildren] learn first to practice godly devotion in their own household and to keep paying a due compensation to their parents and grandparents, for this is acceptable in God’s sight.” —1 TIMOTHY 5:4.
1, 2. (a) Whom does the Bible hold responsible for the care of aging parents? (b) Why would it be a serious matter for a Christian to neglect this duty?
AS A child, you were nurtured and protected by them. As an adult, you sought their advice and support. But now they have grown old and need someone to support them. Says the apostle Paul: “But if any widow has children or grandchildren, let these learn first to practice godly devotion in their own household and to keep paying a due compensation to their parents and grandparents, for this is acceptable in God’s sight. Certainly if anyone does not provide for those who are his own, and especially for those who are members of his household, he has disowned the faith and is worse than a person without faith.”—1 Timothy 5:4, 8.
2 Thousands of Jehovah’s Witnesses today care for aging parents. They do so not merely out of “kindness” (The Living Bible) or “duty” (The Jerusalem Bible) but out of “godly devotion,” that is, reverence for God. They recognize that to abandon one’s parents at a time of need would be tantamount to ‘disowning the [Christian] faith.’—Compare Titus 1:16.
‘Carry Your Load’ of Care
3. Why may the care of one’s parents be a real challenge?
3 Looking after elderly parents has become a real challenge, especially in Western lands. Families are often scattered. Costs have risen out of control. Housewives frequently have secular jobs. Caring for an aging parent can thus be a huge undertaking, especially when the one who gives the care is no longer young himself. “We are now in our 50’s, with grown children and grandchildren that also need help,” says one sister struggling to care for her parent.
4, 5. (a) With whom does the Bible indicate that the load of care can often be shared? (b) How did some evade responsibility to their parents in Jesus’ day?
4 Paul indicated that the responsibility could be shared by the “children or grandchildren.” (1 Timothy 5:4) Sometimes, though, siblings are unwilling to ‘carry their load’ of care. (Compare Galatians 6:5.) “My older sister has just washed her hands of the situation,” complains one elder. But can such a course be pleasing to Jehovah? Recall what Jesus once told the Pharisees: “Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’ . . . But you men say, ‘If a man says to his father or his mother: “Whatever I have by which you may get benefit from me is corban, (that is, a gift dedicated to God,)”’—you men no longer let him do a single thing for his father or his mother, and thus you make the word of God invalid by your tradition.”—Mark 7:10-13.
5 If a Jew did not care to assist his destitute parents, he needed only to declare his belongings “corban”—a gift set aside for temple use. (Compare Leviticus 27:1-24.) He was evidently under no immediate compulsion, however, to hand over this supposed gift. Thus he could hold onto (and no doubt use) his belongings indefinitely. But if his parents needed financial help, he could wriggle out of his duty by piously declaring that all he owned was “corban.” Jesus condemned this fraud.
6. What may motivate some today to evade their parental duties, and is this pleasing to God?
6 A Christian who uses empty excuses to evade his duty is thus not fooling God. (Jeremiah 17:9, 10) True, financial problems, failing health, or similar circumstances may greatly limit how much one can do for one’s parents. But some may simply value assets, time, and privacy more than their parents’ welfare. How hypocritical it would be, though, to preach the Word of God but make it “invalid” by our inaction toward parents!
7. How can families cooperate in providing care for an aged parent?
7 Some experts recommend that when a crisis involving an aged parent develops, a family conference be called. One family member may have to shoulder the bulk of the responsibility. But by calmly and objectively engaging in “confidential talk,” families can often work out ways to share the work load. (Proverbs 15:22) Some living far away may be able to contribute financially and visit periodically. Others may be able to handle chores or provide transportation. Why, simply agreeing to visit the parents regularly may be a valuable contribution. Says one sister in her 80’s regarding visits by her children, “It’s like a tonic!”
8. (a) Are family members in full-time service exempt from sharing in their parents’ care? (b) To what lengths have some in full-time service gone to meet obligations toward parents?
8 Families may face a delicate problem, though, when a member is engaged in full-time service. Full-time ministers do not excuse themselves from such obligations, and many have made extraordinary efforts to render their parents care. Says a circuit overseer: “We never imagined how physically and emotionally taxing the caring for our parents could be, especially when at the same time trying to meet the demands of the full-time service. Indeed, we have been brought to the limits of our endurance and have felt the need for ‘power beyond what is normal.’” (2 Corinthians 4:7) May Jehovah continue to sustain such ones.
9. What encouragement can be given to those who have had no choice but to leave full-time service to care for parents?
9 At times, though, after exploring all other possibilities, a family member has no alternative but to leave full-time service. Understandably, such a one may have mixed feelings over relinquishing his service privileges. ‘We know it is our Christian responsibility to care for my aged and sick mother,’ says an ex-missionary. ‘But at times it feels very strange.’ Remember, though, that ‘practicing godly devotion at home is acceptable in God’s sight.’ (1 Timothy 5:4) Remember, too, that “God is not unrighteous so as to forget your work and the love you showed for his name, in that you have ministered to the holy ones and continue ministering.” (Hebrews 6:10) One couple who left behind many years of full-time service says: “The way we view it, it is just as important for us now to care for our folks as it was for us to be in full-time service.”
10. (a) Why may some have left full-time service prematurely? (b) How should families view full-time service?
10 Perhaps, though, some have left full-time service prematurely because their relatives reasoned: ‘You are not tied down with jobs and families. Why cannot you take care of Dad and Mom?’ However, is not the preaching work the most urgent work being done today? (Matthew 24:14; 28:19, 20) Those in full-time service are thus doing a vital work. (1 Timothy 4:16) Too, Jesus indicated that, in some circumstances, God’s service might hold priority over family matters.
11, 12. (a) Why did Jesus advise a man to “let the dead bury their dead”? (b) What arrangements have some families made when one member is in full-time service?
11 For instance, when a man declined an invitation to be Jesus’ follower, saying: “Permit me first to leave and bury my father,” Jesus replied: “Let the [spiritually] dead bury their dead, but you go away and declare abroad the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:59, 60) Since the Jews buried their dead on the day they died, it is unlikely that the man’s father was actually dead. Likely the man simply wanted to stay with his aging father till the father’s death. However, since other relatives evidently were on hand to render this care, Jesus encouraged the man to “declare abroad the kingdom of God.”
12 Some families have similarly found that when all members cooperate, it can often be arranged for one in full-time service to share in his parent’s care without his leaving full-time service. For example, some full-time ministers assist their parents on weekends or during vacation periods. Interestingly, quite a few elderly parents have insisted that their children remain in full-time service, even at considerable self-sacrifice on the part of the parents. Jehovah richly blesses those who put Kingdom interests first.—Matthew 6:33.
“Wisdom” and “Discernment” When Parents Move In
13. What problems can develop when a parent is invited to move in with his or her children?
13 Jesus arranged for his widowed mother to live with her believing relatives. (John 19:25-27) Many Witnesses have similarly invited their parents to move in with them—and have experienced many joyful times and blessings as a result. However, incompatible life-styles, limited privacy, and the strain of providing daily care often make taking a parent into one’s home frustrating for all concerned. “Caring for Mom has made me more tense,” says Ann, whose mother-in-law suffers from Alzheimer’s disease. “Sometimes I even lose patience and speak unkindly to Mom—and that makes me feel so guilty.”
14, 15. How can “wisdom” and “discernment” help ‘build up’ a family under these circumstances?
14 Solomon said that “by wisdom a household will be built up, and by discernment it will prove firmly established.” (Proverbs 24:3) Ann, for example, has tried to be more understanding of her mother-in-law’s problem. “I keep in mind that she has an illness and is not acting up on purpose.” Still, “we all stumble many times. If anyone does not stumble in word, this one is a perfect man.” (James 3:2) But when conflicts arise, show wisdom by refusing to let resentment build or tempers flare. (Ephesians 4:31, 32) Talk matters over as a family, and seek ways to make compromises or adjustments.
15 Discernment also helps one communicate effectively. (Proverbs 20:5) Perhaps a parent has difficulty adjusting to the routine of the new home. Or maybe because of impaired judgment, he tends to be uncooperative. Under some circumstances, there may be no choice but to speak quite firmly. (Compare Genesis 43:6-11.) “If I didn’t say no to my mother,” says one sister, “she would spend all her money.” One elder, though, finds at times that he can draw upon his mother’s affection for him. “Many times when reasoning fails, I’ll simply say, ‘Mom, will you please just do it for me?’ and she listens.”
16. Why must a loving husband show “discernment” toward his wife? How can he do so?
16 Since the wife often carries most of the burden of care, a discerning husband will watch that she does not become worn out—emotionally, physically, or spiritually. Says Proverbs 24:10: “Have you shown yourself discouraged in the day of distress? Your power will be scanty.” What can a husband do to renew his wife’s enthusiasm? “My husband would come home,” says one sister, “and put his arms around me and tell me how much he appreciated me. I couldn’t have made it without him!” (Ephesians 5:25, 28, 29) He can also study the Bible with his mate and regularly pray with her. Yes, even under these difficult circumstances, a family can be “built up.”
17, 18. (a) What step have some families been forced to take? (b) In such cases, how can grown children help their parents to adjust?
17 Says one gerontologist: “There comes a point where the family has neither the expertise nor the money to keep the [parent] home.” As one husband puts it: “It got to where my wife’s health collapsed from trying to give Mom 24-hour-a-day care. We had no choice but to place Mom in a nursing home. But it tore at our hearts to have to do this.”
18 Nursing-home care may be the best care available under the circumstances. Yet, older ones placed in such facilities are often bewildered and upset, feeling that they have been abandoned. “We carefully explained to Mom why we had to do this,” says a sister we will call Greta. “She has learned to adjust and now views the place as home.” Regular visits also ease parents through the adjustment and prove the genuineness of your love for them. (Compare 2 Corinthians 8:8.) Where distance is a problem, keep in touch by telephone calls, letters, and periodic visits. (Compare 2 John 12.) Nevertheless, living amid worldlings has obvious drawbacks. Be ‘conscious of their spiritual needs.’ (Matthew 5:3) “We provide Mom with material to read, and we try to discuss spiritual things as much as possible,” says Greta.
19. (a) What care should be taken in selecting and monitoring nursing-home care? (b) How does it benefit a Christian to do his utmost to care for a parent?
19 The Wall Street Journal reported on a study of 406 U.S. nursing homes in which “about one-fifth were deemed potentially dangerous to residents and almost half only met minimum standards.” Sad to say, such reports are distressingly common. So if nursing-home care is necessary, be careful in selecting one. Visit personally to see if it is clean, well maintained, staffed by qualified personnel, homelike in atmosphere, and with adequate meals. Monitor as closely as possible the care given your parents. Be their advocate, helping them avoid awkward situations that can develop, perhaps in connection with worldly holidays or recreation. By doing your utmost to provide your parents the very best of care under the circumstances, you can relieve yourself of feelings of guilt that could otherwise disturb you.—Compare 2 Corinthians 1:12.
Cheerful Givers, Cheerful Recipients
20. Why is it important that children be cheerful givers?
20 “It’s been difficult,” says one Christian woman regarding looking after her parents. “I’ve had to cook for them, clean, deal with crying spells, change the sheets when they were incontinent.” “But whatever we’ve done for them,” says her husband, “we have done joyfully—cheerfully. We have tried hard never to let our folks feel that we resent having to care for them.” (2 Corinthians 9:7) Older ones are often reluctant to accept help and do not want to be a burden on others. The attitude you display is thus critical.
21. (a) How can parents be cheerful recipients? (b) Why is it wise for a parent to plan ahead for his old age?
21 At the same time, the attitude parents display is also important. Recalls one sister: “Whatever I did for Mom, it was never enough.” So, parents, avoid being unreasonable or overly demanding. After all, the Bible says “the children ought not to lay up for their parents, but the parents for their children.” (2 Corinthians 12:14) Some parents squander their resources and become an unnecessary burden to their children. Proverbs 13:22, however, says: “One who is good will leave an inheritance to sons of sons.” To the extent possible, parents can thus plan ahead for their old age, setting aside funds and making some arrangements for their own care.—Proverbs 21:5.
22. How should a person view the efforts he puts forth to care for his aging parents?
22 Paul put it well when he said that caring for one’s parents amounts to “due compensation.” (1 Timothy 5:4) As one brother says: “Mom took care of me for 20 years. What have I done in comparison to that?” May all Christians with elderly parents similarly be moved to ‘practice godly devotion at home,’ knowing that they will be richly rewarded by the God who promises to those honoring their parents: “You [will] endure a long time on the earth.”—Ephesians 6:3.
Points to Remember
□ How did some in Jesus’ day seek to evade responsibility toward their parents?
□ Who should care for elderly parents, and why?
□ What problems can families experience when a parent moves in, and how can they be overcome?
□ Why may nursing-home care be necessary, and how can parents be helped to adjust to it?