I have a question for you, young people. So I want each of you to take the time to ask yourself this question and to consider the importance of it. It is essential that you do so, for one’s answer to this question demonstrates whether or not he is living as a true Christian should.
The question is this: “Do you visit the elderly?”
That this question is important is not simply because I might think so. NO! Rather, God’s Word points out why it is that you and I must consider this question. In James 1:27a we read: “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, to visit the fatherless and the widows in their affliction.” Scripture here tells us that when one visits the “fatherless” and the “widows” he is showing that he is a true Christian. The fatherless and the widows are those who are lonely. And this is so often true of the elderly, too, for they likewise live a lonesome and quiet life. Each of you is called therefore, as a child of God, to visit those who are lonely: the fatherless, the widows, and the elderly.
But let us be more specific with our question. Ask yourself the following: “When was the last time that I visited an elderly saint?” Or even: “When was the last time I visited my own grandparents?”
There are a number of reasons why we should be actively involved in visiting the elderly.
As already mentioned, we should do so because it is our calling to do so. God commands us to do so. You and I must love our neighbors as ourselves, and this does not mean simply to say that we love them, but to show that we love them. By visiting the elderly we show that we think about them, that we love them, and that we are concerned for their physical and spiritual welfare.
This means that you and I must visit the elderly for their benefit. Elderly saints live a lonely life. Loneliness is part of the “affliction” they experience. This is especially true of orphans and widows, but it is true also of elderly saints. And so they need our visits. They need to know that you and I, as fellow believers, love them and care for them. And not only do they need our visits, but they enjoy them.
Just take the time to imagine, young person, what it would be like if you yourself were unable to go outdoors each day. I am sure you would find it extremely difficult. Maybe some of you have even experienced that feeling when you have been in hospital or sick in bed for a time. After sitting or lying there for many long and lonely hours, you really look forward to and appreciate a visitor. And so do the elderly. So, for their benefit, take the time to visit them. Do this especially for those who are unable even to attend church on Sunday.
However, we do not visit the elderly just for their benefit. It is certainly true that we must endeavor to make our visits beneficial for them. But if that were the only reason why we visited them then very soon we would be filled with pride and think to ourselves that we are doing a great work and service to these people. This must never be our attitude. To keep us from becoming proud we must realize that our visits to the lonely and elderly are also for our own benefit. But how is this so?
I am sure you have all been told at one time or another: “You can learn so much from old people.” I often wondered what that really meant, and sometimes I even doubted that it was true. And I am sure that many of you did or do. In sinful pride we think that we know so much more than our grandparents or than other elderly saints. We think that because we have had more education than they did we are better equipped to face the world and life. So we wonder, therefore, how the elderly could possibly teach us anything.
But our doubting the truth of that statement is a serious error. I have learned from experience that I was so wrong. I will tell you how.
For the last three or four years of their lives my grandparents lived next door to us. Because we took care of them, we saw them every day. It was through that daily contact with them that I realized how much I could learn from these dear elderly saints. They had been through life, they had fought life’s battles, they had experienced all sorts of hardships and troubles and had learned how to face them in the strength of the Lord. All of these experiences had strengthened their faith and their trust in God. Because of these experiences they were filled with wisdom, and even without setting out to teach me something, the stories of their lives taught me so much. It was not the case that “Opa” and “Opoe” (Dutch for “Grandpa” and “Grandma”) preached to me every time we visited. Not at all. They would simply tell stories about their experiences in life and my brothers and I would listen and learn.
There is an important lesson here for you, young people. If only you would take more time to listen to the experiences of elderly saints then you yourselves would be better able and equipped to face the difficult circumstances in life. Perhaps you would even learn how to avoid certain pitfalls.
So do you visit the elderly?
Perhaps your response to this question is: “Who, me? You expect me to visit the elderly? I wouldn’t know what to say. I couldn’t communicate with them. Isn’t it better to leave that to others who are themselves older and who are better able to talk with elderly people? I’d probably be more of a hindrance or nuisance to elderly people if I visited them, than a help.”
The fact is that usually you do not have to say much at all. Just your being there means a whole lot to the elderly, for you show that you have a Christian love and concern for them. You are there because you care for them. They sense that, and if you show an interest in them they will enjoy relating their experiences to you. And even if they are failing physically, you must still respect them, and you will soon learn to do so on account of their wisdom. Give them a listening ear, and do not be in a hurry to leave. Listen and learn!
There are also valuable spiritual benefits which come from visiting the elderly.
When you visit with the elderly you will come to realize that our life on earth is indeed short. Elderly saints will make you see this, for they themselves are looking forward to their eternal and heavenly home and you can sense that the things of this world are not as important to them as they are to you. Sometimes they are not important at all. And so you are confronted with the reality that our life here on this earth is just a pilgrimage. We do not seek an earthly life, we seek a heavenly, spiritual and eternal life with God. What a great benefit to be reminded of this, for we are so inclined to forget that fact. So easily we get caught up in this world and love it and act as if the chief purpose and goal of life is this earthly life. We need to be snapped out of such dangerous thinking.
The wisdom that the elderly will impart to you also concerns our own history as churches. These saints have lived through the bitter struggles that we as Protestant Reformed Churches have faced. They realize, therefore, the importance of the truth for which we stand, something which many of us, to our shame, do not. And therefore I say again: “Listen and learn!”
So visit the elderly. Take the time to talk to them at church. Visit your grandparents regularly. Visit other elderly saints. For “pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and the widows in their affliction.”
And do not say to yourself: “I do that at Christmas time, so that is enough.” No! It is commendable that you do it at this time of year, but it is just as important, and perhaps even more important, that you do it year around, for the elderly are lonely year around.
Do this, young people, and by God’s grace your visits will be a blessing, not only to the elderly and lonely whom you visit, but also to yourself.