Life is short. We grow old fast. With all our hard work and sacrifices, what do we have to look forward to? In the economic turbulence of the past years many have seen their pension plans lose value almost overnight. Our future is uncertain. Being unable to provide for oneself in old age is reason enough to worry, but the possibility of a lonely and undignified end in a nursing home is perhaps a worse fear.
This year the first baby boomers begin to retire. The combination of less people working and more people collecting retirement benefits, such as Social Security and Medicare, has the potential to increase our budget deficit astronomically. This is an economic problem that Congress has yet to address. It could be an opportunity to reconsider what is most important for us and our society.
There was once a time when people grew old at home surrounded by family and the elderly were a valued and respected part of their community. Now we are often so busy making a living that there isn’t time for the old and invalid. Nursing homes are big business.
Already in the early 1900’s Eberhard Arnold observed this trend in society, while seeking an answer through community of faith:
Our civilization knows no fellowship; people buy and pay for each other. Because of money, people are no longer valued as human beings but as a commodity, and work is paid for and consumed… Our relationships become materialistic, converting the spirit of fellowship into its opposite. Life is relationship, interaction, giving and receiving, coming and going, and daily working side by side. People are called to fellowship of emotion and will, of knowledge and creative work, of faith and hope. They are called to a fellowship of life!
Together with a small group of fellow believers Arnold decided to put this belief into practice. They began a life together based on Jesus’ teachings in the Sermon on the Mount, sharing all things in common as described in the Acts of the Apostles: a community where every person is valued and loved, where each gives according to their ability and receives according to their need. Hard to believe? Come and see; it still exists today.
For much of the past year I have accompanied an elderly friend in the daily life of this community. Once a skilled machinist, he still enjoys riding his recumbent tricycle up the hill to our community’s woodshop. There he and other elderly and disabled folk freely interact with the young and healthy, giving advice or assisting in making play equipment for children. Though he is unsteady on his feet and hard of hearing he has imparted to me and many others a wisdom born out of experience and perseverance. A few months ago we celebrated his 96th birthday together!
Life is never all roses. In 96 years a person experiences plenty of heartache and hardship, but after a committed life of service, this man radiates a rare peace and joy which he testifies comes from a sure faith in Jesus. I believe our true wealth exists not in what we produce, possess, or save but in what we give; the faith, hope, and love we share. In making time for and loving our family, friends, coworkers, or the stranger we meet, we are all enriched.
Even when physical disability or circumstances leave a person unable to work they are still able to pray. In his old age, Johann Christoph Blumhardt prayed fervently for that day when
...the whole might and malice of darkness will be destroyed and everything on heaven and earth and under the earth will become one in pure joy and unity.
He expected the Kingdom promised by Jesus:
Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. (Revelation 21:4)
He firmly believed that, like the persistent widow of the Gospels, those who pray persistently for the redemption of all humankind will be answered. Whatever our circumstances, we are free to join in this prayer and expectation: A hope worth living for.