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~ Time For The Old Joke To Die ~

         Some of our readers of non-Western cultures may not fully appreciate this Reflection since your nations are not guilty of idolizing youth. But the rest of you will fully understand, especially the elderly.

        Jokes and teasing banter have a lifespan. After a while they get old and worn and annoyance replaces humor. Some humor is just fear and dread in a clown's disguise. And some humor is hatred and malice hidden in a smile. When the target of that humor expresses pain, the response is too often uncompassionate and vindictive, adding more pain: "What's the matter? Can't you take a joke?"

        I recently participated in a conference of spiritual leaders and was dumfounded within 20 minutes. The short time of introduction was overly saturated by jokes regarding "getting old." After the tenth banter about age, participants were still laughing. The jokes were old but the laughter was as fresh as that of hearing fresh humor.

        Everyone was, of course, 29 years old. One man was 50 years young. Overlooking the grammatical error of that statement, I thought about what people are saying about each other when one says he is 25 years old and another says he is 60 years young. The older we get the younger we become? Why the shame of age? And doesn't anyone realize they are making fun of their own parents, grandparents, great uncles and aunts, and the millions of our elderly we deliberately marginalize in our society, putting them away in "retirement homes" with the message "You old folks are no longer useful to us"?

        When I directed a rescue squad, I needed to instruct certain members on how I wanted elderly patients to be addressed. While middle age patients were called the respectful "Mr." and "Mrs.", or "Sir" and "M'am", the elderly automatically got the sickening "Sweetie" or "Deary". These precious people of so much experience and knowledge were not children, but unfamiliar strangers who deserved salutations of respect and honor.

        The poor, homeless and others on the margins of our society are addressed similarly, with a condescending tone, forgetting they have so much to teach us. Scripture urges to "Speak out for the one who cannot speak, for the rights of those who are doomed. Speak out, judge fairly, and defend the rights of oppressed and needy people"
(Proverbs 31:8-9, GW).

        Those who are fortunate to grow into old age are blessed with a special grace not to be wasted. Our modern youth (and I don't mean children) are typically focussed on achieving "the good life" of pleasure, success, reputation, social rank, fame, power, wealth and self-promoting ambition. These pursuits are not conducive to growth in the Kingdom of God.

        Old age often induces a redemptive suffering through heartbreaks, loneliness, disappointments, regrets, life-evaluation and infirmities. There is often disenchantment with earthly life, which is a grace that can orient the elderly toward preparing for their eternal life in the Kingdom of God, which is what earthly life was all about all along.

        Ungrateful children, financial struggles, physical pain, realization of false friends, bereavement as others die around them, wrongful suffering, decreased mobility and independence, revolutionary changes in their familiar world of their youth, can mature the love of the elderly, leading to greater and more godly gentleness and compassion, understanding and graciousness, and greater Christlikeness. More available time can lead to a more profound prayer life and sacred contemplation, right on the cusp of beatific visions. The power to serve our Lord and His children can maximize: "And even when I am old and gray, O God, do not forsake me, until I declare Your strength to this generation, Your power to all who are to come" (Psalm 71:18, NAS).

        Gathering knowledge is the prerogative of youth. But Job observed that wisdom is with the elderly, that "the one who has had many days has insight" (Job 12:12). The wisdom and redemptive suffering of the aged weans them from the idolatry of self-worship and youth homage in preparation for the ultimate glory of the heavenly realm.
"For man goes to his eternal home while mourners go about in the street. Remember Him before the silver cord is broken and the golden bowl is crushed, the pitcher by the well is shattered and the wheel at the cistern is crushed, then the dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it" (Ecclesiastes 12:6-7, NAS).

        It's also time for those old gray hair jokes to die of old age: "A gray head is a crown of glory; It is found in the way of righteousness" (Proverbs 16:31, NAS). And "Righteous people flourish like palm trees…They are planted in the Lord's house. They blossom in our God's courtyards. Even when they are old, they still bear fruit. They are always healthy and fresh. They make it known that the Lord is good" (Psalm 92:12a, 13-14, GW). Having the mind of Christ, we see our elderly bearing fruit. We also see past the superficial skin covering and marvel with the psalmist over how "healthy and fresh" they are. We need to sit at their feet, asking them to talk to us about life.

        To idolize the youth culture is to promote its disrespect and arrogance and engage the sin of envy. The commandment to honor our fathers and mothers, alive or dead, is the only one emphasized by an attached reason. To contradict the quip that "youth is wasted on the young," the young are wasting the treasures of the elderly presence in our society. I also pray the elders do not waste their trials, challenges and often painful transitions, but rather embrace them as their final grace on this earth to be used in refining godly character, profoundly deepening their intimacy with the Christ, giving their final living witness to the Gospel by their light of Christlikeness, preparing for the marriage feast of the Lamb.

        The Lord declares, "I've carried you since your birth. I've taken care of you from the time you were born. Even when you' re old, I'll take care of you. Even when your hair turns gray, I'll support you. I made you and will continue to care for you. I'll support you and save you" (Isaiah 46:3b-4, GW).

        Let us all join our God in that shameless, loving support and care.

John S. Hilkevich, Ph.D.
Spiritual Resource Services

Weekly Reflections © January 19, 2002
"God's Word" is a copyrighted work of God's Word to the Nations Bible Society. Quotations are used by permission.

Responses are welcome at: Reflections@prayergear.com

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