Sunday, September 04, 2005

Geriatrics

Eternal youth. Wisdom of the young. Young is beautiful. Image is everything.

These statements in combination produce a powerful and incredibly... shallow viewpoint. Is beauty skin-deep? Should we desire youth, or old age, or something in between? To some extent, these questions are completely irrelevant, because we don't control any aspect of our age whatsoever. Thus, in my mind, it is futile to have "What if's" floating around in my brain. On the other hand, the Bible does have something to say about youth and old age. Here these now:

For at the window of my house I have looked out through my lattice, and I have seen among the simple, I have perceived among the youths, a young man lacking sense, passing along the street near her corner, taking the road to her house in the twilight, in the evening, at the time of night and darkness. - Proverbs 7:6-9.

[Note: "her" in the above verses means the adulteress. The writer is warning his son against her.]

Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life. - Proverbs 16:31.

Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled. - Titus 2:3-5.

Apparently, old people in the Bible are in no way reviled, or looked down upon, or are in any way viewed as inferior to younger people. In fact, the Bible portrays older people as being wiser than younger people.

However, we need a qualification here. Am I talking about believers or unbelievers here? I think the Bible is talking about believers when it hints at the older being the wiser. Consider: if a man is not saved, he can never reach true wisdom. He may increase in worldly wisdom (which is certainly not all wrong!), but never get the fear of the Lord. On the other hand, a saved man will become increasingly sanctified, more and more like Christ, as he gets older. Thus, his wisdom will increase.

Where am I going with this? I am talking about the way the modern world idolizes youth. It rather puzzles me, because a man is more than his body. He has his soul, his mind, and his heart. Does the world think that a man is pure body? If so, then maybe the world's idolizing of youth is understandable. But if a man is more than his body, then physical attributes are not all that is to be desired. What we should desire is all these things, because that is what glorifies God. Christians are not Gnostics, and so we do not say the body does not exist, or is not important. We believe there is a balance here. A materialism which says the here and now is all that matters, in other words the opposite of the Gnostic view, is not correct either.

So if we believe that the whole person is important, what does that mean? Well, it certainly does mean that we should "Get wisdom; get insight; do not forget, and do not turn away from the words of my mouth. Do not forsake her, and she will keep you; love her, and she will guard you. The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom, and whatever you get, get insight. Prize her highly, and she will exalt you; she will honor you if you embrace her. She will place a garland on your head a graceful garland; she will bestow on you a beautiful crown." - Proverbs 4:5-9.

Nowhere does the Bible say we should get a merely outward personal beauty. But rather, in what I think is a legitimate extension, we should "let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God's sight is very precious." - 1 Peter 3:4b.

Hopefully, I've convinced you that youth isn't everything, it isn't even much of anything. At least, it's nothing more or less than old age. What are the applications of this? I think one application is that nursing homes, most of them, are an abomination. What tends to happen at these places is that as people get old, their sons and daughters despise them and want to get rid of them. They don't want to take the time to care for them or even to see them. So they put their parents in these very lonely places with no family near to comfort them. Sometimes they are surrounded by people who tell them lies about their health in the effort to get them better, or to make them feel better. That should not be. C. S. Lewis apparently didn't think much of nursing homes, either. In Screwtape Letters, Letter V, Screwtape writes, "How much better for us if all humans died in costly nursing homes amid doctors who lie, nurses who lie, friends who lie, as we have trained them, promising life to the dying, encouraging the belief that sickness excuses every indulgence, and even, if our workers know their job, withholding all suggestion of a priest lest it should betray to the sick man his true condition!"

One interesting story my mom likes to tell goes like this: an old woman and her middle-aged daughter went to a doctor to discuss the mother's health. But the doctor kept talking with the daughter instead of the mother. The mother finally got rather annoyed, and asked him, "Excuse me, doctor, but do you do crossword puzzles?" The doctor said that he did. She asked, "Do you do yours in pencil or in pen?" The doctor, in rather a condescending manner, replied, "Well, I do mine in pencil." The old woman said, "Well, I do mine in pen. You can talk to me."

I don't think the Bible teaches that we should despise anyone, young and old alike. But perhaps I do get the impression that the Bible says we should reverence the older people, and perhaps more so than the younger. And so I think that jokes about peoples' ages are out of line. Whereas jokes about the hubris of the young are just fine, because young people more often than not need to be taken down a notch or two. I need that all the time.

Here's a little secret that you might not have thought of, ladies. If you are married, your beauty depends a good deal on your husband's love. I have seen it more than once, where a woman gets married, and she's not all that attractive on the outside. But she is attractive on the inside, and her husband loves her, more or less, as he should. The result? She becomes increasingly beautiful as time goes on. She becomes so beautiful that if I were to look at a picture of her before or just after she got married, I might not even recognize her. So the secret is that your beauty will depend more on your husband's love for you, than you having to "keep up your beauty" for him.

I have a quote I like to put at the end of my emails: I have never met a beautiful woman; I know quite a few. What I mean by that is that a woman's beauty, to me, is unavoidably affected by her inner qualities. Take a woman attractive on the outside, but find out that she is backbiting, or unkind, or lazy, and all of a sudden I don't think she's that pretty on the outside. Conversely, take a plain woman, and suppose she is gentle and kind, loving, giving, not a nagger, etc., and she will become very beautiful.

Perhaps one of the most annoying things when I talk about this subject is that people don't seem to understand what I'm saying. I was talking the other day with someone about this, and the person made comments that indicated a desire to be "young again." I was thinking that this person did not understand what I said in the slightest. So I have strong reason to suspect that everything I have just written probably did not make any sense whatever to you, the reader. So if there is one thing I should like you to come away from this post with, it's this: avoid what C. S. Lewis calls chronological snobbery. This is the idea that age corresponds exactly with quality. And this can work both ways. Mostly, the perception these days is that newer is better. This is often true in the case of technology. But there the analogy ends. A few people have the tendency to say that older is automatically better. I wouldn't say that either. I will say that if something is old, and it's still around, there's a good chance it's better. In any case, I would say avoid chronological snobbery with people, too. Do not avoid older people, but get to know them. They can offer you many things your young friends cannot. Do not be afraid to grow old. It will come to you whether you desire it or not.


 
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4 Comments:

At 9/05/2005 10:05:00 AM , Blogger Mr. Baggins said...

Again, mostly right on target. I wonder, though, about your seemingly wholesale rejection of nursing homes. The nursing homes in my area are typically extremely clean, often visited by family, well-taken care of by the staff, and generally good societal institutions that provide social functions for their people all the time. Most farmers around here, for instance, simply do not have the time to care for their parents, unfortunately. You might say that they should make time, and you would probably have a point there. However, farming is an extremely time-consuming profession. Witness my frustration in trying to visit *any* young families in the summer-time. But many old people like the nursing homes around here, precisely because the people there do not lie to them, or tell them things to get vain hopes up. Your assessment is definitely accurate about many nursing homes I have seen/preached in/heard about. However, maybe not all of them are in that category.

 
At 9/05/2005 12:24:00 PM , Blogger Adrian C. Keister said...

Thanks for the comment. However, if you look closely, you will see that I use the phrase "...nursing homes, most of them,...". So it is not even a seemingly wholesale rejection of nursing homes. Of course I recognize there are some that do good work. But far too many do not. I would further hazard a guess that the North Dakota nursing homes, while admirable according to your description, are unfortunately not representative.

Toodles!

 
At 9/05/2005 09:01:00 PM , Anonymous Anna said...

Two things. One, I don't think it's fair to even generalize nursing homes as bad. Granted, there are terrible ones, but my in-laws, for instance, are deliberately saving for a "retirement home" and looking forward to moving there, almost as a pre-heaven, to hear them tell it. For some people (like my 97 year old grandmother) it'd be a practical death sentance, but apparently for others, it would be a reward.

Secondly, I think that for a Christian, the inexorable movement of time forwards is a wonderful thing, where for an unbeliever, it would be just a dreadful movement towards condemntation. I think ultimately that is why there is a glorification of youth in modern society. To a Christian, the forward movement of time represents the rapid approach of heaven and moving from life into life. But I can understand the urge to flee death for those for whom it is a more ultimate end.

I decided years ago that I loved the fact that things "come to pass", pass, and continue forwards. To me aging signifies the rapid approach of Christ and glory. Living with such a "heavenly perspective" is, I think, what makes those "geriatric" Christians so wonderful. And THAT is where I want to be, when my own life has completed its coming to pass.

 
At 9/08/2005 11:25:00 AM , Blogger Adrian C. Keister said...

Thanks for your thoughts, Anna. I think you're right about the difference between the believer and unbeliever. You've got a good perspective there on why the world thinks the way they do. I didn't think of that before.

However, I will continue to think badly of nursing homes in general. I've been in quite a few myself, and my experience has been negative.

Keep up the good fight!

 

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