Pilgrimage into the Last Third of Life:
“Living with Limitations”
Rev. Sandy Johnson
April 10, 2016
An elderly couple had dinner at their elderly neighbor’s house. After eating, the wives left the table and went into the kitchen. The two gentlemen were talking, and one says, ‘Last night we went out to a new restaurant and it was really great. I would recommend it very highly.’ The other man asks, ‘What is the name of the restaurant?’
The first man thinks and thinks and finally asks, ‘What is the name of that flower you give to someone you love? You know… The one that’s red and has thorns.’
‘Do you mean a rose?’ ‘Yes, that’s the one,’ replied the man.
He then turns towards the kitchen and yells, ‘Rose, what’s the name of that restaurant we went to last night?
It’s going to be a bumpy ride! Let us pray!
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable to you O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. Amen.
Last week we began our series on our pilgrimage into the last third of our life. I think we can all agree that growing older comes with blessings and curses as we navigate the pilgrim’s path. This week we are going to discuss living with our limitations, those nasty changes that get in the way of continuing our lives status quo.
As I have thought more about this series this week, I have come to realize that what is perhaps at the core of our discomfort with aging is the inability to control the changes happening to us. If it wasn’t for our ever-changing bodies or the community around us that never stays the same, I think we might be able to gracefully embrace the last third of our lives. Unfortunately the only thing constant in our lives is change. We can’t go around it, can’t under it, can’t go over it; there’s only one thing to do, we gotta go through it! And that my friends is where it gets dicey!
As creatures we hate change. We don’t like the unknowing and unpredictability of change. “What if” becomes our favorite sentence starter. What if we don’t have enough money when we retire or what if we run out? What if we get ill and can’t walk any longer. What if one of us becomes sick and dies? If only we could control our futures and make the decisions for ourselves; decisions like when we might lose our hearing, when our teeth will fall out, or when it’s time for a walker or cane to keep us steady. The problem is we wouldn’t ever choose any of it! “I think next week I’d like to have to buy a hearing aid and I think I’d like to get one of those new walkers everyone is using. They are super sleek!” These are decisions about things that are far beyond our control. They simply are a function of our aging bodies.
I don’t mean to say that we don’t have control over our own bodies – certainly we can do our best to eat right and exercise, but beyond that our bodies will grow old and start to fail us, in spite of our best healthy habits. The question of the hour is how will you embrace the failing body parts – will you embrace the limitations or will you fight them tooth and nail?
“After turning down the covers and placing a nightly glass of water next to her side of the bed, a woman asked her husband who had been dealing with Alzheimer’s for more than ten years, if he was coming to bed. His reply, “Oh NO! My wife would kill me! But thank you for the offer.”
We can’t change the inevitable, our minds will fade as will our hairlines; but we can change our response to it. Our scripture lesson this morning from the Gospel of John tells us about when Jesus commissioned Peter to take over the leadership position with the disciples. Jesus cautions him not to get too prideful, someday his situation would change. “When Peter grows old and can no longer care for himself, when others dress him and lead him around, taking him to places against his will, Peter will continue to glorify God – perhaps because of his situation of powerlessness.
“The Gospel offers this hopeful gift to frail elders (and those who fear becoming frail). Jesus promises us that somehow, even though we may be bedridden, lying in a B-grade nursing home, we may – because of our frailty, not in spite of it – be a source of God’s glorification. This may be one of the purest, least ego-filled ways in which we will have glorified God in our entire lives.”
“This passage from John’s gospel offers a different way of viewing our losses – a positive, energizing, life-giving way. Often we read this scripture, we pay attention to the image of Peter being constrained with a belt from going where he wants to go. We can just see his wife or daughter hanging onto the other end of the belt and scolding, “Papa, let the younger Christians do the preaching now! You’ve done your part; there’s nothing more you can do – you’re too old and infirm. Stay here and rest; you’ve earned it!” That image is pretty depressing. Few people pay attention to the next two sentences, “He said this to indicate the kind of death by which [Peter] would glorify God. After this he said to him, ‘Follow me.’”
“For me, this passage is one of the most encouraging of the entire New Testament, for Jesus promises his active, extroverted, energetic friend Peter – his chosen leader – that even when he can no longer do the work of preaching, teaching, and leading the Christian community, he will still be able to glorify God – using, in some mysterious way, the suffering of that condition. Only after Jesus assures Peter that he is empowered to do God’s work in all life’s circumstances does Jesus invite Peter to “follow me.”
“Many Christians, lay and ordained, who have worked hard for God and for the church experience distress when they retire or can no longer pastor, preach, teach, help and do “official” good works. They often feel a sense of uselessness to the kingdom of God or that they are letting God down. This is not so, for Jesus reassures all of his followers that they will continue to “glorify God.”
In Luke 13 we read another story about someone with physical limitations. Jesus was teaching on the Sabbath and a woman entered the synagogue who was crippled and had been bent over, unable to stand up straight for more than 18 years. Jesus called her over immediately and although it was the Sabbath, he healed her, restoring her to full health. The story doesn’t say how old the woman is although we can surmise that she was in her later years by the description of her disability. This woman, “bent over at the waist, had to view life from the level of half her stature. Medical science today might say she suffered… from a chronic progressive form of arthritis. What might have begun with lower back pain has ended in a horrible, painful condition.
“Bent over the woman could not see the sun or moon, only the ground. No doubt many people looked away when her sideways glance met their stares. Yet she came to the synagogue on the Sabbath day. Her priorities were a lot straighter than those of the many who walk erect. She had not come for healing; she wished simply to worship. Her gift came in her availability to God’s grace. Then Jesus found her. Moved with compassion, he called her forward and told her, “Woman you are set free from your ailment.” Jesus healed her, and she walked away standing upright.”
Many older folks are bent over with arthritis or other infirmities of the spine. Many use a walker or are confined to a wheelchair. How these people relate to the world given their limitations is a decision they make, to embrace or reject the changes going on as they age. Their bodies may be bent over, but their spirits are not broken. We have several members in their 9th decade. They are joyful, happy people for the most part. Henry Smith lives now with his daughter in Henderson and is one of the joyful people I know. His hearing is going and he walks a little slowly, but he continues to have a positive outlook on life. He embraces each day as a gift from God and takes things as they come with a smile on his face and a skip in his step.
Another one of our 90 something’s is Elmer Hester. He is also hard of hearing and walks a little slowly. He lives with family and is waiting to meet Jesus. He has been ready for several years and continues to keep up with our church via our bulletins and newsletters as well as the weekly sermons that I sent to him. Although he is ready to go, he realizes that he is still here for a reason. I suspect he is here to be a witness to his family to the love of God and the joy of Christian community.
As we get closer to Jesus it is not uncommon that our fear increases. “We don’t want to lose control over our bodies, minds and the plans we have for our lives. Also, we despise the idea of being a burden to other people.” Although we are raised to seek independence to a fault, in our later years it is a fact that we will need help. “The idea of being a burden – of not contributing to others and to society – weighs heavily on us, especially as we venture into frail or even ill elderhood.”
As difficult as it is to get used to ears that don’t hear well and eyes that don’t see clearly; the good news is that God still hears and sees us and we are still able to see and hear God. Our senses for the divine increases as we grow older. As our sense of sight and hearing fade it is known that other senses will pick up the slack. I believe that it is in those times in our life that our spiritual sense is heightened. Through the forced isolation of poor eyesight and limited hearing we are given ample opportunity to speak to the Lord and to hear his voice, calling us forward.
I’d like to close with this short reading entitled, “What Purpose God?”
“I confess that there are days when pain suffocates my passion for living. There are dark nights when fear chokes out hope. Sometimes I wonder why you have left me on this earth. I have outlived so many family and friends. Why do I linger? What purpose could you have for me now? Look at my hands. Once strong and sure, they are unsteady and frail. My mind, once quick and incisive, now falters under the weight of names and faces. What real purpose do I serve knitting away the hours, surfing the channels, dozing through the afternoon? Then your Spirit stirs my heart and convicts my soul. You are not a wasteful God! The length of my earthly days is a mystery to me, about one thing I know for sure. You have created me with an eternal purpose. How can I be more like Christ today? Whose life can I touch with kindness? Lord, give me an extra measure of grace when I feel that I’m too old to be useful. Help me take my limitations in stride as I search for opportunities to serve you. My purpose has not withered away with another birthday. It is rooted in eternity.” Amen.
Let us pray:
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference. Living one day at a time; enjoying one moment at a time; accepting hardships as the pathway to peace; taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it; trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His Will; that I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with Him forever in the next. Amen.
 https://www.agingcare.com/Articles/Funniest-Caregiver-Stories-143989.htm Accessed April 6, 2016.
 Thibault, Jane Marie & Richard L. Morgan. Pilgrimage into the Last Third of Life. 7 Gateways to Spiritual Growth. Upper Room Books, Nashville. 2012. Page 46.
 Ibid, Page 43
 Ibid, Page 40-41
 Ibid, page 42.
 Ibid, 42
 Buchanan, Missy. Living with Purpose in a Worn-out Body. Spiritual Encouragement for Older Adults. Upper Room Books, Nashville, TN. Page 11-12.