Responsibly Caring For The Elderly

What is there to teach about Widow and Elderly Care?

The Bible is explicit about our responsibility to care for widows, orphans and immigrants, the vulnerable population of any society. In Deuteronomy, God describes himself as one “who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing," (10:18). In the New Testament, James equates the care of widows in distress as “pure and undefiled religion,” (James 4:27).

Anna is a student of the Widow and Elderly Care class. Before she took the class she was doing the work of Elderly Care. Week after week, she assisted in the physical care of Mrs. Elizabeth. But it was when she picked up her guitar and softly played hymns that were familiar to Mrs. Elizabeth. that she realized the value of meeting deeper, less evident emotional needs. “She may not talk for days,” said Anna, “but when I begin to play and sing, she moves her lips and, even though it is just in a whisper, she sings the words to the song.”

Anna is a student of the Widow and Elderly Care class. Before she took the class she was doing the work of Elderly Care. Week after week, she assisted in the physical care of Mrs. Elizabeth. But it was when she picked up her guitar and softly played hymns that were familiar to Mrs. Elizabeth. that she realized the value of meeting deeper, less evident emotional needs. “She may not talk for days,” said Anna, “but when I begin to play and sing, she moves her lips and, even though it is just in a whisper, she sings the words to the song.”

With such clear biblical direction, the need to sit in a classroom and learn about Widow and Elderly Care might seem unnecessary.

“Don’t talk about it, just do it!”
“How much education do you need to take care of the elderly? Just visit and talk to them, loudly, of course." 
"Help them with their personal hygiene. Prepare meals or help feed them.
Clean up their house.
Repair things that are broken.”

Elderly Care is easily stereotyped in this way and the resulting care is predictable. Too often, the elderly are treated like children whose needs are addressed with little consideration for what they want or need. Care that does not address the physical, emotional, spiritual, and social needs of another human being is not the kind of care that the Bible encourages. The focus in our Widow and Elderly Care class at the Institute for G.O.D. is the way we care for the widows and elderly.

At one time or another, all of us will be faced with the realities of care and old age, whether it is taking care of an aging parent, a widowed neighbor, or finding yourself in the position of being cared for by another.  Understanding what another person needs is critical to giving good care. When Jesus healed a crippled woman, he restored her physically, emotionally and socially—setting her free from her ailment, acknowledging her worth as part of the family of God, and integrating her back into society by releasing her from social expectations that kept her in bondage (Luke 13:10-17). Just taking care of physical needs is rarely enough. When people are older and dependent on caregivers, their once strong voice is minimized. Through our studies, we learn to hear that voice so that we can meet all of the needs of the elderly—not only those that are on the surface.

Rosemary Sherrod is a beloved teacher at the Institute that specializes in history, anthropology and elderly care. 

Rosemary Sherrod is a beloved teacher at the Institute that specializes in history, anthropology and elderly care. 

John Nyago from Uganda is able to offer a developing world perspective in the Widow and Orphan Care class.  

John Nyago from Uganda is able to offer a developing world perspective in the Widow and Orphan Care class.  

When a group of college-age students sit in a class about caring for Widows and Elderly, they quickly fast forward to the place where their own parents are in need of assistance. “Honor your father and mother” is God’s command to adult children. As adults, we discuss this biblical mandate in light of a variety of considerations such as proximity, the caregiver’s stage in life (particularly caregivers that are taking care of parents while raising young children), health, finances, vocational pursuit, elderly rights, culture and ethics. We compare and contrast paradigms of senior care that exist, including those that are ‘trendy’ due to our tech-savvy culture. We discuss ethical dilemmas that challenge our culturally-oriented responses. We learn to search the scriptures for principles of care and apply those principles to specific scenarios.  

All while we are learning, we are doing. Our organization has been serving the widows and elderly in our neighborhood for over 7 years. Assignments that consist of widow and elderly care are not manufactured classroom projects  —they are part of what we do on a regular basis. We see and meet the needs of our neighbors in the best way we can. The classroom experience is providing us the opportunity to learn how best to serve.

I love this class. I have felt empowered, challenged, enlightened, etc. The kind of awareness I have gained has (in a good way) exposed my inadequacy in dealing with the widows and the elderly, and it has challenged me to learn more and think deeply about widows and elderly care.
— John Nyago, Institute student