Are you so tired of living that you look forward to dying?
According to this recent article, that’s how many senior citizens feel. Even though they are “not seriously ill,” they still feel “a yearning to end their lives.”
Here’s one example:
Molly was 88 years old and in good health. She had outlived two husbands, her siblings, most of her friends and her only son.
“I don’t have any meaningful relationships left, dear,” she told me. “They’ve all died. And you know what? Underneath it all, I want to leave this world too.” Leaning a little closer, as though she was telling me a secret, she continued:
Shall I tell you what I am? I’m strong. I can admit to myself and to you that there’s nothing left for me here. I’m more than ready to leave when it’s my time. In fact, it can’t come quickly enough.
Molly felt like she had nothing left for her in this earthly life, especially since her family had died, so she wanted to die, too.
Another example was an older man who felt he was no longer useful:
One man of 92 told the network’s researchers:
You have no effect on anything. The ship sets sail and everyone has a job, but you just sail along. I am cargo to them. That’s not easy. That’s not me. Humiliation is too strong a word, but it is bordering on it. I simply feel ignored, completely marginalized.
Here are two basic reasons for yearning to die: a lack of meaningful relationships and a lack of meaningful work.
The article goes on to discuss the role that euthanasia might play for senior citizens who want to die: “In countries where euthanasia and assisted suicide are legal, doctors and researchers are debating whether tiredness of life meets the threshold for the sort of unceasing emotional suffering that grants people the right to euthanasia.”
What an alarming example of the culture of death. Is that the best the world can offer?
I think the churches can do better. Instead of death, we can offer life.
I believe churches should be like islands of sanity in a culture gone insane; or like colonies of heaven in the middle of a sin-sick and despairing world. Our ways of life should be different, including our approach to seniors. How so?
The obvious thing that came to mind was that every Christian is in full-time ministry. You can retire from your secular job, but you never get to retire from serving Christ. You’re here to love your neighbor and to build up the Body until the Master calls you home. You don’t have the choice not to serve. Your only option is to serve well or poorly.
Suppose a church intends to follow the New Testament pattern. In that case, it must not only encourage seniors to do ministry but also equip them “for the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ, until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of God’s Son, growing into maturity with a stature measured by Christ’s fullness” (Eph 4:12-13).
Who does ministry? The whole church, including and even especially seniors.
I am not talking about giving seniors busy work or organizing social activities for senior members of the congregation. I am referring to developing the Christian mindset that everyone in the church has a ministry to do and that there is no upper age limit on that ministry work.
How might that help?
If the two biggest reasons for healthy seniors wanting to die are a lack of meaningful relationships and a lack of meaningful work, then serving the Lord through face-to-face ministry answers both those needs. As you love your neighbor through your gifting, you will develop significant relationships with other members of the body within the church and with people being ministered to outside of the church.
But if churches create unbiblical barriers to fully-participational ministry, they will leave senior Christians feeling like the ones in the article—feeling left behind and tired of life.
Instead of being tired of life, senior Christians should be tired of being sidelined from doing the vital ministry Jesus has called them to do.
Send your questions or comments to Shawn.