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Refusing the Patterns of Age

In nature, every season is proper.

The hard frozen ground of winter accomplishes purposes which are unique. The same is true of the unrelenting rain in the spring, the brutal heat and humidity of summer and the melancholy death of foliage in the fall.

But, have you noticed how the natural seasons, at some point, always cut across our preferences?

We want the rains of April to just stop so we can picnic in the park, and we beg the skies for rain in the July heat. We want a white Christmas, but if it comes, two weeks later we are so tired of that blanket of snow. It seems that we are drastically out of step with the natural seasons.

Adding to that dissonance, our consumerist culture values people and generations according to their market value. All products and services have a "prime demographic" of buyers.

One of the great tragedies of modern life is that we have imposed a market model on our relationships. For example, one way to make money from those still in the womb is to kill them. So, they become the market for the abortion industry.

At the other end of that market spectrum, what do we do with those who have quit buying because of their advanced age?

I do understand and appreciate the essential service providing by nursing homes; 70-year-old children cannot physically care for parents in their 90s. But, in our self-centered culture, convenience also drives a speedy disposal of the elderly; we efficiently sweep them out of our homes, churches and communities. They too often end up in the dustpan of institutions.

To follow Christ is to live in, and according to the values of, an alternate society. We should literally be agents of heaven on earth. And a very real part of that alternate society is to refuse the patterns of the age in fondness for those that are eternal.

From the very young to the very old, we should honor people in every season of life. When we find ourselves failing to honor it is usually a sign that our heart needs a tune-up from the Lord.

Honor

For most of his life, my grandfather worked a 160- acre farm in Pratt County, Kan. Incredibly, he and Grandma pulled enough out of the soil of that little place to raise 11 children. Even through the Great Depression and Dust Bowl of the 1930s.

Maple Chinn was one of the strongest men I ever knew. Bolts and nuts which defied large wrenches just gave up when he pinched them. In his mid-90s, Grandpa was like a weathered old fence post sticking out of prairie sod…bent but still rugged and strong in all kinds of weather.

As he drew near the century mark, Grandpa's waning strength and vitality finally reduced his realm to a twin bed in a nursing home. But, even then, he remained a vital part of family life. Family members — in several generations — spent time with him every day. A deep river of honor flowed right through his room.

The last time I saw him was December 1994 when our family drove from Virginia to spend the Christmas season in Pratt. One afternoon, I picked up a John Deere calendar for 1995 and dropped by his room later that evening to hang it on his wall. Since we were leaving the next morning, I hoped to visit with him a while. But, when I arrived, his lights were out and Grandpa was asleep. In the darkened room, I quietly hung the calendar and silently prayed for this man I so dearly cherished.

And then, he rolled over, looked at me, and began to speak. Despite a debilitating stroke, his voice was strong and clear, "Ed, you have a beautiful wife and children. You are doing a good work. The blessing of God be upon you and your family and your work forever." Then, he turned to the wall and went back to sleep. I stood in stunned silence. Those were the last words I ever heard him speak.

I had always honored him. And, now that honor came pouring back to me. The blessing released on me could not have come from anyone else. He was the patriarch. The man and the moment were supremely important in the transmission of heritage.

I've so often thought of the contrast between how the market economy viewed Maple Chinn and the way God loved — and used — him at almost 100 years old. In the eyes of God, Grandpa's value grew more beautiful and vigorous as he approached the end of his life.

If we accept the natural beauty and appropriateness of all life seasons, we will discover that abounding life never diminishes. It burns bright even as we cross over from this life into the next.

Surely, a part of living in the alternate society of God's people in the earth is to realize that no one is marginalized or devalued because of their age. The vitality given by God serves our family in each unique season of life.

Releasing the Blessing

Naturally, I have learned a great deal from my parents. But, I am amazed to realize how much I learned from my grandparents. I know about gathering eggs, milking a cow, driving a tractor, plowing a field, saddling a horse, hunting with dogs and many other things from my grandparents.

That impartation of heritage continued even my grandparents' eighth and ninth decades. And, now I clearly see the markings of my and Joanne's parents on our children.

Genesis 48 tells the story of Jacob's blessing of his grandsons. When Jacob saw Ephraim and Manasseh (apparently for the first time), he told his son — and their father — Joseph, "Bring them to me and I will bless them." He did not tell Joseph to bless them, but knew the importance of doing it himself — as their grandfather.

It seems that the "elixir" of heritage grows stronger and purer as we age. The accumulated wisdom and familial essence and spiritual estate increase to great potency in the aged. So, when their great and gnarled hands touch the heads of younger people and the Spirit of the Lord animates their vocal chords, something very substantial is passed on.

The shallowness and superficiality of our age has dulled us to this reality.

Surely, the honor of imparting and releasing the mystery of heritage to younger generations is the crown of the abounding life.