“Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!” — John 21:18-19
Jesus is talking to Peter about how he will age as well as die. Of course this aging process cannot be avoided. If we are still alive, we are growing older. We may try to avoid it, or deny it. But it is there. Often we do not decline alone. We are in a family. As we age all kinds of family dynamics surface. These different world views, personalities and personal needs come together and at times perhaps clash.
If we are the caregiver of the one who is aging we have to make difficult decisions. So many things may influence our decisions. Sometimes we have a need to be needed. We may become dependent on someone else’s dependency. This may cloud our vision. We may see the aging loved one as someone who is always in need of us and overlook his abilities and contributions. Sometimes we may instead underfunction. We may be in denial of her need for care and overlook her limits, which leads to neglect.
Sometimes facing aging puts us in touch with our own mortality. At times a fear of our own death can cause us to avoid the conversation of dying that our loved one may long to share with someone.
If we have never left home or our home town we may assume the only way to care for our loved one is to live in proximity. Sometimes connection and intimacy is not about geography. I am reminded of Jesus words,
“The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, “Look, here it is!” or “There it is!” For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you.” — Luke 17:20,21
You may say, “All well and good pastor, but who is going to take him to the doctor?”
It is a delicate balance for the one who is a caregiver to offer a space for as much independence and dignity that their mobility and limits will allow while keeping them safe. This is all from the perspective of the outside, or the caregiver’s side. Maybe one of the best ways to view aging of our loved one is to practice the golden rule. How would we want to be treated?
For those who are reading this who are the ones being cared for, the ones who are aging, Jesus is speaking to you. We may be going where we do not want to go. We may have to stretch out our hands and be dressed and cared for. After years of giving it may be our time to receive. It takes patience. It is a time of surrender, whether we are ready or not it is beyond our control. We can choose how we will receive our care and how we will respond to the aid.
This is sacred ground, aging and caring for the aging. It is hard to not look around and feel we could have it better, easier. That is what Peter did when he heard this. He looked at John and asked Jesus, “What about him?” Jesus responds with “What is that to you? You follow me.” Let us walk this difficult path together with respect and dignity as we follow Christ wherever he may lead, trusting the final destination in his hands.