Over the last ten years, I have watched my parents age. They stopped playing golf and darts. They stopped looking after their garden and going on holidays. They ate out more often and stopped cooking proper meals. Their house became less tidy. In due course, they moved to a nursing home. For a while, they were still able to go for drives to the lake and they still enjoyed a game of cards, but eventually they stopped doing these things as well. As they became unable to participate in activities, there was less to talk about. Their world became smaller.
Nursing homes are sad places, yet I noticed that there was one thing that always brought my parents joy. Relationships. My mother was always happy to see familiar faces and was especially pleased to see me, even when she called me by the wrong name! My father kept in touch with many people. He had an inexpensive phone deal that allowed him to ring friends and relatives overseas on a regular basis. He made friends with his hairdresser, the people who owned the local hotel and various medical people who visited the nursing home. He found out about their histories and families. He cheered up considerably when he was telling me about conversations he had with a wide variety of people.
Do we value the relationships in our lives? Do we purposely invest in them?
It’s easy to have a lot of acquaintances, especially in a culture where connection via social media is easy. But do we have friends we can ring in an emergency?
When our daughter was rushed to hospital, we were away on holidays. We rang a friend to ask if he would pick us up from the airport. He didn’t hesitate though it meant getting up at 4 am and driving an hour and a half to the airport. Such friendships are precious and worth investing in.
Do we have friends that pray for us in our daily challenges?
Paul was a great apostle but he was humble and knew he needed the prayers of others: “Finally, dear brothers and sisters, we ask you to pray for us. Pray that the Lord’s message will spread rapidly and be honored wherever it goes, just as when it came to you. Pray, too, that we will be rescued from wicked and evil people” (2 Thessalonians chapter 3 verses 1 to 2).
Do we have friends we pray for on a regular basis? Not because they have a particular need or because we are paid to minister to them, but because we have a relationship with them. Paul writes: “Ever since I first heard of your strong faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for God’s people everywhere, I have not stopped thanking God for you. I pray for you constantly, asking God, the glorious Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, to give you spiritual wisdom and insight so that you might grow in your knowledge of God” (Ephesians chapter 1 verse 15 to 17).
Do we have friends we can call when we have something to celebrate?
When God blesses us, sharing our joy with others not only encourages them, but also intensifies our own joy. John writes: “For I hope to visit you soon and talk with you face to face. Then our joy will be complete” (2 John chapter 1 verse 12). Our joy is completed when we share it with others.
The Most Important Relationship
While human relationships are good and bring much joy, there is one relationship that’s more important than all others. Solomon asked the question, “What do people get for all their hard work under the sun?” (Ecclesiastes chapter 1 verse 3).
Solomon discusses the futility of wisdom, pleasure, work, political power and wealth. He concludes with an appeal to remember God: “Remember him before the door to life’s opportunities is closed and the sound of work fades” (Ecclesiastes chapter 12 verse 4).
A relationship with God is our best investment for happiness in our later years. We are assured of his love and his concern when we can literally do nothing in return. He is available when others are not. He can bring meaning to our lives, even when we feel we are no longer able to make a valuable contribution to our world.
When you walk through a nursing home, you realise it’s not wealth or fame that will bring you joy, but rather the relationships you have invested in.
Susan Barnes has been involved in pastoral ministry for over twenty years with her husband, Ross. They are now semi-retired and enjoy supporting a number of churches in north-east Victoria. You can find more of Susan’s articles at: https://www.pressserviceinternational.org/susan-barnes.html