Sunday, October 31, 2010

Your Aging Parent Can't Attend Church? Tips to Foster Her Spiritual Health

Perhaps in days gone by your aging parent faithfully attended church. His or her devotion to God leavened every part of life: from praying and reading scripture, to visiting the sick, to serving and giving financially to the church or synagogue.

Today health issues may make church attendance impossible. Yet there are other ways to encourage your aging parent in his or her walk with God. Everyone is different, though, so I suggest you ask your parent, "How would you like to try ...?" before proceeding with any of the following ideas.

Some I've used some with my own parents. Other ideas come from adult children in the retirement and nursing homes where I've worked.

1. Your aging parent needs spiritual community. Worshiping God doesn't usually occur in a vacuum. If your parent has a connection with a congregation, a minister may arrange person in-home visits. Catholic parishes often train lay eucharistic ministers to take communion to the elderly. If your parent lives in an assisted living or nursing home, check into scheduled worship services, Bible studies or rosary groups.

2. Your aging parent needs inspiration. For many, the comforting words of the Bible are an anchor of hope in the midst of pain and suffering. When Daddy was struggling with Parkinson's in a nursing home halfway across the country, our family recorded his favorite Scripture verses. He enjoyed listening as our voices read those familiar, beautiful words. Other sources of inspiration for your aging parent are large print copies of devotional and inspirational magazines including, "The Upper Room," and "Guideposts." Inspirational DVDs, radio and television programs can also help fill the spiritual gap.

3. Your aging parent may need to be needed. Does that sound funny? As a retired minister, my dad wanted to continue to serve, even though his body didn't always cooperate. The Nurse Manager on the night shift called him when other residents showed anxiety. His prayers had a calming affect. Depending on your parent's physical and mental condition, his or her spiritual gifts may range from a thank-you note to a pastor, to a get-well-card to a friend who is hospitalized, to a hug and a knowing smile that says, without words, "God is here." And don't forget their prayers. My parents prayed for me and my family daily, and I was blessed.

4. Your aging parent may surprise you. Sometimes dormant faith springs to new life when nurtured, even in an older person. The mother of a friend was very religious in her early years, but shelved her faith in mid-life. Not long ago, at the invitation of a friend, she began attending church once again, exhibiting newfound fervor. "God works in mysterious ways," my friend says.

How have you endeavored to support your parent spiritually?

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