Long ago and far away, elders were called patriarchs. Their names are familiar: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob. And their stories, told in the Bible, loom larger than life. These men made the nation of Israel out of nothing. At life's end, they gathered their extended family around for possibly their biggest accomplishment of all: the blessing.
The elder addressed each grown child by name, listing strengths and weaknesses, and foretelling what God would do in that person's life. Today your aging parent has that same opportunity. He or she has blessings to bestow on you and the rest of your family. But it may take a little coaxing to persuade your parent to talk about faith and his or her dreams for your family.
Seniors are the most religious group in our nation. According to Jane W. Barton, MTS, MASM, an instructor in the national Certified Senior Advisor Program, seniors attend religious services more and volunteer more than other age groups. The church is second only to the family in its influence on seniors.
Yet elders differ in the ways they share their faith and offer blessings to the younger generations. For every evangelistic one, like my Grandpa Harley, who prayed aloud so long that we kids made sure we visited the bathroom before he started so as not to have an accident, and whose last day on earth was spent mowing the church lawn and praying for his pastor, there are countless quieter folks. "Guideposts," a well-known national inspirational magazine, ran a feature for years called "Quiet People." These people stand in the gap, helping in those in need, with prayers, hugs, conversation and sweat and little fanfare.
In our home, my parents' periodic visits offered opportunities for them to bless us. One August, a few weeks before school started, Daddy walked with 10-year-old Timothy to the new school being built near our house. This would be Timothy's first year in public school. As we walked the empty corridors which soon would be filled with laughing children, a thought came to mind. "Daddy, could you pray for Timothy's school and all it represents: the learning, the friends, the good times?" We stopped. Daddy placed his hand on Timothy's head, and blessed him.
Fast forward many years to a nursing home in the Midwest. Daddy was dying. Many of our family had gathered. "Daddy, who do you want to pray?" I asked. No answer. I began to pray, naming each person in the room by name. Daddy uttered a rasping noise and turned his head toward my "baby" brother Jim. "The boy. The boy," Daddy said. I got it. Daddy wanted Jim to pray. Jim choked up but he did it. What a blessing.
I can't give you a "how to" on coaxing your aging parent to bless the younger folks. I certainly have missed some cues. But it seems to me that the keys to hearing, seeing and experiencing their blessing is to value them, ask for their input and pray.
Happy Father's Day!