I read your booklet on Running the Last Lapse. It is very informative and good for church leaders (especially zone leaders) to have a copy each to use it as a Guide when visiting sick and or elderly members. This will break the taboo on this topic.
It is also good for Small Group leaders to use it for discussion and be better prepared to use it more frequently among the younger population. The elderly need their understanding and care while alive. We live in an increasingly aging society in the world. Further, it can be read by any age group for time and tide wait for no one.
Yes, it is true that there are many elderly Christians who still fear death. But we must all be ready to go with Jesus when He calls us to the home He has prepared for us! Read John 14 to be convinced that heaven is a desired place. Hence, loss of loved ones will not seem gloomy any more even though we need to and should grieve in a healthy manner.
Glory be to God!
Former Principle of Pillay Institute
Member of Trinity Methodist Church
Before we discuss the issue on the last lapse of life, we need to look at the various factors that are intricately intertwined with a human life. Hence the ensuing issues of human life in general…
Schematic Representation of the Possible Influences on a Person’s Life
from the Time of His/Her Conception till His Departure from this World.
The above diagram illustrates the people and nature that significantly influence our lives to various degrees while we are alive in this world. Though they may be with us for a season only, they are real. However, The Creator God always exists and always influences His creation, including human beings, till He chooses otherwise. Some people who do not have a personal relationship with Him or ignore Him call Him the unknown highest being or the imaginary non-existent God. This is sad, for it is from Him, through Him that we are who we are, and it is to Him that we are accountable and to whom we belong.
Let us listen to the words of an ancient wise man as he verbalized his observations of human life on earth …
Solomon expressed in Ecclesiastes 3:1-8
“For everything there is a season, and a time for
every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
… a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to throw away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silent, and a time to speak; … a time for war, and a time for peace.”
In a similar manner, let us observe and discuss the development of a person through his earthly life, generally of three score and ten years. Better awareness of nutrition, exercise and self-discipline, however, has managed to provide a longer life span. But other factors like obesity and stress, for whatever reason, tend to reduce it in the developed or developing world.
Further, though we are born into a community, we often forget that we will also die in a community one day. Much as we sometimes dislike people, we cannot escape from them. A friend of mine tried to live alone and led a miserable life. What happened to her opened my eyes to further appreciate others around me. We all need one another in this existence, whether we like it or not.
Development of a Person through the 8 Stages of Human Life
The childhood developmental stages are adapted from the findings of psychological research from scientists such as Jean Piaget and Erik Erikson. As far as I can, I have tried to pick out those discoveries about the human being that are in accordance with OR not contradictory to Biblical principles. I need to add that while God sees every view clearly, the science of psychology looks at people from a limited and tainted earthly view only. The latter is only part of the general revelation that God has given to us. Therefore, the latter view, if used wisely, is also a gift and tool from God to help us understand ourselves better. In case a particular reader rejects psychology (the scientific study of the mind, emotions and human behavior) as unbiblical (at one extreme) or accepts anything that comes from such studies as the whole truth about man (the other extreme), please let me explain the difference between scientific and biblical principles.
Science, as a subject, is…
“…systematised knowledge derived from observation, study, and experimentation carried on in order to determine the nature or principles of what is being studied.”
(Webster’s New World Dictionary).
Usually, an observation is first made of something that a scientist wishes to study. Then he collects more data in order to obtain a more valid picture of his discovery. After that, a hypothesis is made to summarise his findings in order for him to repeat certain steps in experiments in order to obtain more data. If the same results are obtainable by the same methods, then the hypothesis he started with has developed into a theory. If not, then he will have to modify his hypothesis and so on. When a theory has been discovered to be repeatedly consistent, a principle is drawn from it.
A scientific principle, therefore, is dependent on what is repeatable and provable. It does not touch on what it cannot know through such honest scientific methods, such as whether a person is morally responsible for telling a lie or not. Scientific knowledge covers what is known through observation and experiments.
Biblical principles, on the other hand, are derived from the knowledge of what God chooses to reveal to the world.
This includes scientific discovery as well as non-scientific ones such as the Scriptures, God’s constant still small voice speaking to His people, gifts of knowledge and signs and wonders.
In a frequently shared testimony of a man’s conversion experience, he may describe in words what happened to him and how he felt when God touched him. He could have felt sad when convicted of personal sin and repented before the Saviour.
A scientist who is studying the same man’s conversion experience, on the other hand, may attach electrodes to his brain and take his pulse rate and blood pressure regularly in order to find out how he physically responds to such an experience.
Both sets of knowledge may be valid to describe what happens at his conversion. But each is looking at it from a different angle, depending on what each is looking for. The scientist cannot tell whether the conversion is genuine or not because that is in the realm of the reality of faith in the invisible God who cannot be known unless He reveals Himself to man. The Christian, however, is not worried whether his pulse rate increases during the time of conviction of sin; he is only overwhelmed that the holy God could and would forgive him all his sins and make him His beloved child through the atonement of Jesus, the sacrificial Lamb of God.
Note: The length of one’s life stages varies from person to person in details.
Acceptance (through his mother or mother figure)
|II.||Birth-1 year: Infancy||
Security (he feels safe through a constant mother or mother figure who emotionally bonds with him)
|III.||1-3 years: Early Childhood||
Independence (needs to feel detached emotionally in order to become independent healthily)
|3-6 years: Early Childhood||
Initiative (Morality) (through trail and error, he learns to conform to adults’ expectations)
|IV.||6-12 years: Late Childhood||
Sublimation (he learns to obey in order to more accepted intentionally)
|V.||12-20 years: Adolescence||
Upheaval (learns to adapt to become an adult with related responsibilities)
|VI.||20-40 years: Young Adulthood||
Search for a home (he works toward caring for a family or a others surrounding him)
|VII.||40-60 years: Middle-age||
Peak-Plateau (he works to achieve stability in family and outside society)
|VIII||Over 60 year: Old Age||
Stress (he is slowing down to enjoy the fruits of his labour and rethink his priorities)
The above Key words signify the most significant milestone for the particular stage of life that a person usually reaches before he is mature enough to handle the next stage of growth amicably. However, time moves on; whether he acquire that maturity for each stage or not, he still moves on, but often with a sort of subconscious craving to get back to that unresolved stage in order to be more whole and secure as a person.
In assessing today’s society among those born in the 21st century or just before, especially in yet developing nations, like Malaysia, the classification of their life stages seems to have shifted. Many who are more educated and middle-class appear to have matured earlier mentally, emotionally and physically. However, the staging of spiritual maturity does not necessarily follow the chronological age, though related.
For the sake of our present discussion, we shall begin by discussing the middle and old age stages. We also need to study the consequences of the inevitable processes of dying and death.
Let us start from the middle-age stage of life as the younger ones often do not think it relevant to talk about preparation to leave this world yet. If they are interested, information is easily available online in e.g. psychology textbooks on those younger than middle-age.
40-60 Year Old Adult
Common characteristics of those at this stage of life
Having reached a peak, and done much of the good they want to do in society, the middle-aged may want their names to go down in history. Have you observed how many of those who have been honoured in society are in this age group?
They are concerned with the long-term welfare of family members e.g. teenage children and elderly parents. Where one group needs them less, the other may need them more.
They have reached a plateau in many of their life relationships e.g. at home, in the local church, at work or in society. Physical weakness may be showing.
As they near 50, they may be thinking about retirement plans or changes in lifestyle. The empty-nest syndrome hits many women as a stark reality in these modern days of nuclear families. Sexual temptations can become suddenly real, especially if husband-wife relationships have not been constantly nurtured in the earlier years.
Some women face difficult menopausal changes in addition to the other common changes. Medical help is available these days though I often wonder how our mothers sailed through those hormonal changes without much fuss. Perhaps woman-to-woman relationships were much stronger then and mutual support was more easily available.
Men seem to be hit harder by post-retirement changes as they tend to receive their affirmation from outside the home rather than from inside. If their security is basically dependent on others’ affirmation, the sudden loss of a significant social position can be rather devastating. Some, foreseeing this problem, seek for a new job before retirement so as not to feel left in a vacuum socially. Those involved in social or church work will definitely fare better psychologically as they are still needed, mostly as volunteers, to do much needed good works (Revelations 19:6-8).
Dangers during this stage:
“With increasing industrialisation and urbanisation, the middle class family is mobile, tends to live in apartments or small houses while both husband and wife often work. The nuclear family thus becomes separated from the parental generation, with the result that caring for our elderly relative becomes realistically difficult even if the desire to do so is present. Old people who cannot afford private home care thus tend to seek or be directed toward public institutional care.”
(Though the above is taken from a book on psychiatry, mentioning a quote from social workers’ research in the 60’s in western developed nations, the scenario is currently becoming common in developing Malaysia.)
However, for believers, we can see the vast potential for Christian work for those
planning for retirement. Their wisdom, skills and experience in life are assets to help their younger brothers and sisters in Christ - in pastoral counselling and care, in baby - sitting, in being foster parents and foster grandparents, in material sharing, etc. How beautiful
will be the community of His children then!
Beyond 60 Year Old Adult
Summary of Major Events:
|Time for reflection leads to|
|which leads to|
Dying & Death
Does the above description of the position of the elderly sound familiar? Is it taken from a page of a current issue of our Malaysian newspapers? No! It is quoted from one of my undergraduate medical textbooks written in the early 70’s, for the American society. Yet, is it not as relevant for us who live in the 21st century today…in Malaysia?
As part of the household of Jehovah Jireh, God our Provider, we need to think ahead of our responsibilities towards our aging parents and the lonely neglected in church or society in general. For some, it may be the need for long-term caring. In traditional Asian teaching about the family, family ties are still strong enough to hold us together. The pursuit of personal wealth and health can, however, ruin tradition. Traditions may be good servants, like fire, but are often bad masters (I Timothy 6:10).
The test of our love for God is love for man. We need to realise that taking care of our elderly parents may be harder than taking care of our small children as they must be treated with extra tact and respect (especially if they are your spouse’s relatives). Most elderly people would regard those about 20 years younger than they are as children. At times they may be over-demanding. However, Scriptures clearly state that obedience to God includes taking care of those in need, especially those in our natural and spiritual families.
At this period of our national and social progress, we already see that aging does not always mean a decline in emotional balance or mental alertness. Many take on new challenges in research or business after they retire from their first vocation. However, some do find the changing psycho-social, economic and physical changes a bit too much for them to continue at their earlier pace. For these dear ones, the cumulative effects of such stresses sometimes land them with some common signs and symptoms of the aging process.
Summary of Stresses for the Aging Adult
e.g. osteoarthritis, decreased motor function, heart diseases, visual changes, skin changes. However, many perform well until some precipitating event is encountered e.g. a heart attack, or an operation or a fracture is encountered.
(if funds have not been budgeted for old age e.g. medical and housing needs)
(the response to retirement varies from person to person and usually depends on certain factors, such as:
a. the strength of identity of the man or woman.
b. the personality and earlier social status of the person
c. the willingness or the ability of the person to be flexible in adapting to environmental changes.
In some individuals, much preparation is needed to help them accept retirement with grace or they may become depressed while sliding rapidly in intellectual and physical health. In his book, ‘The Fight’ Chapter 10, Dr. John White urged Christians who are retiring to ask themselves:
“How am I going to spend more time in Bible Study, prayer and service for God?”
“How can I become wealthier and/or enjoy myself more?”
Problems of the Three D’s in Old Age
The intolerance of becoming dependent on others may produce behaviour opposite to that of depression. The elderly person may be hyper-independent to the point of being too proud to receive help when necessary. Many are not happy to live with relatives if they have adequate income. I was told of an elderly wealthy man who spends six months of the year with his son’s family in Britain and the other six months in a rented room in Kuala Lumpur. When he is in Malaysia, he happily walks around with a stick (having survived a stroke) to eat at the hawker stalls
Generally, if dependency needs have not been resolved since childhood (e.g. having to emotionally cope with overprotective parents by trying to get away from them during younger days), the elderly may experience more problems with increasing states of dependency. They may be reluctant to depend on others because they will then feel inferior or they are afraid of later rejection. At times they react by becoming over-dependent on others. Feelings of uselessness may lead to depression, apathy, anxiety and anger.
This is to be taken seriously (e.g. suicidal attempt, even if mentioned casually) as the vicious cycle of emotional stresses could have been going on for some time. Such attitudes may be prevented through:
3. Dying and Death
The usual attitude to such words is one of fear and helplessness. Hence, if the person is healthy, rationalisation is often used as a major defence:
“I am not going to die for a long time yet. What is there to worry about? I can take care of myself. Leave me alone to do what I like!”
If ill, conscious denial is more common. Women, on the whole, have been observed to adapt to old age with its proximity to death more easily than men. Maybe it is because women have learnt to accept their vulnerability and mortality better than men. (Could this be due to the fact that women are regarded as the weaker gender and so subconsciously accept their limitations easier?)
This leads us to ponder over our feelings at the prospect of meeting our Saviour Jesus face to face. As God’s children, do we see death as the gateway to that oneness with Him, where His maturity is passed on to us completely? Do we see the reality of being free from the natural physical degeneration which often poses as a threat to our well-being on this earth? Do we believe that:
Applications that May Aid the Aged
Write a review of your past life with Jesus by your sidee. It may be painful but it may also be therapeutic, according to whether you know God’s power to forgive, cleanse, heal and renew. God is here to change everything into good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28-39).
Seek God’s re-commissioning for His work e.g. as missionaries in own church, neighbourhod or country, as social workers, as counsellors and elders in church and organisations or through the home, as foster parents for young people with yet non-Christian parents who rejected them or whose parents have passed away or are just not available.
Prepare for the meeting with death by talking about it with good friends or family members. Take time to say good-bye to loved ones when the time to depart seems imminent, such as in the case of terminal illness. This process may be dark and frightening unless one is resting in the assurance of a place in his Father’s house.
A Prayer BY the Younger Ones
Lord, grant us love for our elderly relatives and older brothers and sisters in Christ.
Forgive us when we view ourselves better than them.
Help us see them as precious in Your sight, needing as much tender loving care as the younger ones.
Teach us to pray for them by name.
Grant, dear Lord, that they will, by Your presence with them, accept the changes that may come with aging and entrust their lives to their faithful Creator.
Grant us also the humility to learn from them.
For those who are frail, Lord, give us grace to care for them for You, and, finally, to usher them joyfully into Your glorious Presence with victory in Jesus Christ our Lord!
For Further Reflection
Q. How many of us are fed up with life as it is? Be transparent.
Q. How many of us want to live as long as possible in this world order, no matter what happens?
Old age comes to different people at different times. It used to be at 50 years when we reach retirement age in government service. Now it is 60. In developed countries, the citizens retire at 60 decades ago and now it is at 65. This last stage of earthly life sort of dawns on us slowly and often invisibly. We feel it is too late to prepare for many targeted activities. We begin to realise we do not look like our daughters any longer! Like it or not, certain fashion just do not fit the older age groups. Nevertheless the changes are real.
But what a relief for some as our duty on earth is almost over. This is more pronounced for those who feel the weight of the burdens they carry. For those who have something to achieve, it is a race against time e.g. bringing up children well, accumulating enough resources for the next generation, etc. No matter how we respond to the reality of dying one day, we suddenly are aware of our days on earth. We may consider writing our wills if we have anything to spare. We may want to say to our loved ones what is truly in our hearts or even book a burial plot so as not to burden our children. Have not God blessed us with more than we need compared to our parents’ time?
Comparatively, the younger ones may ask loudly or silently, at some time in their teenage stage,
“Why study at all when all we do is repeat the processes that our parents went through…grow up, study hard, get married and have jobs, bring up children, see them grow up with enough food and lodging and repeat the human process all over again!” History repeats itself, so we think and experience. What is being alive all about on this side of death? Why do we want to live longer at all?
However, most people refuse to think about their meaning in life, I find, because it can be too frightening, depressing or confusing to ponder on the results of such soul searching. Nevertheless, one thing that defines how we live and die depends on the choices we make every day.
Purpose in living on earth is actually to go on a pilgrimage:
Why must we know about dying and death as part of our life stages?
It is God’s good intention that we know where we will be going after death so that we could see the perspective of the Creator as He interacts with us on a daily basis; so that we may understand His love for us and His longing for His lost creation, of which we are a part (John 14:1-6). In this way, we will be motivated to prepare to meet Him with joyful anticipation. We will NOT be fearful of the future, come what may; even when we are afraid we can help one another and remind one another that the loss of youthful energy and earthly life will be over soon. We will be home with our Father and Elder Brother Jesus Christ (Hebrews 9:27- 28).
We are created for God’s glory, for the glory of Him who delights in us (Isaiah 43:1-7; Proverbs 8:27-31). We fell into sin (Genesis 3) but He has sent His only Son to save us (John 3:3, 3:16-17) so that we are born again into His family, as is His original plan. Jesus is waiting for us in His home which will be our home also.
It frees His beloved children from unnecessary fears of loss of youthful dreams, fads, properties, being left alone and the anticipation of the approaching unknown death (Matthew 6:19-21; Luke 12:13-48).
It lifts off our burdens to maintain earthly life as long as possible when our time comes to leave this world to rest in the everlasting arms of One who welcomes us into His Father’s house. This does not mean we do not do our best to be alive and healthy or grieve when our love ones and friends depart due to the fallen nature of our old bodies and world. Death is a bad event never to be taken lightly. But for those who have been born again into God’s wider family, it is a matter of a change of address to the place prepared for us by Jesus Himself!
Living in Two Worlds at the Same Time
Ours is a temporal visible world in which exists:
Time-Space reality --- yesterday - memories Real/Unreal (fantasy)
--- today - current now Real, Realistic
--- Future - plan loosely Real/Unreal (fantasy)
In this world
*** it is important to realise that what we want will stop one day
e.g. to be able to enjoy our children’s presence, grandchildren’s laughter, good food/teeth
and beautiful houses while what we do NOT want seems to keep coming to us e.g.
arthritis, accidents and missing of friends and relatives. What is left of us when we
cannot recognise our spouse’s face even though we look normal outwardly?
We are NOT in charge, the Creator God is!
On the other hand, consider the invisible but lasting world. Indeed, we cannot yet grasp its time or space.
*** it is important to realise that what we want will not STOP (Revelations 21:1-4) e.g.
health, love and friendship
what we don’t want will not be there e.g. broken hearts, sickness, loneliness, fears of being robbed.
How Then Shall We Live Now?
We are in this world yet not belonging to this world forever and we are also citizens of the invisible world which lasts forever.
Q. Therefore, where should our energy, money and time be mostly channelled?
Know what Jesus prayed for us
24 Read John 17 to know Jesus’ mind
To know Him and to make Him known as much as possible for the love of God
and His longing for a lost humanity.
Be prepared to be Jesus’ bride (Revelations 19:6-8; Luke 12:13-48) by
Eagerly wait to meet our Bridegroom Jesus Christ! (1Thessalonians 4:13-5:11)
Hurray! There is no reason to be gloomy from today…
Sing a chorus from the late Billy Graham’s Crusade…
“Heaven is a wonderful place
Filled with glory and grace
I want to see my Saviour’s face
Heaven is a wonderful place!”
Finally, be comforted because, if we view history from His end, the time before His coming actually decreases. Therefore, wake up and get up to do our Christian duties till Jesus comes personally to take us home. It may be today, tomorrow or longer still!!!