Celebrating our senior members: Learning from the elderly

As in life, the elderly or senior members of the New Apostolic Church have always been regarded as the backbone of the congregation. They are rich in experiences of faith, endurance and are great examples of love. This February in the NAC, South East Africa region, we celebrated our senior members, who have remained steadfast through the most difficult of times and who continue to encourage others with their unwavering support. Many activities, special gatherings and outings, have been scheduled this month, honouring this highly-esteemed element of the church’s membership to show appreciation and love.

As the international NAC theme for 2014 is Labour in Love, I began thinking about the importance of the elderly, and if South Africans in general, revere and take care of our aged population. Do we appreciate and love them for the strides and contributions they have made to the church and society? Do we truly learn from their wisdom? In addition to our spiritual guidance, do we ask the elderly for advice and assistance, given that they have also walked the path many young people do today?  Do we honour and respect that they are rich in perception and insight, and do we understand the impact their experiences can have on or lives?

There is so much we can learn from our elders who have a lifetime of experiences to share with us — if only we take the time to listen says Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, The wisdom of our Elders. “Learning from the past is important not only for humanity as a whole, but also for every individual. Just as nations can learn valuable lessons from the history of previous generations, so too, can we learn from those who have come before us.” There is a treasure chest of gems just waiting to be discovered, he continues, and we can learn much from the people of the Bible and from the many biographies out there. “The study of history is not about learning facts as much as it is about learning lessons from the past. Scripture teaches, “Remember the days of old; consider the generations long past.” The Bible tells us to study history so that we will learn from it. But let us never overlook the gift of the elderly in our own lives. We can learn from them so that our lives will be better; then we can pass on their lessons as well as our own to future generations.”

Learning from our elders cuts across various paths in our life, even in the professional domain, where many of today’s young people generally believe they are smarter than their senior counterparts. Phil Holberton, Respect your elders, learning from retired professionals says whether we are beginning our careers, halfway through, or playing the last couple of holes of this golf tournament we call work, we can always benefit from those who have gone before us – particularly retired professionals. Retired professionals, he adds, have invariably experienced the same thoughts, questions, doubts, insecurities, successes, etc., that we are experiencing or have experienced. “How wonderful it is to see a road map from others to help us along our own journey. Don’t get caught in a common trap, however. Don’t be too proud to not ask for help from someone you might think is “over the hill”. Usually when a thought like that crosses our mind it indicates we need some experienced help sooner rather than later,” he says.

I came across an article referencing a book entitled, 30 Lessons for Living.  The book offers practical advice from more than 1 000 elderly people from different economic, educational and occupational strata in America. Here is a summary of their thoughts which resonates with many other stories heard from our elders

ON MARRIAGE A satisfying marriage that lasts a lifetime is more likely to result when partners are fundamentally similar and share the same basic values and goals. Although romantic love initially brings most couples together, what keeps them together is an abiding friendship, an ability to communicate, willingness to give and take, and a commitment to the institution of marriage as well as to each other.

An 89-year-old woman who was glad she stayed in her marriage even though her young husband’s behaviour was adversely affected by his military service said, “Too many young people now are giving up too early, too soon.

ON CAREERS Not one person in a thousand said that happiness accrued from working as hard as you can to make money to buy whatever you want. Rather, the near-universal view was summed up by an 83-year-old former athlete who worked for decades as an athletic coach and recruiter: “The most important thing is to be involved in a profession that you absolutely love, and that you look forward to going to work to every day.”

Although it can take a while to land that ideal job, you should not give up looking for one that makes you happy. Meanwhile, if you’re stuck in a bad job, try to make the most of it until you can move on. And keep in mind that a promotion may be flattering and lucrative but not worth it if it takes you away from what you most enjoy doing.

ON PARENTING The demands of modern life often have a negative effect on family life, especially when economic pursuits limit the time parents spend with their children. Most important, the elders said, is to spend more time with your children, even if you must sacrifice to do so.

Share in their activities, and do things with them that interest them. Time spent together enables parents to detect budding problems and instill important values.

While it’s normal to prefer one child over others, it is critical not to make comparisons and show favouritism. Discipline is important when needed, but physical punishment is rarely effective and can result in children who are aggressive and antisocial.

ON AGING “Embrace it. Don’t fight it. Growing older is both an attitude and a process,” an 80-year-old man said. The experts’ advice to the young: “Don’t waste your time worrying about getting old.”

How wonderful it must feel to finally reach this level of understanding and acceptance. From now onwards, let’s embrace our senior members and the elderly, learning from their experiences and wisdom, and ensuring that we apply their lessons to our lives to live a more spiritual and meaningful life.

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