When God created the world He instilled in us a sense of purpose. So for life to have meaning it has to have purpose. In the daily business of our lives we don’t give it a thought until there’s a change in our circumstances, such as retirement or physical frailty that prevents us doing much at all. That’s when we begin to question our purpose. ‘I’m no use to anyone any more,’ many older people tell us. Tens of thousands of older people in the UK feel their lives are not worth living (Age UK research) because they have no sense of value, or purpose.
Yet our prime purpose in life is simple! It wasn’t to value ourselves according to how successful we are in our careers, or how much money we make, or even how useful we are. Jesus was clear about this. He said it was to love the Lord our God with every molecule of our being (Mark 22:37), and then to love others as much as we do ourselves (Mark 22:37, Mark 12:30-31). Everything we do that achieves this, whether it’s something that’s widely seen and applauded or done in secret and unknown to others, fits this frame. Everything else is passing and pales by comparison.
Towards the end of life there can be a wonderful sense of fulfilment from following these purposes. There will be other satisfactions in life,. especially the blessings of ‘good works’, but when we read Ephesians 2:10 we see that God equipped us for them in the first place and planned them before He made the earth. We also see that there is no ‘date-stamp’ in this Scripture; it extends to the end of our lives.
People come into residential care because of frailty, but they still need to know that they are valued in God’s economy. In the Pilgrims’ Friend Society’s care homes they are supported and encouraged to live as fully as they can. They can be the most powerful prayer warriors, bringing the Kingdom of God closer. When they look back on their lives’ achievements most want to give glory to God. 103 year old Ron, a resident at Shottermill House, said, ‘when I look back on my life I can see that God did everything – He put it all together.’ (The photograph is of him with his wife Babs on their 81st wedding anniversary.)
Another example was 92 year old Mrs Joan English. (Definitely Mrs English, not Joan!) She had been a missionary for many years in Tamil Nadu, India, and was busy translating part of the Old Testament into their language. To her delight, an NHS Consultant had pulled forward her cataract operation so she could continue. Her story was fascinating but she told me sternly, ‘This is not about me, it’s about giving glory to God.’
There are many more stories, of course, from PFS’s care homes. The 83 year old who stayed on 10 years after her disabled husband had died so she could be a help and encouragement to others; the bed-bound lady who knitted blankets for Romanian orphans, the former leprosy surgeon in his 90s whose mission was to teach and bless others, and more. They ‘flourish in old age’ (Psalm 92:14), and live fulfilled loves, supported with the spiritual input and love in PFS’ homes.
And finally, there are the care home managers and the staff who go many extra miles, daily. Michelle, at Framland in Wantage spoke for all of them when she said, ‘It gives me real job satisfaction to know that I am making a difference in their lives, doing things for them that they can’t do themselves.’