Many desire to help friends and relatives who are growing older. But sometimes those who have helped so many others are not so welcoming of help themselves.
Growing old is nothing new—it happens to everyone. Accepting help as a person ages is not new either, but neither is it always simple or easy. And yet life often comes full circle with age. After a lifetime of serving, giving to and helping others, it can be a bitter pill to need help ourselves.
The circle of help
The cycle generally goes like this:
Requiring and receiving help: From the moment of birth, a child requires help with virtually everything. Whether it is eating, dressing or being comforted, children are powerless to do much of anything for themselves. Babies happily (for the most part) receive and enjoy all the help, love and attention that comes their way.
Helping others who require help: During the preteen to young adult years, children are taught to help with household chores. They also generally have their introduction to helping other people, often older people like Grandma and Granddad. Whether help is required or not, grandparents enjoy watching these young ones bring them books or drinks, or push their shopping cart.
As children enter adulthood, they’re given many additional opportunities to help people. These include helping friends, neighbors and coworkers, but especially family. Children, parents, grandparents and extended family members may all need help at times. Many adults spend decades helping and giving care as they can.
Requiring and accepting help: However, time marches relentlessly onward, and with age often comes the need to receive help. The need for help may come on gradually or it may come suddenly due to illness or accident. Chores once done with ease may now be too much to handle.
It is not always easy for one who is used to independence to ask for or accept help. Why? And what can be done to foster an environment where genuine help is gracefully accepted and appreciated?
The challenge to put things aside
After many years of a vibrant and active life full of mobility and lending assistance to others, an aging person can find it difficult to suddenly be on the receiving end of help. It was so natural to give help, so why is it hard to accept it?
Aging and needing help may mean a loss of privacy and adjusting to new routines. As a result, a person may feel frightened, frustrated, vulnerable or angry that he or she needs help. After being a help giver for so many years, one who now needs help may feel guilty and worried about becoming a burden to family and friends.
The loss of independence often plays a major role in the reluctance to accept help. People who spend the majority of their lives coming and going as they please never consider that one day they may be unable to do many formerly simple chores without assistance.
One author explains the situation this way: “Our parents spent their entire lives being independent and making their own decisions, as well as a number of decisions for us throughout our lives. It has got to be hard to accept help and even hard to ask for it. I know it is for me, why wouldn’t it be for them?” (“Why Elderly Parents May Not Accept Their Children’s Help”).
The potential loss of independence is real, but it should not prevent a person from accepting help. Most people do not want to be pitied, but we must be careful not to confuse a sincere offer to help with pity.
Another reason older people may refuse to accept help is simple human pride. And with pride comes the potential for hurt feelings. One of the proverbs reads, “When pride comes, then comes shame; but with the humble is wisdom” (Proverbs 11:2).
So how do we get over feelings of being a burden to others? And how do we deal with the natural feelings of hurt pride?
Becoming a cheerful receiver
There are amazing benefits that come to those who serve others. Helping people is voluntarily giving part of your life to others in order to make their lives a little easier or more productive. But most people who have been cheerful helpers will see the day when they must become cheerful receivers of assistance from others who care deeply for them.
The apostle Paul describes the blessings that come to those who reach beyond themselves in an effort to help others. The love and service given are noticed and repaid. He told the brethren in Corinth, “But this I say: He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully” (2 Corinthians 9:6).
When the time comes, help will most often come from those who were helped in their younger years—children and grandchildren. It should be easier to accept help from relatives you know, love and trust.
But how does one become a cheerful receiver?
Accepting help with a healthy attitude
It begins with humility. The apostle Peter is a great example of a person who learned to grow in humility. On the night of Jesus’ final Passover with the disciples, He washed the feet of each of His disciples to set an example of humble service. Peter, thinking this was not right, initially refused to allow the Messiah to wash his feet. Only after a gentle rebuke from Jesus did he humbly submit to the will of Christ (John 13:5-9). He learned a powerful lesson about serving others as Christ was doing and also about accepting help!
As Peter grew older, he took this valuable lesson and passed it on to others. He knew from hard experience what happens when we allow our pride or our own human reasoning to get in the way. Apparently having learned to both give and receive help, Peter was inspired to write, “Likewise you younger people, submit yourselves to your elders. Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for ‘God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble’” (1 Peter 5:5-7).
Those who humbly and joyfully accept help as needed have an opportunity to share with the next generation the help they have received all their lives from a loving God.The concept of being “submissive to one another” leaves a bad taste in the mouths of some. But one aspect of submitting to one another is accepting help as we age—learning to humbly receive help from those who are also submitting in meeting the needs of aging friends and family.
What those who are older can share
God has promised to never leave or forsake those who obey His commands—no matter how old they are. The psalmist was inspired to write, “Now also when I am old and grayheaded, O God, do not forsake me, until I declare Your strength to this generation, Your power to everyone who is to come” (Psalm 71:18).
Those who humbly and joyfully accept help as needed have an opportunity to share with the next generation the help they have received all their lives from a loving God.
Helpers of their joy
Submission, humility and wisdom are key factors in growing old gracefully.
Addressing the congregation in Corinth, the apostle Paul said, “Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day” (2 Corinthians 4:16). That inner self is the heart and character of the man.
Simply growing older should not have a negative effect on our core values and character. There are tremendous benefits to cheerfully accepting help when we are “feeling our age.”
1. It provides opportunities for young to learn from old. Yes, there are grumpy and grouchy old people, but there are also happy and considerate elderly people as well.
Paul told his young friend Titus that the older members of the Church still had a responsibility when it came to helping the younger people in the congregation mature. “But as for you, speak the things which are proper for sound doctrine: that the older men be sober, reverent, temperate, sound in faith, in love, in patience; the older women likewise, that they be reverent in behavior, not slanderers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things—that they admonish the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, homemakers, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be blasphemed” (Titus 2:1-5).
By remaining active in the congregation, the older members have the opportunity to mentor the young adults by modeling for them examples that reflect the sound doctrine established by Jesus Christ and the Church. It takes work to reflect God’s nature, but Paul wanted the older members to help teach these things to the young.
2. It allows others the opportunity to learn how to provide help. Though age will eventually cause one to retire from a job or lose the ability to perform certain types of physical labor, accepting help provides opportunities for others to become effective helpers. If the elderly have been setting a godly example, in time there should be a response from those who’ve watched.
James was inspired to write, “Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world” (James 1:27). The next generation will see the needs of those who are aging and will work to make life a little easier by offering to help physically, financially and even emotionally. Knowing when to accept help allows the next generation to practice pure religion.
3. It helps build relationships between people of all generations. There is a tendency for people to associate primarily with their own age group. Accepting help as you age opens up avenues for people of all ages to help, and it can provide opportunities to create new and lasting relationships, bridging the “generation gap.”
Asking God for help as we age
Vast multitudes followed Jesus Christ when He walked upon the earth, and many sought and gladly accepted His help. The psalmist, realizing that he would require help from God in his later years, made a request: “Do not cast me off in the time of old age; do not forsake me when my strength fails” (Psalm 71:9). Asking for (and accepting) help from God is always the right thing to do, and we should do it daily.
We should also realize that God often uses people to answer those prayers—people who desire to lend a helping hand to serve those who are aging.
God describes those who live their lives in a close relationship with Him this way: “Those who are planted in the house of the LORD shall flourish in the courts of our God. They shall still bear fruit in old age; they shall be fresh and flourishing, to declare that the LORD is upright; He is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in Him” (Psalm 92:13-15). While God expects those who are older to continue to bear spiritual fruit, this fruit is now more likely to be teaching and encouragement than hard, physical labor.
Growing old is part of God’s design for human beings. But as the years go by and life comes full circle for you, consider your need and responsibility to accept help. There are probably many people who are willing and able to assist when and where they are needed. Having the humility to accept help at the right time is part of how we learn to grow old gracefully.
Find more biblical help in the article “Growing Old Gracefully.”