Diversity Comes in Many Forms

Written by: Deacon Sunni Richardson

One of the women at the church was having more than her share of senior issues. She had an infected tooth and lost a good share of her hearing, couldn’t keep up with her house which concerned her family, was struggling with her eyesight, and had come to the realization that she could not safely drive which meant she lost a big hunk of independence. I listened carefully and responded with words my mom had shared, “getting old is the pits”. We laughed and it became our go-to mantra when she had a hard day.

The kicker was I knew the day would come when I would face some of those same challenges. I have never been bothered by birthdays or my age. I have always tried to focus on what was up ahead. A senior discount on breakfast is nice but it is not the same as looking ahead to your first paid babysitting job, getting to drive yourself to school, being of legal age, or owning a car. I found myself focused on what I would have to give up and I have never been good at giving up things even during Lent.

In the last grief class, Rev. Dr. Don Eisenhauer ( offered through Emmaus: Lifelong Learning he talked about grief that comes from a loss other than death. He encourages one to discover a new normal, which takes time and hard work. Being a senior has required me to find a new normal which is sometimes change by choice and sometimes adapting is the only way to survive. 

Statistics show the ELCA is a church with over 30% over 65 years of age. I have a feeling our Nebraska Synod stats are higher. Finding a new normal for this age group is pretty much left up to your own devices. There are plenty of churches with youth directors but few with senior or wise elder program directors.

We all think we know what seniors need, and let me tell you zero entry does not necessarily mean the slope is right. That was a hard lesson I learned on an icy night as I tried to leave the church using a walker after knee surgery. Participating in conversation can be hard when people don’t look at you or they cover their mouths with their hands. Restrooms are a joke when they are in the basement or the size of a closet with a handicap handrail that is barely hanging on the wall. And yes, I need a handy restroom. Having been active in the church my whole life there is guilt and shame when you don’t feel up to teaching Sunday School or can’t help with cleaning the kitchen on a workday. Growing old can be the pits. 

The good news (you knew this was coming) is we, as a community of believers committed to walking together, can help each other find the new normal. Finding the new normal is a normal part of life no matter what age. How do we take advantage of our diversity and see it as an asset as we the church find our new normal? Tuck that question in your daily prayers. 

Yes, growing old is the pits and a gift!