Jump directly to the content

Taking Care of Our Widows

Another cause to care about.

Evangelicals are great activists. We're engaged on practially every issue. As a church, James told us to take care of the widows and orphans. Both metaphorically and literally we do. A prime example is the care given to AIDS victims in Africa, where the disease has made orphans and widows of millions.

But here in the U.S., we tend to think that the few widows and orphans we have are taken care of. Not so. A recent New Yorker article describes the way aging has changed and how we have regressed in our ability to care for the elderly. For Christians, who have been commanded to care for widows, this news comes with particular urgency: "More than half of the very old now live without a spouse." Add to that the facts that today's elderly had fewer children than other generations and those children are likely scattered across the country. In addition, medical care and nursing homes are extremely expensive. Add to that the fact that a major response to the abundance of care needed and the lack of resources available has been a major cause for advancing the argument for assisted suicide, and I think you have a major reason why evangelicals need to quickly get the activists in gear on this issue.

Because most others are not. "People natually prefer to avoid the subject of their decrepitude," writes Atul Gawande. Still, there are costs to averting our eyes from the realities. For one thing, we put off changes that we need to make as a society. For another, we deprive ourselves of opportunities to change the individual experience of aging for the better.

Gawande focuses on policy problems. Insurers don't want to pay for preventative care. Hospitals lose money treating arthritis instead of the hip replacement that might be caused by an arthritic toe which makes walking difficult. Assisted-living facilities and nursing homes are ridiculously expensive. And nurses are more and more difficult to find. We're losing geriatricians, who specialize in managing a person's decline to allow for a gradually increasing frailty instead of one big emergency that lands someone in a nursing home. Instead doctors, 97 percent of whom take no courses in geriatrics, are practicing plastic surgery. "When the prevailing fantasy is that we can be ageless, the geriantrician's uncomfortable demand is that we accept we are not."

Christians haven't been hesitant to apply their activism to stop slave trading, HIV/AIDS, or religious persecution. In many ways this seems a simpler problem. Let's do better to visit the elderly, include them in our churches, and learn from them as they navigate one of the most difficult periods of life–when they face their mortality eye to eye. Surely they have spiritual lessons to teach us about loving not the world. And in the meantime, we'll be fulfilling James's command: "Look after orphans and widows in their distress."

Related Topics:Social Justice
Posted:May 1, 2007 at 2:09PM
Gleanings aggregates what others are reporting. Learn more.
Recent Posts
Stem Cell Concerns Don't Freeze Evangelical Enthusiasm for Ice Bucket Challenge
(UPDATED) ALS raises $100 million in 30 days; pro-life groups worry about embryonic research.
One of Largest Christian Colleges Decides Divorcing President Can Keep His Job
Alma mater of Ebola doctor Kent Brantly believes in 'covenant of marriage' but also 'power of grace.'
Nine Current Mars Hill Pastors Tell Mark Driscoll To Step Down from All Ministry
(UPDATED) Mars Hill responds Friday to leaked letter, says 'our team is Jesus, not one group of elders or another.'
Israel’s Christian Schools Threaten Strike over Government's 'Oppressive Steps'
'Don’t stop us from carrying on our mission,' say 50 schools as Jewish state slashes support.
Christianity Today
Taking Care of Our Widows