Principle 9: Helping Others is a Deep Desire of Older Adults

Post 10 of 11 in a series on the 10 Principles of Older Adult Ministry (banner image by Raul Petrie from Unsplash)

I love TikTok. It is a bit of a guilty pleasure.  Several times a week, I contemplate taking the video sharing, social media app off my cell phone because I can easily spend hours scrolling through one-minute dance and pet videos. But one of the reasons that I have resisted deleting the app is the unexpected intergenerational aspect. I absolutely love seeing the #over70club share videos dispensing wisdom, recipes, advice, and dance routines.

Many of the videos that pop up on my “For You” page are older adults offering encouragement and blessings for youth and young adults who feel overwhelmed by societal expectations and demands. While most comment sections on the internet can be awful and negative places, the comments on the videos of these older adults can be surprisingly wholesome. Ranging from “I really needed this message today” to “We must protect this grandpa at all costs,” the comments almost always offer affirmation and appreciation for the offerings of these content creators. In these small online interactions, I see something that our culture is hungry for: the wisdom, help, and the blessings of older adults.

In Malidoma Patrice Some’s The Healing Wisdom of Africa, she cites “the power of blessing” as one of the primary duties of an elder in the Dagara Community of West Africa; a responsibility that is only given to the old and wise. An elder’s assistance and blessing are vital to the functioning of the entire community. Bestowing a blessing gives the elders a sense of purpose and call in older age, while also offering much needed perspective to the younger in the village.

In my own work as a hospice chaplain, I have seen how this sense of call and purpose extends throughout the end of life. “I just don’t want to be a burden,” is one of the things I hear most often when I am caring for people in hospice. After lengthy conversations, I have come to see that the concern is more nuanced than it seems on its head. Underlying the fear of being a burden is also a strong desire to be a blessing, even when death is near. Plagued with life limiting illness, so many people still want to find ways to offer love, hospitality, and blessings to those around them and beyond. Witnessing the enduring call of Christ’s discipleship even for those in hospice care has been deeply inspiring and sustaining to me. With vision, care, and creativity, I have found that there are always ways to ensure that older adults feel like a blessing, not a burden.

While the blessings of older adults need not be contained in one-minute TikTok videos, I do think those short videos can be instructive for the Church in harnessing the service and gifts of older adults. One of our roles in Christian education can be providing specific, time bound opportunities for older adults to be of service that emphasize blessing, story, and connection. And a little dancing never hurts.

Zeena Regis is a chaplain, consultant, and writer. She worked in hospice and palliative care as a chaplain and bereavement coordinator for close to a decade. She is the founder of The Threshold Planning Project and is passionate about ensuring all people have access to quality and culturally-responsive end-of-life/grief support and resources.

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