The Lonely Man

Recently I met a man in his mid to late 60′s who’s doing it hard. I’ll call him Jim. Jim came to believe in Jesus Christ through the youth group he attended. His love for the Lord grew through the teaching he received. In his late teens he committed to use the talents God had given him in service and so started a journey, which led him to the mission field after university. Unlike many of that era, rather than heading to Africa or countries in the 10:40 window of unreached people groups, Jim moved to North America where he was heavily involved for over twenty years.

At the beginning of the 90′s Jim returned to Australia to look after his ageing parents. Having been out of the country for so long he found it very difficult to get a position in his chosen career. After a while Jim managed to find a role that somewhat suited him, and so, for the next ten years, he felt fulfilled in gainful employment.

Sadly, Jim’s parents passed away, leaving him without family. His feeling of isolation was compounded because the friends of his youth had moved on. Jim was now alone and vulnerable.

On reaching the age of 65, Jim was made redundant, not because he couldn’t do the work required of him, but because a person higher up the chain thought it expedient when the budget cuts came through. Sadly, people of his age don’t seem to be valued these days.

With only a meager pension and no support, Jim was forced to seek low-cost accommodation in a small rural town, close by to a major city. He’s now isolated with limited transport, few social outlets, and no resident pastors or ministers to care for his spiritual needs.

As we sat chatting over a cup of coffee and a slice of Boston bun I could see the pain of loneliness on Jim’s face. He lives trapped in this space and there isn’t much that can be done.

Shortly I’ll be 56 years old, and I’m acutely aware of the pressure many men face at my age, as they consider the difficulty they’d be in if they lost their jobs. Jim’s predicament is dire as he has no employment prospects in the town that’s become his prison.

So, what can be done?

Firstly, as we get older we should check our attitudes. My wife, Cornelia, keeps warning me not to become a grumpy old man. Yes, I do listen to her because we can get that way as nothing seems right any more:  the world’s falling down around us . . . the government’s wrecking the place . . . young people are out of control. . . . no one has the answers like I do . . . etc. We need to look introspectively at times and ensure we don’t become the voice of doom and gloom that nobody wants to be around. We can be our own worst enemy if we let our attitudes get in the way. Be on your guard.

Secondly, if you need companionship then join a group, but ease into it. You can be assured that it will not be as good as you want it to be.  Hang back and apply some of that old fashioned wisdom as you make a space for yourself. When counseling troubled people who are seeking a new church I caution them not to vomit their problems onto others. The analogy is quite graphic but I’m sure you’ve seen people do this. It is always wise to get to know a group first before you share your troubles. If you go there with a me attitude you’ll be in for a rude awakening . . . and will probably find yourself in a very lonely position.

Lastly, churches should consider giving a more balanced focus to their older members. The Baby Boomer generation is moving into the bracket in which they will need special consideration. With 1 in 6 Australians already being in this group, we need to consider their unique financial needs, health issues, relationship requirements and social concerns. Generally the Baby Boomer era has had the influence of strong Bible teaching and worship styles, ranging from traditional liturgical to contemporary evangelical. The National Church Life Survey 2001 made this comment:

“It appears that denominations that have assisted post-war generations to express their faith in ways that are culturally relevant to them have fared better in the retention of attenders in their twenties and thirties than those that haven´t.” [1]

This is good news for the church as research suggests they can have it both ways; supporting the oldies and retaining the young ones. The problem is that if we only have a focus on the seeker style format without a balanced focus on all generations, many of our ageing folk will quietly disappear, just like Jim.

When Jesus was on his way to Jericho with his disciples (Mark 10:46-52) a large crowd followed him. Sitting by the side of the road was a blind man who could sense by the commotion that Jesus was nearby. He called out but the crowd yelled at him to be quiet. So he called out again. Once more they tried to hush him. But Jesus’ ear was so attuned to all around that he stopped, spoke to Bartimaeus and subsequently healed him.

This is a wonderful example of how we should be. People who can’t help themselves are crying out. I pray that you will be sensitive enough to discern the need from the noise, and help someone like Jim.

Peter

[1] Age profile of church attenders/AGE AND STAGE OF LIFE/http://www.ncls.org.au/default.aspx?sitemapid=136 Viewed 03 May 2012

Photo: Leroy Skalstad, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, United States  from http://www.sxc.hu

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