[this is a re-post from 2014]
Years ago when I did chaplaincy work in a nursing home in Connecticut, there was a woman named Marge I would visit every weekend and bring Communion to. She was bed ridden, and depressed. Alienated from her children. She said she felt alone and useless, like an unwanted burden. It was so painful to witness, and as a newbie in that world I had no idea how to practically help her.
For the first weeks, I just listened to her. But one day, I felt inspired to share with her a Russian proverb I had learned from some parishioners at my dad’s Orthodox church: “Old age is for prayer.” The Siberian woman who first shared it with me added,
When you’re young, life is busy busy, and you have difficulty finding time for prayer. But when you’re my age, God frees you so you can dedicate great time to prayer, and season it with your aches and pains. These 5 words [old age is for prayer] are like the 5 stones David went against Goliath with. We elders may seem frail, but in God’s eyes we are mighty. Elders hold up the world.
I began to ask Marge to pray for a host of specific intentions every visit, and then would report on the intentions each time I returned. One time, I said (according to my journal),
By praying you carry people to God who can’t carry themselves. I know you’re sad because you feel you’ve been dropped by your children, and because you now need us to carry you. But how many times in life did you pick other people up and carry them? [she said, “Lots.”] Would you want them to feel useless because they needed you? [she shook her head]
Your body is frail now, but God has given you a powerful spirit so you can lift others up in prayer. You’re lifting me up for sure! Giving into depression is giving up on your spirit’s power to lift up. Sometimes in life our call is to carry others in love, but other times it’s to be carried in humility. Mostly, it’s both, and both make the world better.
It was amazing the positive effect this idea had on her over time. Before I moved away, I went to say goodbye to her. She said with great emotion, “Thank you for carrying me, son.” I said, with equal emotion, “Same. In heaven, you’ll see just how many people you helped, Marge.”