Thursday, January 07, 2010

Respecting Your Elders


I knew it was going to happen. "You are LATE," they yelled at me. I was in fact not late based on the time I committed to be there, but I was later than they wanted me to arrive.

The day before I had talked to the man's daughter. Pastor Darrell and his wife were moving into a nursing home, and their daughter had come down from Seattle to help them move. "So you will be here at 8:30am on Saturday," she said.

"Well, I don't think I will make it by 8:30 I said, but I will get there on Saturday morning," I replied

"We need to be moved out by Saturday night, so I will be glad to see you here at 8:30 sharp," she said

"I don't know if I will make it by then, but I will get there sometime in the morning,"I replied

"See you then!" she said.

I knew I would be in trouble with them the minute I walked in the door. It was a little after 10 a.m. He continued to tell me I was late. I said I had not committed to make it by 8:30. He said he heard our phone conversation and knew I had. "Of course if you heard her half of the conversation you would think that," I thought.

Darrell was a retired pastor. He had made his living pastoring small churches, especially in Colorado and Wyoming. He had been an interim here in Fowler for a year and a half, but I did not know about Fowler then.

At that point Darrell was a retired pastor and Sunday School teacher at First Baptist Church of Colorado Springs. He was kind and caring, surly and mean, all wrapped up in the same old man. He came to church alone. It seems like his wife had, in her old age, retired from her pastor's wife duties and church altogether. Rumor was that he had a son and a daughter. His son, however, had passed away. I think.

He knew he did not have much time left, and he had all of these sermons downstairs. All in these little manila envelopes. Some outlines. Some manuscripts. All handwritten. He wanted me, the young preacher, to have them. He thought I would find them useful. In order for me to have them I needed to lug this large file cabinet full of sermons up some steep stairs from their basement.

The sermons were, in my opinion, difficult to read and not always that well put togehter. Somehow with the dolly I lugged them upstairs and threw them with the file cabinet in the back of my Aztek. "Be careful with those sermons," he bragged, "many of them are still too hot to preach. If you use them you never know what could happen."

"Thanks," I said, "I am sure they are. Looks like you have quite a bit of them."

"Decades worth," he said.

He made a comment about the fancy cars preachers have these days. Darrel irked me. My car wasn't fancy, and to be honest I couldn't get a loan on something older or cheaper or I would have bought it. Then I waved goodbye and left.

To be honest I did not want the sermons. Darrel Rhodes and I were too different. But I knew I was the only one who would take him. I knew that it would please him to pass on his messages to a young preacher, and that he would imagine them living on past his years. Despite his consistent grumpiness with me, I knew that he was a faithful servant of God, and needed to feel like his years of service would continue to live on. So I took those sermons. I put those sermons in rubbermaid containers. After he passed away, I waited a year. When nobody asked about the sermons I threw them away. I chose to love Darrell. I did not love his sermons.

I took the sermons, dealtt with the surly attitudes they had with me that day because I felt it important to honor my elders. And nothing was more honoring to Darrell than taking his sermons. He thought he was helping me and doing me a favor. I was choosing to minister to him by allowing him to feel useful and important. I lugged that file cabinet up the stairs, I put up with their lies and their name-calling because I believe it is important to love people in a way that honors them. And that is the best I could do with Darrell.

Sometimes the most loving thing we can do is not help people, or give them something, but find ways to allow them to feel honored and useful. I think this is something we should all keep in mind, especially with our elders.

1 comment:

Rebecca Lynn said...

Very useful thoughts, Clint. Thanks for posting this.

I had a similar experience with a guy who worked in Yellowstone for 50 years and wanted us to write a book about his life. We hunted through his information for almost a year and couldn't find anything that would grab the public's attention. But we took his stuff, and recorded his stories, and tried to help him feel like he was contributing to Americana. Then, after he passed away, we gave his stuff back to his family and suggested they give it to the MSU Library (Yellowstone Papers). It was the best we could do. But I definitely empathized with this.