Why Fix The Roof
If It Isn’t Raining?
Issues of war and peace grab our mind. Bad things happening in our neighborhood catch our attention. The serious illnesses of friends and acquaintances draw our empathy and foster action of prayer, cards, calls, food, and help with errands.
Then what do we do on so-called “normal days”? On those bad-free days, do we engage life in a way that strengthens our sense of resilience in preparation for those difficult days that we know will come again? Or, do we think, “Why Fix The Roof If It Isn’t Raining?”
Church congregations can be like that, springing into action when members of the congregation are sick or have an accident or fall into difficult times. But absent terrible news, churches may not understand how important it is to help their congregation members strengthen the reach of their collective resilience. But, how could they know;
Our culture stresses the power of the individual. It is easy to forget that we are all created as social creatures. We learn early as babies, that we are physically and socially dependent on others for everything, but we fight that dependence later as teens when our newly sanctioned legal freedoms promote our struggles to be independent. In those very same years, however, teenagers also confront their strong physical attraction toward others – and then more or less live with that independent/dependent bewilderment for the rest of their lives.
Yet in messages of strength, courage and leadership, our culture is clear that it is “I” as an individual who is responsible for my own health and well-being – until “I” am hurt, sick or become old, then “I” must suddenly flick the switch and become a ward of the care of others. “That’s the way it works”, we are told.
Where do we learn about our God-given relationship-oriented-spiritual-heart in all of this? Where do we learn – where do our churches learn – that we are all a part of the well-being processes for each other? Experience, perhaps?
Before my wife and I had cancer at the same time a few years ago, I saw myself as highly independent and very resilient. I was not worried about doing what needed to be done; I just knew I could do it. I saw “resiliency skills” as being a part of who I was as an individual and since my ideas about myself were so solidly culturally appropriate, I never had any reason to think otherwise.
Then came cancer, and everything I believed about my resilience changed. I will never be so fooled by cultural messages again!
I found that not only could I not, by myself, effectively help my wife with her cancer, but I really couldn’t help myself very well either. It took a proliferation of comforting stories about what to expect from colleagues, continuing affirmations of our strengths from friends, prayers from our church, and diverse positive conversations with laughter and kindness to requests for help, from acquaintances, friends and family.
When those “very bad days” were over for us thanks to that circling of the wagons of reciprocal support from our friends, family and acquaintances, I realized how important it was to spend time during “normal days” filling our watersheds of resilience with what I now saw as “social resilience” not “personal resilience”.
During those “normal days” are times when we need to work and play together with others to develop and sustain the reciprocal relationships of knowing, caring and supporting among those who will be a part of the circling of the wagons team -- for adding to our resilience the next time the “very bad days” happen.
Furthermore, I realized that as I age, it becomes more difficult to engage others -- my energy wanes and developing and sustaining social resilience becomes more difficult with each passing year. I now realize that to encourage the filling of people’s watersheds of resilience is perhaps the most important social task that a church can do for its older adult members.
Churches must learn to divide their time between helping the congregation circle the wagons of support and comfort for those of us who are having “very bad days”, and at the same time create settings for their congregational members to gather for fun, challenge and learning, and in the process fill their watersheds of resilience.
We are diverse people, we older adults, and a universal approach for filling our watersheds of resilience will not satisfy everyone. But if the leaders of our churches can find former leaders among their older adult community, those capable people can, by using their “leftover talents”, help build diverse but sustainable approaches to meeting the needs of the older adult community for (1) exercise, (2) health enhancing behavior (including proper nutrition), and (3) volunteer possibilities.
But the most important will be for the church to develop enjoyable ways for older adults to bring their ideas, meaningful issues, hopes, and dreams to church, to share with those who listen and accept their questions and ideas, and work together to transform those creative ideas into workable processes for enhancing health and well being.