From yesterday’s speaking engagement at Central Baptist Church. Because I have “speaking engagements” now :). Taken from Psalm 71.
When I was in 1st grade, while my dad was coming to get me from school, a little boy ran out in front of him to get his soccer ball. My dad was able to stop the car, but the boy was still hit with low impact.
My dad loaded the boy and his mother into the car and took them both to the hospital and, ever the pastor, stayed with them until the little boy was cleared to go home, and I was left at school that whole time.
I was not impressed with this tale at all, because, while the little boy was being tended to and my dad was being the presence of Christ to a distraught mother,
I was having my own distress, thoroughly believing my parents had forgotten about me.
When the last kid in the first grade was picked up, my teacher walked me down to this big classroom, which the kids in my elementary school called “The Abyss,” where the forgotten would wait to be picked up.
If I had known my parents were coming and just running late, it wouldn’t have been so bad.
There was an art table stocked with markers, colored pencils, cut up pieces of tissue paper and even finger paint, my favorite!
But, I was too upset to enjoy it that day.
I was the last kid in The Abyss that day, and I tell you the truth, I earned every last bite of the apology ice cream I got to enjoy later that evening.
My time in The Abyss was scary and sad. I only didn’t cry because I knew the other kids would ridicule me, and I just couldn’t take ridicule AND being left behind.
Consider this with me for a moment. What does it feel like to be left behind?
Is it scary?
Now, take that feeling and consider this with me:
What is it like to wonder if God has left you behind? Or, how does it feel to think that God, along with the rest of the world, might one day leave you behind?
The Psalmist pondered this question long ago, and journaled some thoughts for us so that we might find some solidarity in humanity’s common quest for connection and belonging.
A reading from Psalm 71, a prayer for lifelong protection and help.
“Do not cast me off in the time of old age; do not forsake me when my strength is spent.”
Have you prayed this prayer before? I would venture to guess that yes, probably so, in some way or another.
In fact, our society in all its age-denying rhetoric and with its age-defying potions and lotions at our fingertips has programmed us to pray some version on the Psalmist’s prayer “do not cast me off in the time of old age; do not forsake me when my strength is spent.”
I know I’m young, but my version of it was the real struggle I had deciding whether or not to celebrate my 30th birthday – the beginning of my descent into oblivion, as it were- and more recently, the amount of time I spent worrying about the significant age difference between me and my fiancé, early in our dating relationship.
In our own time, this prayer of the Psalmist, “do not cast me off in the time of old age; do not forsake me when my strength is spent” can be heard in a mother’s desperate plea to her grown children “please don’t put me in a nursing home;”
in a fiercely independent father’s passionate insistence, “I can drive myself, give me back my keys,” or in countless ads for Age Rewind face serum in magazines and on TV.
No judgement here.For the record, I am a big fan of the L’Oréal rosy glow moisturizer.
Sometimes we hear the Psalmist’s prayer in a devastatingly convicting reflection from a once-active church member:
“I think my church has forgotten about me. I wonder if God has forgotten me too.”
In a time where youth is better and the elderly are irrelevant, this ancient Psalm has something to say to us about the God who gives us a refuge, protects us from the day of our birth throughout the span of our lives, and does not cast us off in the time of old age; the God who never forsakes nor forgets.
As we explore Psalm 71, let’s imagine that this Psalm is being written by an older person, maybe age 85, who has watched life unfold, as it does, and has come to a point in life where reflection and remembering are important.
Remembering is an important spiritual task of aging. Richard Morgan adapted Robert Butler’s theory of life review and developed a process of spiritual life review, which is a way of looking back over your life and seeing where God has been at work, through a series of guided questions and activities outlined in the book Remembering Your Story: Creating Your Own Spiritual Autobiography.
Think of Psalm 71 as this Psalmist’s spiritual autobiography.
The reason we create spiritual autobiographies is so that we can take comfort in knowing that our lives have held purpose and meaning.
At the heart of spiritual life review lies a desire, found within each of us, to know that our lives have made a difference, that we have mattered, and that on this path of mattering and making a difference, God has been with us, is with us as we review our lives, and will be with us until our lives end.
Our psalmist echoes this desire in verse 6 “upon you I have leaned from birth, it was you who took me from my mother’s womb…” and in verse 7 “you are my strong refuge.”
From birth to death, the thread that keeps the Psalmist tethered to God even amidst suffering, is trust in the constant God who never forsakes, and never forgets; and this trust in turn creates hope that the Psalmist’s “one wild and precious life,” as Mary Oliver put it, has been well spent in ways that mattered.
In my ministry, I hear a lot of stories. When I visit my church people or talk to them on the phone, I hear their stories and I’ve noticed the most important ones are told and retold to me, time after time.
Because stories are important, and in the telling of stories, we continually create our own spiritual autobiographies without really knowing it.In the telling of stories, we link our lives to another and are connected, bonded with the chord of life experience.
Think about that for a minute. What is one story that you love to tell over and over?
Why do you love that story?
Because it’s an important and formative part of your life. Our stories are the houses along our journeys which store our precious memories, and they are meant to be shared. When old age begins to threaten our health and limit our mobility, we lose connection to the people with whom we love to share our stories,
and like a house that hasn’t been cleaned in a while because the residents no longer expect any company, the memories and stories that older people who live alone are unable to share become dusty and forgotten.
It’s easy to see how someone can conclude that if the world doesn’t want to remember WITH them through stories, who is going to remember THEM, they themselves as a person, when they are gone?
God will remember them, and we, the people of God have a mission to help people who feel they’ve been forgotten to rest assured that they have not.
In my ministry at Scott Boulevard, I head up our home church program.
We call it Church at Home. 2-4 volunteers from the church join me throughout the week in the homes of our church people who aren’t able to attend Sunday worship. We sing hymns, have a short sermon, and share in communion.
Church at Home is a tangible representation to society’s most easily forgotten that God does not forget, not even in old age.
How can you be a reminder to someone in your life that God has not forgotten them?
Or, how can you be encouraged today in knowing that God has not forgotten you?
When that fear creeps in and you are left to wonder “has God forgotten me?” remember the words of the Psalmist “from birth I have relied on you…you are my strong refuge.
As for me, I will always have hope; I will praise you more and more.”
When you encounter someone well advanced in their years, join them in the Psalmist’s prayer, “do not cast me off in the time of old age; do not forsake me when my strength is spent.”
Then, sit with them, listen to their story and in doing this, become to them a representation of God’s presence with them.
What better task could we be given than to be living reminders of God’s presence among God’s beloved children here on earth; a God who never forsakes nor forgets?
Thanks be to God.