Have you ever heard the term “sandwich generation”? This is the stage of life where we are in between the joys, delights, and stresses of launching our grown children and the joys, delights, and stresses of loving our own parents. My friend Nancy says that we are all so busy; we’re more like a club sandwich! Super-size anyone?
How exactly should we define “aging” parents? After all, by definition our parents have always been older than we are. Is retirement the beginning? Many retired folks are more active than their younger counterparts. What about health? Do we begin to worry when joints begin to be replaced or the daily medications outnumber the vitamins?
I’ll be honest. I’m an oldest daughter. In many ways I feel as though I’m walking a path for the first time when it comes to my experiences with my mom and dad. Because I believe that God’s word offers instruction and wisdom for every stage of my life, that’s where I started. I’ve been pondering the story of Naomi and Ruth, two women who found themselves on a journey together that neither one of them asked for nor planned on.
In many ways, I see Naomi’s circumstances mirroring our parents’ later phases in life. She had a drastic change in her identity, going from married to widowed. She found herself living with an extended family member. She experienced a reversal in her financial situation. She moved to an entirely different geographical location and became part of a new community. She saw herself in a new light: a woman marked by grief.
As difficult as Naomi’s path was, she found herself with a traveling companion, albeit one she initially tried to shrug off. Place yourself in Ruth’s “sandals” for a minute. You are grieving, you are poor, and you decide to leave everything known and familiar to take off with your…mother-in-law? Why on earth would you do that? Why indeed! I believe we can take away three principles from the account of these two women: connection, commitment, and conviction.
Ruth determines to stay close by Naomi. “For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge”(Ruth 1:16). The degree of connection we share with our parents will be determined by many factors, but given today’s technological advances, we are able to maintain close ties despite distances. Unlike years past, long distance phone calls (when was the last time you even used that term?) don’t break the bank. Even my 77-year-old mother texts her grandchildren and can Facebook with the best of them. The point is that we need to maintain those connections to our parents and stay in contact. Relationships need nurturing in order to thrive and that means staying in touch. I may not know what the road ahead looks like for my parents, or me but I’m thankful we are traveling the path together.
Ruth has a deep commitment that characterizes her relationship with her mother-in-law. “And when Naomi saw (Ruth) was determined to go with her, she said no more” (Ruth 1:18). Ruth’s commitment is until “death parts me from you” (1:17) and she swears an oath before the Lord. Again, I don’t believe this passage is literally telling us to buy family burial plots, but the overarching principle is that when we walk with our family through life’s twists and turns, it won’t be easy. There will be a cost and sacrifice. Do our parents know that they can count on us? This may seem like an impossible sacrifice, and it would be without the final principle.
Ruth’s convictions have changed as a result of becoming part of Naomi’s family. Ruth renounces her pagan gods and proclaims, “Your people shall be my people, and your God my God” (Ruth 1:16). How can a young widow do the seemingly impossible? She can because she has a new God and a new source of strength. But wait—I hear some of you thinking that your own parents are not believers. How can this passage apply to you? Our heavenly father gives us strength for the task, no matter what the spiritual state of our parents. We are called to honor them out of the abundance that the Lord has shared with us. Ruth found herself traveling with a bitter woman. Naomi states that “the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me…testified against me….brought calamity upon me” (Ruth 1:21). Even so, Ruth’s actions earn her the respect and praise of her new community. Our conviction to serve others for the Lord ultimately brings glory to the Lord.
I realize that many words have been written on the care of seniors. Wills, trusts, powers of attorney and the like are best left to more learned minds than mine. What I can encourage you to do is open the lines of communication with your folks. “I’m glad I’m your daughter. I’m committed to you. By the Lord’s grace and in his strength, I’ll be here for you.”
Renee Mathis attends Christ Church PCA in Katy, Texas. She serves on the women’s ministry team, as a regional advisor for the PCA women’s ministry, and an advisory board member for Covenant College. When she’s not enjoying her 5 children and 7 grandchildren, she teaches English, reads books, and drinks coffee.