Old Trees Bear Good Fruit (Ros' Blog)
My mother and aunt lived together for about the last 25 years, supporting each other in their widowhood. Each brought something to the relationship that the other couldn’t. My mother could drive and had a car; my aunt had never learned to drive. My mother loved to cook but her arthritis meant she couldn’t stand for long periods at the sink to wash up; my aunt disliked cooking but was a willing washer-upper. My mother provided the home in which they lived, as my aunt had never been a homeowner; my aunt supported my mother in all the activities such as bathing and dressing which the arthritis made almost impossible for her to manage on her own. It was a truly mutual relationship of giving, my aunt fit and able, my mother very disabled by her rheumatoid arthritis, and it really worked well. They used to joke that the only cross words they’d had since moving in together were the crosswords in the newspaper which they did together every day. They also devoted at least an hour a day to reading the Bible and praying together, on top of time spent alone doing the same thing individually.
Towards the end of my mother’s life, accidents and illnesses meant they had to go into a care home. They were given rooms opposite each other, so that with both doors open they could see and call to each other across the corridor. I continued to make the 100 mile round trip to visit them weekly as I had done for a number of years. My mother died at the beginning of May, but my aunt who is the older by four years, remains in the care home, and I continue to visit her regularly. Now my aunt is very frail, unable to get out of bed. I can’t imagine what it must be like to live such a restricted life, confined within four small walls. But when I was with her on Thursday last, we talked, we read a Psalm together and I prayed with her. As I was praying, I remembered the words of Psalm 92: “The righteous will flourish like the palm tree, and grow like a cedar in Lebanon. Planted in the house of the Lord, they will flourish in the courts of our God. They will still yield fruit in old age; they shall be full of sap and very green, to declare that the Lord is upright; He is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in Him.”
My aunt may no longer be able to get out of bed, but she sees a constant stream of people – care staff, agency staff, visitors like myself and from her church. She is a quietly Christlike presence, always grateful for everything that is done for her, always cheerful even when tired or in pain, and I have never once heard her complain. This is in contrast to many of the other residents of the home whose thoughts seem to revolve entirely around themselves, and who do not always treat the staff with either respect or gratitude. Her room seems to me like a little beacon of light in that place. She is still yielding fruit in old age, just as described in the Psalm.
As I drove home reflecting on all this, my mind went to two characters in the Old Testament. Isaac as an old man was, like my aunt these days, visually impaired. The Bible tells us that “his eyes were too dim to see”. It’s clear from the story that he must also have been confused – a goat skin draped over the shoulder was enough to befuddle him into not recognising his son Jacob. Maybe he was experiencing a degree of dementia, or perhaps it was just the diminishing of his physical faculties that made it so easy to fool him. Whatever the reason, none of this was any barrier to God continuing to use him. The blessing which he pronounced on his younger son was so full of spiritual power that the things he spoke over his future did indeed come to pass, directed the course of all Isaac’s descendants and paved the way for the coming of Messiah over 3,000 years later.
Isaac’s deceitful son, Jacob, grew up to be the patriarch of a fine family of twelve sons and at least one daughter, and numerous grandchildren. Most of the Jewish people in the world today are descended from Jacob, whom God later renamed Israel. And he, too, demonstrated that the frailty and disability that come with old age are no barrier to bearing fruit and being used by God. At the end of his life, like my aunt, he was unable to leave his bed. But even in his great frailty he was still listening to God and knew when God wanted to do something out of the ordinary. Joseph brought his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim, to Israel for him to bless them. As was customary, he stood Manasseh, the older boy, by Israel’s right hand, and Ephraim, the younger, by his left hand.
And then Israel did something really unexpected. He leaned forward, crossed his arms over in front of him, and placed his right hand on Ephraim and his left hand on Manasseh. Joseph was horrified – the blessing of the right hand belonged to the firstborn. He grasped his father’s right hand and tried to prise it off Ephraim’s head and move it back to Manasseh. But Israel was having none of it. He replied, “I know, my son, I know; he also will become a people and he also will be great. However, his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his descendants shall become a multitude of nations.” The prophecy was fulfilled. By the time of Moses, 400 years later, Manasseh could muster an army of 32,000 men, while Ephraim’s army numbered 108,000. Even in his decline and frailty, Israel was still alert to what God was saying, and able to declare God’s purposes in a way that had powerful effects down many generations.
So to anyone who is experiencing the decline and frailty that comes with old age, and to anyone confined to restricted circumstances by a disability that prevents them from going out and meeting many people, I would say take encouragement from these two senior citizens of the Old Testament. As long as you breathe, God can use you and your life can be fruitful. Who knows whose future you might change even today by your words and prayers? Who could you pray for today? Who will enter your room today? What would happen if, before they arrive, you asked God to give you a life-changing word for them?
(Image is Jacob Blessing Ephraim and Manasseh, by Benjamin West)