1470) Prayers for the Evening of Life

     Lord, Thou knowest better than I know myself that I am growing older and will someday be old.  Keep me from the fatal habit of thinking I must say something of every subject and on every occasion.  Release me from craving to straighten out everybody’s affairs.  Make me thoughtful but not moody, helpful but not bossy.  With my vast store of wisdom, it seems a pity not to use it all.  But thou knowest, Lord, that I want a few friends at the end.  Keep my mind free from the recital of endless details; give me wings to get to the point.  Seal my lips on my aches and pains; they are increasing, and the love of rehearsing them is becoming sweeter as the time goes by.  I dare not ask for grace enough to enjoy the tales of other’s pains, but help me to endure them with patience.  I dare not ask for improved memory, but for a growing humility and a lessening certainty when my memory seems to clash with the memories of others.  Teach me the glorious lesson that occasionally I may be mistaken.  Keep me reasonably sweet; I do not want to be a saint– some of them are so hard to live with– but a sour old person is one of the crowning works of the devil.  Give me the ability to see good things in unexpected places and talents in unexpected people.  And give me, O Lord, the grace to tell them so.  Amen.

–Attributed to a 17th century Mother Superior

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     O God, our heavenly Father, whose gift is length of days, help us to make the noblest use of mind and body in our advancing years.  Apportion our work according to our strength.  As Thou hast pardoned our transgressions, sift the ingatherings of our memory that evil may grow dim and good may shine forth clearly.  We bless Thee for Thy gifts and especially for Thy presence and the love of friends in heaven and on earth.  Grant us new ties of friendship, new opportunities of service, joy in the growth and happiness of children, sympathy with those who bear the burdens of the world, clear thought and quiet faith.  Teach us to bear infirmities with cheerful patience.  Keep us from narrow pride in outgrown ways, blind eyes that will not see the good in change, and impatient judgments of the methods and experiments of others.  Let Thy peace rule our spirits through all the trial of our waning years.  Take from us all fear of death, and all despair or undue love of life; that with glad hearts at rest in Thee we may await Thy will concerning us, through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

–Author unknown; from Wings of Healing, ed. by John Doberstein

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Having passed over this day, Lord, I give thanks unto Thee.  The evening draweth nigh, make it comfortable.  As there is an evening of the day, so there is an evening of this life, the evening of old-age.  Old-age hath seized upon me; make that comfortable.

Cast me not away in the time of age;
Forsake me not when my strength fails me.  (Psalm 71:9)

Be thou with me in my old-age; even to gray hairs
wilt thou carry me.  (Isaiah 46:4)

Do thou forgive and receive and save me, O Lord.

Tarry thou with me, O Lord, for it is toward evening with
me, and the day is far spent, (Luke 24:29)

of this my toilsome life.

Let thy strength be made perfect in my weakness.
(II Corinthians 12:9)

–Bishop Lancelot Andrewes (1555-1626) alt.

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Look with mercy, O God our Father, on all whose increasing years bring them weakness, distress or isolation.  Provide for them homes of dignity and peace; give them understanding helpers, and the willingness to accept help; and, as their strength diminishes, increase their faith and their
assurance of your love.  This we ask in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Book of Common Prayer

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Satchel Paige said, “How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you was?”  This guy doesn’t seem to know, or care, how old he is…

1462) Getting Old

Image result for old man walking images

From “Don’t Waste Your Aging” by Andree Seu Peterson, posted April 5, 2017 at: http://www.wng.org (adapted)

     My father-in-law has fallen again.  I heard the loud thud from the kitchen and there he was like a beached whale, motionless on his tummy where he landed.

     My cat now spends half her day in bed and has become clingy, as if she’s developed a reflective streak and realizes we have been through a lot together over fifteen years.  I open the front door and she looks outside for a long minute and then turns back in.

     My father asked me to slow down on our walk a few months ago, only a half mile into the course.  I looked at him like I didn’t even know him.  He had never said those words to me before and was embarrassed.

   These are the days (see Ecclesiastes 12:1-7 below) when “the clouds return after the rain” (good days are a only short reprieve before bad days come again).  “The keepers of the house tremble” (hands shake, words are frail).  “The strong men are bent” (only two of us in this house walk even close to perpendicular).  “The grinders cease because they are few” (one favors the side of my mouth with more teeth).  “Those who look through the windows are dimmed” (I keep taking my glasses on and off and can’t decide which way is better).  “The sound of the grinding is low” (people seem to mumble, or is it me?).  “One rises up at the sound of a bird” (light sleep).  “Terrors are in the way” (it used to be so annoying when your grandmother always said to be careful of this and careful of that).  “The almond tree blossoms” (a crown of white hair).  “And desire fails” (some temptations are quenched not through virtue but lack of energy).  “Before the silver cord is snapped, or the golden bowl is broken, or the pitcher is shattered at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern …” (everything eventually breaks, gives out, crumbles).

     A chiropractor who was working on my husband’s back told us that the body has a memory.  It has registered all those high school injuries you thought you put behind you forty years ago, and here they are again, saying, “Yoo-hoo!  Remember me?”

     If you study the Bible, you will find that God is always taking curses and turning them into blessings for those who believe in Him to do that very thing.  Satan sows thorns and thistles in Paradise, and God uses them to mold character.

     Of the four of us under this roof (not including the cat), I’m in the best shape.  It could go either way for me at this point, spiritually.  I could be proud and forget what I have seen and waste my aging.  Or I could recognize that Ecclesiastes 12 is meant to make me take Ecclesiastes 11 seriously and to “cast my bread on the waters,” doing all the good I can in the time I have left, without being so afraid of risk.  “He who observes the wind will not sow, and he who regards the clouds will not reap.”

     The day is coming when I won’t have strength to cast or reap.  I have a friend who is a chaplain for a hospice agency.  She is sometimes the very last person someone sees.  Some people only want to hold her hand and just be quiet.  I wonder what they’re thinking.  I’ll bet that no one in that hour is regretting having lived too much for God.

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ECCLESIASTES 12:1-7:

 Remember your Creator
    in the days of your youth,
before the days of trouble come
    and the years approach when you will say,
    “I find no pleasure in them”—
before the sun and the light
    and the moon and the stars grow dark,
    and the clouds return after the rain;
when the keepers of the house tremble,
    and the strong men stoop,
when the grinders cease because they are few,
    and those looking through the windows grow dim;
when the doors to the street are closed
    and the sound of grinding fades;
when people rise up at the sound of birds,
    but all their songs grow faint;
when people are afraid of heights
    and of dangers in the streets;
when the almond tree blossoms
    and the grasshopper drags itself along
    and desire no longer is stirred.
Then people go to their eternal home
    and mourners go about the streets.

 Remember him—before the silver cord is severed,
    and the golden bowl is broken;
before the pitcher is shattered at the spring,
    and the wheel broken at the well,
and the dust returns to the ground it came from,
    and the spirit returns to God who gave it.

Ecclesiastes 12:13-14  —  Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter:  Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind.  For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.

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Ecclesiastes 11:1  —  Cast your bread upon the waters, for you will find it after many days (NIV).  Or as in ERV, “Do good wherever you go.  After a while, the good you do will come back to you.”

Ecclesiastes 11:4 —  Whoever watches the wind will not plant; whoever looks at the clouds will not reap.

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Having passed over this day, Lord, I give thanks unto Thee.  The evening draweth nigh, make it comfortable.  As there is an evening of the day, so there is an evening of this life, the evening of old-age.  Old-age hath seized upon me; make that comfortable.  Do thou forgive and receive and save me, O Lord.

–Bishop Lancelot Andrewes (1555-1626) alt.

1212) Beauty That Will Not Fade

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By Frederick Buechner (1926- ), in Telling Secrets, 1991.

     (My mother denounced) the ravages of old age but never accepted them as the inevitable consequences of getting old.  “I don’t know what’s wrong with me today,” she must have said a thousand days as she tried once, then again, then a third time, to pull herself out of her chair into her walker.  It never seemed to occur to her that what was wrong with her was that she was on her way to pushing a hundred…

     The living heart and command center of her room was the dressing table.  When she was past getting out of bed to sit at it any longer, what she needed from it was brought to her on a tray as soon as she woke up every morning, before breakfast even– the magnifying mirror, the lipstick, eyebrow pencils, tweezers, face powder, hair brush, combs, cold cream, mascara.  Before she did anything else, she did that and did it with such artistry that even within weeks of her end she managed a not implausible version of the face that since girlhood had been her principal fame and fairest fortune.

     Over that dressing table there hung for years a mirror that I can remember from childhood.  It was a mirror with an olive green wooden frame on which she had once painted in oils the French words:  Il faut souffrir pour etre belle.  It was the motto of her life:  You have to suffer in order to be beautiful.  What she meant, of course, was all the pains she took in front of the mirror:  the plucking and primping and powdering, the brushing and painting– that kind of suffering.  

     But it seems clear that there was another kind too.  To be born as blonde and blue-eyed and beautiful as she was can be as much of a handicap in its way as to be born with a cleft palate, because if you are beautiful enough, you don’t really have to be anything much else to make people love you and want to be near you.  You don’t have to be particularly kind or unselfish or generous or compassionate because people will flock around you anyway simply for the sake of your beauty.  My mother could be all those good things when she took a notion to, but she never made a habit of it.  She never developed the giving, loving side of what she might have been as a human being.  Needless to say, that was where the real suffering came– the two failed marriages after the death of my father, and, the fact that among all the friends she had over the course of her life, she never as far as I know had one whom she would in any sense have sacrificed herself for and by doing so might have perhaps begun to find her best and truest self.    W. B. Yeats in his poem A Prayer for My Daughter writes, “Hearts are not had as a gift but hearts are earned/By those that are not entirely beautiful.”  My almost entirely beautiful mother was by no means heartless, but I think hers was a heart that, who knows why, was rarely if ever touched in its deepest place.  To let it be touched there was a risk that for reasons known only to her she was apparently not prepared to take…

     Being beautiful was her business, her art, her delight, and it took her a long way and earned her many dividends.  But when, as she saw it, she lost her beauty… she was like a millionaire who runs out of money.  She took her name out of the phone book and got an unlisted number…  With her looks gone she felt she had nothing left to offer the world…  So what she did was simply to check out of the world…  My mother holed herself up in her apartment on 79th Street, then in just one room of that apartment, then in just one chair of that room, and finally in the bed where one morning a few summers ago, perhaps in her sleep, she died at last.

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I Peter 3:3-4  —   Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes.  Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.

Proverbs 31:30  —  Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.

Ezekiel 28:17a  —  Your heart became proud on account of your beauty, and you corrupted your wisdom because of your splendor.

Isaiah 40:7-8  —  The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the Lord blows on them.  Surely the people are grass.  The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever.

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Abide with us, O Lord, for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent.   Abide with us, for the days are hastening on, and we hasten with them, and our life is short and transient as a dream.   Abide with us, for we are weak and helpless, and if thou abide not with us, we perish by the way.   Abide with us, until the morning light of our resurrection day, when we shall abide forever with thee.   Amen.     –James Burns

911) An Encouraging Word

From The Lutheran Standard, June 5, 1979, page 29; author’s name withheld.

A man died at the age of 85.  He was one of those old and steady saints of the church.  He had been a devoted husband, a good father, a beloved man in congregation and community, a school janitor, and a fellow with a twinkle in his eyes, a smile on his face, and a ready sense of humor.  

Two weeks before he died, he received a letter from Jack, his son-in-law.  The letter is a beautiful statement of love and concern.  It can remind us to take the time to say thank you to those whom we love dearly and through whom we have been blessed.

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Dear Dad,

     I prayed for you today and thanked God for all the good years of life he has given to you, as well as for all the blessings that have come into my life through you.

     I thank you for Judy, your daughter and my wife.  Thank you for teaching her tender, committed love.  Thank you for letting go of her when the time came for her to leave father and mother and cleave to her husband.  Thank you for being a good father-in-law to me and a good husband to your wife.  Because of you, my life with Judy has been richer and happier.

     I also thank you for being a good grandfather– for taking time to love our children, for teasing them and letting them tease you, and for showing them some of the joy and wisdom that comes with age.

     I am happy that Judy can be near you now, and help care for you.  It is a reminder that when she was young you cared for her.

     God has given life some beautiful cycles and rhythms.  Our end is much like our beginning.  We brought nothing into the world; we shall take nothing out.  We came into the world as helpless creatures; we shall go out helpless.

     Throughout your years on this earth, you have not possessed much of the world’s goods.  But you have been rich with love, given and received.  God wants you to be richer still.  

     As death draws near, know that its power to hurt and destroy has been taken away because Christ our Lord entered into death for us.  Of course you will feel loss and grief over what is left behind.  But think also of what lies ahead– a new life in the presence of God, a life without pain and tears.

     Now, while you still suffer pain and shed tears, may you be encouraged by the hope of God’s new day.  Absolutely nothing, says the Bible, shall be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

     When you enter the valley of the shadow of death, I want you to know that you are loved.

Your son by marriage, 

Jack

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I Thessalonians 5:11  —  Encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.

I Thessalonians 5:14b  —  …Encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone.

I Thessalonians 3:9  —  How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you?

II Corinthians 1:3-4  —   Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.

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PRAYER OF AN OLD WOMAN:

Lord, thank you that in your love you have taken from me all earthly riches, and that you now clothe and feed me through the kindness of others.  Lord, thank you that since you have taken from me my sight, you serve me now with the eyes of others.  Lord, thank you that since you have taken away the power of my hands, you serve me through the hands of others.  Lord, I pray for them.  Reward them with your heavenly love, that they may faithfully serve and please you until they reach their happy end.  Amen.

–Mechthild of Magdeburg  (1210-1297)

437) Samuel Johnson on Growing Old

 

Samuel Johnson  (1709-1784)

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We entangle ourselves in business and immerse ourselves in luxury,… until the darkness of old age begins to invade us, and disease and anxiety obstruct our way.  We then look back upon our lives with horror, with sorrow, with repentance; and too often vainly wish that we had not forsaken the ways of virtue.       —Rambler #65 (1750)
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 We shall all by degrees certainly be old, and therefore we ought to inquire what provision can be made against that time of distress; what happiness can be stored up against the winter of life; and how we may pass our latter years with serenity and cheerfulness…  Faith in God is the only proper and adequate relief of decaying man.  He that grows old without religious hopes, as he declines into imbecility, and feels pains and sorrows incessantly crowding upon him, falls into a gulf of bottomless misery, in which every reflection must plunge him deeper, and where he finds only new gradations of anguish and precipices of horror.    —Rambler #69 (November 13, 1750)
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 It may be observed in general that the future is purchased by the present.  It is not possible to secure distant or permanent happiness but by the forbearance of some immediate gratification.  This is so evidently true with regard to the whole of our existence that all precepts of theology have no other tendency than to enforce a life of faith; a life regulated not by our senses but by our belief; a life in which pleasures are to be refused for fear of invisible punishments, and calamities sometimes to be sought, and always endured, in hope of rewards that shall be obtained in another state. —Rambler #178 (November 30, 1751)
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 To men of hardened hearts, God is not inattentive.  They are often called to the remembrance of their Creator, both by blessings and afflictions; by recoveries from sickness, by deliverances from danger, by loss of friends, and by miscarriage of transactions.   –Sermon III
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Ecclesiastes 12:1  —  Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say, “I find no pleasure in them.”

Ecclesiastes 12:13  —  Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter:  Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. 

Proverbs 3:5-6  —  Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight. 

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FROM TWO PRAYERS BY SAMUEL JOHNSON:
    O Lord, who hast ordained labor to be the lot of man, and seest the necessities of all thy creatures, bless my endeavors.  Feed me with food convenient for me, and if it shall be thy good pleasure to entrust me with plenty, give me a compassionate heart, that I may be ready to relieve the wants of others.  Let neither poverty nor riches estrange my heart from Thee, but assist me with thy grace so to live as that I may die in thy favor…  Grant that I may use thy gifts to thy glory.  Forgive me the time misspent, relieve my perplexities, strengthen my resolution, and enable me to do my duty with vigor and constancy.  And when the fears and hopes, the pains and pleasure of this life shall have an end, receive me to everlasting happiness.  Amen.