“I’m just not able to do anything anymore. I feel like a burden to my congregation because I can’t help out the way I could before.”
Such was the lament of an aging member of a sister parish. The older she got, the less she could contribute. Most of the time we look forward to old age and the frailties it brings with anxiety. “I don’t ever want to be a burden on my family,” people wish. “I don’t ever want to be that dependent on others.”
More often than not, God leads us out of this life the same way he brought us into it: completely dependent on others. As infants, we relied on others to give us food, change our messy diapers, bathe us, clothe us, keep us safe from harm every minute of the day. We were completely dependent.
Then, as we grow into adults, we treasure our burgeoning independence. We can dress ourselves, bathe ourselves, feed ourselves. The more independent we get, we can cook for ourselves or even grow and gather our own food. We can transport ourselves wherever we need to go. A significant part of the American Dream is independence. So, naturally, growing older and more dependent upon others is looked on with shame by the world.
But not the church.
In fact, that God brings us down from our illusions of independence to reveal how truly dependent on others we are is a healthy lesson in humility. To learn to be dependent it to learn to be a Christian. When people were bringing infants to Jesus—yes, infants, the helpless, completely dependent, constantly-needing-to-be-fed-and-changed kind of people—He extolled them as model Christians: “To such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” (Luke 18:15-17)
So whether at the beginning of your life, at the end, or numerous times in the middle, God is teaching you through dependence on others to be a Christian, a child of God, to inherit the kingdom of God. You did not make yourself a Christian; God made you one. You did not produce faith; God gave it to you. You do nothing to earn God’s favor; He gives it to you completely as gift. You are completely dependent on Him for every spiritual need.
So as your faculties decrease, as your strength wanes, as your ability to contribute to your congregation diminishes, rejoice. God is teaching you away from independence to complete dependence on Him.
When speaking of God, the old adage is false: it is not better to give than to receive. Faith receives what God gives. It is always better to be receiving from God than to be giving to Him. That’s what happens in the Divine Service: God comes to lavish His gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation on us. We respond, giving Him our thanks and praise, of course. But the most important thing is that we receive what God gives.
In this season where giving is so highly exalted, don’t neglect the most important things: to be receiving from God. It’s a season chocked full of services, times when God and His Church interrupt your regular routine to bless you with more of His gifts. Don’t get so caught up in all the giving that you neglect the receiving.