by Patti Richter
My usual weekly phone call to my elderly parents opened with a question I’d never before asked: “Do you have plenty of toilet paper?” Isolated during the early weeks of COVID-19, they depended on my time-challenged sister’s weekly grocery run.
My father assured me they were well stocked, then added, “There are worse things than being without toilet paper.”
Hard times helped shape Dad’s outlook on life. My parents were both born into the deprivation of the Great Depression, and they grew up during World War II hearing horrific reports and seeing images of its atrocities. But Dad’s rural Arkansas family had an even harder row to hoe than some. His family home had no indoor bathroom or plumbing. Their outhouse offered no toilet paper, but either a Sears or Montgomery Ward catalog, and a house rule: only one page per visit.
My father doesn’t recall feeling terribly deprived as a child. He knew his forebears, homesteaders, had endured their own big challenges. However, the descriptions of his early years seem incredible today—such circumstances would equate to severe poverty in modern America.
It’s interesting how the tables can turn on us. After weeks of seeing too many empty grocery store shelves, we’re gleaning a healthy bit of context to relate to the trials of previous generations. And my dad’s perspective on life is now sage advice.
Gaining wisdom is a life-long pursuit, and, personally, it took a few decades to get over my self-focus. By the time my parents retired, I was occupied with my own family. I regularly called Mom and Dad to update them on our busy lives, but it took some close calls with health concerns for me to consider their well-being, to ask how they were doing and what they might need, and become more interested in their stories.
My latest reordering of priorities has centered on Mom’s hospitalization in an intensive care unit—under sedation, with breathing and feeding tubes. Though her condition is unrelated to COVID-19, the “no visitors” restriction has applied. My father, despite heartache, reassures me that he and Mom are at peace as their nearly 90-year-old bodies are failing. He wisely reminds me that we all have to accept the ravages of old age if we live long enough.
Adam and Eve, after their sin, received notice of their earthly composition. The Creator of Heaven and Earth said, “For dust you are and to dust you will return” (Genesis 3:19, NIV). This offers a sobering perspective: If COVID-19 doesn’t take us, we still remain 100 percent susceptible to death. The young and healthy among us have no more guarantee on tomorrow than the ICU patient.
However, God has shown his mercy to humankind. The psalmist David wrote, “As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust” (Psalm 103:12 – 14 NIV). For those who do not fear God, “He is patient… not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9 NIV).
Our Father’s good plan was made perfect through his Son, whose atonement for sin yields a not-to-miss offer: eternal life to “whoever believes in him” (John 3:16 NIV). For me, this promise is yielding genuine comfort as I prepare to say goodbye to my mother. And I look forward to seeing her again in a much better place.
There is wisdom in my Dad’s acceptance of old age and the inevitability of death. But thanks to the saving grace of God, it’s not the end for those who believe in Jesus.
There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain. Revelation 21:4 NIV
Patti is the co-author of Signs of His Presence—Experiencing God’s Comfort in Times of Suffering. It is the story of Luann Mire, whose godly husband was blindsided by an indictment due to a former employer’s tax fraud. The resulting prison sentence and restitution took the once joyful couple into a long season of suffering as they fought judicial tyranny. Helpless to change her situation, Luann endured a painful examination of her life and found God faithful to His promises.
Join the conversation: Have you noticed your perspective changing as you grow older?