Fulfilled living in later life
Pilgrims Friend encouragement

Q How can I be an encourager in older age?

In his letters to the churches the apostle Paul wrote about encouraging one another. One of the best encouragers I know is David, a retired maths teacher now in his late 80s. Of all the Scriptural principles, encouragement was especially important to him. He taught A Level maths to sixth formers, and strongly believed that pupils did best when encouraged, not driven, and was as pleased as the parents when his pupils did well. “We can achieve much more than we imagine when we are encouraged to believe that we can,” he would say.

In every area of his life he took pleasure in encouraging people; he would thank the music group at church and tell the pastor occasionally how his sermons were exactly what he needed to hear. Now and again in one of our philosophical chats he would say that on his gravestone he would like to have inscribed the words “He was an encourager.”

For the last few years his health has deteriorated, and he is coping with a dodgy heart and arthritis that affects his legs, and needs to use a walking stick. But he’s kept his sense of humour and his eyes still twinkle, so I was astonished when last time we met he reminded me of his gravestone wish and asked sadly, “But how can I be an encourager to anybody as I am now?”

I told him that “You don’t have to be perfect to inspire other people. The encouragement they receive from you is not about you, it’s about them! They love the way you take time to listen, and empathise with them. Also, they’re inspired by the way you deal with your struggles, your heartaches and your imperfections.”

I told him about some of the frail residents in our housing and care homes who go out of their way to encourage our carers, thinking of one I’d heard about recently who encouraged a carer who’d had a miscarriage. And of 85-year-old Winifred who had been a nurse. That caring aspect was strong, so she wanted to stay and help in any way she could. One of the ways was sitting in the lounge with residents waiting to be taken to bed; before each one was collected by a carer she would say a little night-time prayer and quote a Scripture verse. It’s also encouraging for staff when relatives say how well their loved ones are being looked after. Whether we are young or old, let’s all encourage one another!