The Grace to Be Diminished
by Win Couchman
Our friend, Ken Weaver, was a psychologist whose specialty was caring for older people whom he respected and admired. His description of what he considered to be their finest quality was “their grace to be diminished.”
Even though my husband Bob and I have sat in the balcony of our church for forty years or so, sitting there has concerned me for the past several years. There are no railings up there, and the steep incline of the balcony meant that the back of the seats in front of us were too far down to lean against. But those were our seats, and around us were all our many pew friends. How could we ever move down to the floor level?
Three months ago, my beloved older sister fell; a dreadful full length fall backwards onto asphalt. Three days later she died. Bob and I spoke to each other after that about how, when one is old, in many situations one must either act foolishly or look foolish. It may be wise to walk more slowly, carry a cane, whatever. Even if it looks sort of foolish to onlookers, to be prudent, we must change our ways to match our season. We needed grace to be diminished. So, a few weeks ago we moved to the main floor of the church.
Giving Up Driving
Following major surgery three years ago, I gave up my driver’s license. I decided the world did not need any more violence, and I was fully aware that I had never been anything better than a borderline driver. At nearly eighty, it was time to quit. I signed off.
Letting Go of Cooking
For years we have been part of an every-six-weeks potluck and prayer evening for any missionaries who are home at the moment. These are among the richest ministry activities of our lives. We take two hours to visit and eat - homemade apple pies, Mexican casseroles, and big wooden bowls of salad with the season’s freshest vegetables - and two hours to pray. Preparing and taking my part of the “pot” was, of course, a favorite aspect of the whole experience.
Then one of the women who coordinates the potlucks called me and said with winsome authority, “Win, enough already. You have been involved with these evenings for about twenty years now, I think. You have done your bit. We want you and Bob to be at every one, but you are not to bring any more food, you hear?” Only then did I realize how the slowness with which I function now, and the accompanying late afternoon fatigue, was beginning to color my anticipation with some dread.
Gladly I responded, “Okay.” It’s awkward to walk into someone’s house on potluck Saturdays empty-handed just as another couple arrives loaded with goodies. In that moment, I silently look to God for the grace to be diminished.
Traveling gradually became a pain undertaken only because we could not bear to miss seeing our children who live on each coast. Our California son admonished us, “You guys pack too much. You can’t manage all that weight anymore.” For months after Don spoke his peace, in my head I kept laying out what we actually had to pack for our upcoming seventeen days in northern California. It was not going to be a lying on the beach sort of time. We don’t do those.
The two-and-a-half weeks would involve participating in a wedding, attending two family reunions, hoping the birth of our second great-grandchild would occur while we were there so we could drive to meet her, etc. I plotted and planned. For one thing, I realized we must not take homemade prune bread to Don, nor could I afford the weight of extra reading material which has always saved my life on planes and in guest bedrooms. My Bible and one other book were my limit. We shrunk our luggage to a garment bag and one suitcase. Our son applauded. I know I will now be a stingy packer for as long as we can travel.
Dealing with Hearing Loss
Bob has his own particular area of diminishing. Hard of hearing, he is sporting aids on both ears. Even with that help, he hears little of group conversation. Because of this, he, like many other people in our age group, becomes silent and isolated at social functions. Short-term memory loss, too, is an embarrassing reality. Fortunately, this engineer man of mine is in great demand with all his children and grandchildren to utilize his computer skills to help them in various projects. Just now he is working with a sixteen-year-old grandson to design and produce business cards for the Montagnard refugees who have been rescued from persecution and are struggling to find a respected spot in our American culture.
We are trying to take advantage of every opportunity available to us to be enlarged in order to balance that which is shrinking. Examples: Bob constantly hones his computer skills, and we walk a brisk mile six days a week together, praying as we walk.
A New Spiritual Reality
The new life in us which we will be living forever is looming larger. The words in 2 Cor. 4:16-18 are making more sense than ever before. Here are those verses in The New Living Translation: “That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are quite small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us an immeasurably great glory that will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see right now; rather, we look forward to what we have not yet seen. For the troubles we see will soon be over, but the joys to come will last forever.”
Our early morning time of praise and prayer for each member of our family does renew our spirits. We want to start by adoring God, so we always begin praying a page from one of Dr. Boa’s small devotional books which uses Scripture, but turn the verses into praise or prayer (Face to Face, I & II, and The Heart of God).
This morning after praising God for many blessings, we moved on to praying for each other and then our children and their children and their children. I kept my eyes open, tracking the morning star as it appeared to be moving in an arc in the predawn sky outside our bedroom window. I find incredible beauty in nature and I am in love with its Creator.
The Word He has written is becoming more personal and interesting all the time. Somehow the sense that a Person is talking with us gets more real. Bob and I are dead tired when he opens his Bible to read to us before we go to sleep at night. Yet we both love this time. He will say, “How about it, Darling, are you awake enough for one more chapter?” Nearly always I am very sleepy, but I think if I really try, I can listen to one more chapter in Mark following Jesus through another one of His days on earth, before sleep overtakes me. So I answer, “Yes, one more chapter.”
In our early eighties, God is giving us grace to live with those areas in which we are shrinking or becoming somewhat frail, for what lies ahead appears closer and more marvelous day by day.
But if you go to our church, please pretend not to notice when we scurry to the elevator instead of taking the steps down to the main floor in the church, okay?