Aging Well: The Island of Misfit Toys

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I just returned from a trip to see my grandsons, ages three and five. Like most preschoolers, they were getting very excited about Christmas. Each morning, they rushed to turn on the Christmas tree lights before opening their Advent calendar. Every time we sang “Away in a Manger,” the five year-old rearranged the characters in the nativity scene on top of the piano. Then at least five times a day, the three year-old crawled into my lap and asked me to read his favorite holiday book, “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer.”

rudtoys-webTime and time again I read to him that Rudolph felt different and left out of the reindeer games because of his bright red nose. I’d tell him how Rudolph ran away from Christmastown and eventually visited the Island of Misfit Toys where toys like the train with square wheels and the polka-dot elephant lived because they had been rejected and had no children to love them.

After I read the book for the umpteenth time, I had an epiphany. The book described how many older adults feel, too. Like misfits. Unloved. Rejected because of how they look or what they can no longer do.

It reminded me of a something that happened just a few weeks ago while I was participating in an older adult ministry conference. During one meal I was seated next to a man who appeared to be in his late seventies. We chatted about the conference and exchanged information about our backgrounds. He was curious to know how I started writing and speaking on issues of aging and faith.

I told him that the experiences I’d had with my own aging parents led me to a ministry of encouraging and nurturing older adults, especially those who have lost a sense of purpose. I explained that one of my goals is to help adult children and church leaders stand in the shoes of aging loved ones and really try to feel what they are feeling– loss, fear, rejection, purposelessness.

As I told him my story, I began to notice tears sliding down his face. He wiped his wet cheeks with the sleeve of his shirt. It was obvious that I had unknowingly said something that touched a deep place in his heart.

The older man suddenly confessed that he felt guilty because he now understood that he had been terribly insensitive to his own aging mother in the last years of her life. He’d shown impatience with her slowness and too often had spoken to her in a frustrated tone.

“I constantly hurried her and showed my displeasure, as if she was poking along on purpose,” he said. “Now that I am old myself, I understand what she must have been feeling. It’s hard getting old. I am ashamed that I was not more compassionate,” he said with glistening eyes.

His words caught me by surprise. I reminded him that all of us have made mistakes, and I encouraged him to turn his regret into an opportunity to “pay it forward,” to help others better understand what it is to grow old.

Our conversation made me think about the countless times that older adults have come to me following one of my speaking events just to say, “I wish my adult children were here. They need to hear what you have to say because they don’t understand what I’m going through.”

This Advent as we prepare our hearts to draw close to the Christ Child, I pray that we will think about the ways in which churches and family members reject older adults like unwanted toys. Like the man who confessed his guilt, we can start by acknowledging our lack of compassion. Then perhaps we can genuinely embrace the lessons the Child can teach us through Rudolph and the misfit toys.

Missy Buchanan, UMR Columnist

Missy Buchanan is a sought-after speaker on topics of older adult ministry and spiritual creativity, she brings passion and humor to many events for churches, organizations, and women’s groups. She has appeared on Good Morning America with co-host Robin Roberts and is the author of books including Living with Purpose in a Worn-Out Body: Spiritual Encouragement for Older Adults, Talking with God in Old Age: Meditations and Psalms, and Don’t Write My Obituary Just Yet: Inspiring Faith Stories for Older Adults. She has written for many publications including Presbyterians Today, Mature Years, Christian Association Serving Adults Ministries, Entrepreneur, and The Dallas Morning News.

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The United Methodist Reporter wants to encourage lively conversation about The United Methodist Church and our articles in the belief that Christian conversation (what Wesley would call conferencing) is a means of grace. While we support passionate debate, we cannot allow language that demeans or demonizes others, and we reserve the right to delete any comment we believe to be harmful or inappropriate. We encourage all to remember that we are all broken and in need of Christ's grace, and that we all see through the glass darkly until that time we when reach full perfection in love. May your speech here be tempered with love, and reflection of the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. After all, "There is no law against things like this." (Galatians 5:22-23)
 
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james

I am an “older adult.” Seventy two plus. About 18 months ago i had to quit caring for my wife in our home (who is one month younger than I am) and place her in a nursing facility becasue of Alzheimer’s. Nothing I had done in this life was as difficult–even though I had/have the support of our grown children. I am able to see my sweet wife only 3 days a week because of distance and also the price of fuel. Guilty feelings? You bet. I agonize over unsaid things and ungiven hugs and unsaid “I love you’s,” and… Read more »

Missy Buchanan, UMR Columnist
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Missy Buchanan

What a heartfelt post! Thank you for sharing your innermost thoughts about this difficult season of life for you and your family. Please know that I am praying for you. May God’s peace and comfort surround you this Advent.

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