We can learn many things from older people because whatever they are, their personalities and characteristics, good and bad are amplified in old age. Just like the very, very young, so too the very old cannot hide behind masks of politeness and civility like younger people can. Everything they are, good or bad, pours out freely, almost uncontrollably. Those who interact with the elderly will attest that every day with them is a school day, a day of learning.
Some old people might teach us wisdom, understanding, patience, faith and glorification of God.
“Is not wisdom found amongst the aged? Does not longer life bring understanding?” Job 12:12
Old people have the benefit of having lived many years. They have seen more things, they have experienced more pain, they have made more mistakes, and they have enjoyed more successes than young people. Old people have had the time to accumulate wisdom and understanding. We can learn much from them if we listen and observe them.
“Age should speak; advanced years should teach wisdom.” Job 32:7
We can learn from old people by seeing how patient and quiet they are. We can watch older people as they do things and we can copy them. We can listen to their stories and learn about how to bear suffering and how to navigate life. Older people can teach us how to encounter situations and how to deal with other people because they have done it so many times. Older people can especially teach us what not to do. They can teach us to distinguish between what matters in life and what doesn’t matter. They know what is important, and which activities are wasteful of life.
Primarily, if you spend time with faithful older people, they will teach you that only two things matter, loving and connecting with other people and loving, connecting with and glorifying God. All other activities may have some importance and relevance in life, but ultimately fade away and the only things that are left in the later years are one’s connection with God and other people. Older people see the hand of God in everyone and everything.
“My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion for ever.” Psalm 73:26
Finally, from pious older people, if we watch carefully and with an open heart, we learn that, as the years go by, one by one, everything can be stripped away from us. Everything! Our beauty, our fitness, our capacity to work, our health, our sharp intellect, our strength, our family, our capacity to stand, to speak and even to eat. But one thing remains! One strength, one hope, one sweetness, one salvation, one God.
However, some old people can also be a warning to us of what we might become if we do not take control of ourselves while we can, while we are young and strong.
If old people are not people of faith, instead of glorifying God and being people of serenity and happiness, they may harbour bitterness, anger, sadness, regret and worse of all, fear. They may find they can no longer conceal the passions and weaknesses that they once hid, but did not bother controlling as young people. They tend to be angry with God, as if he is to blame for their current spiritual emptiness and their fear.
One thing all older people say in common is “whatever you are going to do, do it now, while you are young. Later you will want to, but you will not be able to”.
Indeed, there is much that we can learn from old people.