A Lesson in Thankfulness from Senior Saints

Give Thanks in All Circumstances

Posted by Nancy Lee on November 23, 2023

My expectations are low as I head for the nursing home. I started a new job and had to reschedule my monthly worship service at the home where a friend of mine lives. I played phone tag for a while and finally was granted a slot for Wednesday morning at 10:00 a.m. instead of my usual Thursday afternoon at 2:00 p.m.

I arrive at 9:30 a.m. and am greeted by the receptionist who tells me there is a meeting going on in the room where we usually meet so I won’t be able to go in and set up. I take a seat in the lobby and pull out my Bible, wondering if any of the residents will be up and dressed.

A few minutes later a young woman comes out and tells me the meeting is going over time. “Would it be okay if we set you up in the lobby today?” she asks.

“Sure,” I say as she escorts me to an open area set up with living room furniture.

I am greeted by Diane, my friend from church who asked me about a year ago to lead worship services at her home. I had agreed to come once a month. A tall young aide begins pushing residents in their wheelchairs and adding them to the circle that is forming. I begin to recognize faces.

“Where’ve you been?” Josie asks as she grins at me and grabs my hand. “We were afraid you weren’t coming back.”

Soon I am looking at a full circle of eager faces, some familiar and some new. I am pleasantly surprised by the turn out. I haven’t even started yet, and I feel so blessed. I pick up my guitar, but I decide not to get out my songbooks or music stand because I don’t want to clutter the small space.

As the sun streams in the plate glass window behind me, I strum my guitar and start singing, “We have entered His gates with thanksgiving in our hearts …” About a dozen senior saints join in. We moved on to other simple choruses: “This is the day, this is the day, this is the day that the Lord has made …”

“What do we celebrate in November?” I ask.

 “Thanksgiving,” several respond in unity.

“What are you thankful for?” I ask. Most of the residents say they are thankful for family members. 

“Memories,” someone says, “are such a gift.” The others agree. 

“I am so thankful for the Bible,” Josie says. And then she tells a story: “World War II was such a hard time. My brother went off to war. After the war, my mother committed suicide. 

‘What am I going to do now?’ I asked my brother.

‘Read this,’ he said, and he gave me a Bible. That is where I read to seek first God’s kingdom. I met Jesus and I am so thankful. He has taken care of me ever since.” Josie’s face is glowing.

I turn to the gentleman on my left who is new to the group and ask him what he is thankful for. I can only make out one word, “Thank you,” which he repeats several times.

“What Bible verses do you want to read this morning?” I ask.

“Psalm 23,” someone calls out. 

Twelve voices recite with me, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want … surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life…” That verse sticks with me. As I look at the smiling faces, I think of those who have known God’s love and mercy their entire lives.

“Who has another favorite Bible verse?” I ask.

“Psalm 91,” Diane calls out.

I am surprised that most of the group joins in. “He that dwells in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty … For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways … With long life will I satisfy him, and show him my salvation.

 We move on to other Bible passages and more choruses, but I continue to ponder that last verse, “With long life will I satisfy him, and show him my salvation.”

“How many of you went to Sunday school?” I ask. “Oh yes,” “Every Sunday,” are shouted out along with many nods.

“Do you remember this song?” I ask, and then they all join in, “This Little Light of Mine.” We continue our Sunday School medley, “Jesus Loves Me,” “Jesus Loves the Little Children,” and “Deep and Wide.”

When we get to “Do Lord,” Susan, a woman in a wheelchair sitting across from me starts clapping, and Shelley, the woman sitting next to her starts waving her hands to the beat of the music. Soon the whole group is swaying, clapping or tapping to the music.

I pause for a moment to soak in the moment. “Do you feel God’s presence here?” I ask. By the nods and affirming words, I know they feel it, too. “Remember what the Bible says, whenever two or more are gathered, God promises to be there.” More nods.

We finish with more choruses and prayer. A young woman holding a clipboard who has been watching from around the corner stops me as I turn to leave. “This was wonderful," she says, “I have never seen the residents participate like this.” Even the staff feels it.

As I drive home I ponder what I have just witnessed. By our world's standards, the residents have so little. They have lost independence, homes, health, and loved ones. I think of Psalm 91:16: “With long life will I satisfy him…” 

We might be tempted to think, “If that is what being blessed with a long life looks like, I don't want it.” But these senior saints are not focusing on their losses. They remember the goodness and mercy God has given them their entire lives, and their hearts are full of thankfulness. They have learned the secret of I Thessalonians 5:18: “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus” (NIV).