My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. (Psalm 73: 26)
As many of you probably know by now, JAC has had the privilege of worshipping with our brothers and sisters at the Actors’ Fund Nursing Home in Englewood for the past year and a half. While we are completely confident that God has called us to the Actors’ Fund Home, we must admit that nursing home worship is not always the most glamorous or rewarding of volunteer experiences. Oftentimes, it is difficult to see beyond what it seems to be at first glance—a lackluster hour spent in an overly heated room, surrounded by wheelchair-bound or bedridden elderly who are minimally awake (occasionally) or completely asleep (usually). And that’s on a good day! Sometimes, it can be a highly disconcerting experience, especially when you are in the middle of giving an earnest homily, and a resident in the back keeps shouting at you to “shut up already!” Woof.
And you have to wonder, what is the good of it all? What hope can we—or even God—offer these residents, many of whom are well in the advanced stages of dementia and can’t even carry on basic everyday chores? How can they worship God or respond to His message if they can’t even remember their own names, or their children’s names or what they ate for lunch that day?
But to look at our time at the Actors’ Fund Home merely for what it appears to be on the surface would be to completely miss the point of it all.
There are countless verses in the bible when God commands His people to love and care for the vulnerable. Time and time again, He demonstrates the special concern He has for the defenseless, the oppressed and the marginalized, and it is quite clear that God’s heart for “the least of these” is a significant part of His character and who He is. This should be reason enough for us to make it one of our top priorities to spend time with nursing home residents, many who are so physically and mentally frail that they literally cannot speak up for themselves and who have literally become marginalized from mainstream life. We go because God called us to go and because God is already there, waiting for us.
But of course that is not all. Whenever we answer God’s call in our lives, we receive so much. I have experienced God’s grace countless times during my visits to the Actors’ Fund Nursing Home through the seemingly “little” things: the smile on the face of an elderly man who had appeared so downcast at the beginning of the service, the occasional, unexpected “thank you” from a resident or the experience of witnessing an elderly woman (who I had assumed to be non-verbal based on her silence in the weeks prior) suddenly belting out a familiar hymn in the middle of our praise time.
But there is another gift I receive from God through my monthly visits to the nursing home that trumps all others, and that is the very raw, honest and in-your-face way in which God reminds me of His love for me. Worshipping with the residents at the Actors’ Fund Home reminds me that God’s love for all of us is unconditional and super duper faithful, and that nothing—not the pain in our bodies or the forgetfulness of our minds or the loneliness in our hearts or the circumstances of our lives—can separate us from the love that God has for us in Jesus Christ.
Even when we, in our weakness, forget who God is, God will never forget us or forsake us, and even when we can’t remember who we are, we can find comfort in knowing that the Maker and Ruler of all of the universe knows every hair on our heads. God knows my name, and He calls me His friend (John 15:15), His handiwork (Ephesians 2:10), His treasured possession (Deuteronomy 7:6), His heir (Romans 8:17), and His beloved daughter (2 Corinthians 6:18).
So, here’s kind of a not fun spoiler alert: Everything we have ever relied on or come to value as ours—even our very own flesh and hearts—will ultimately fail us. It’s true. But here is the good news! Our flesh and our hearts may fail, but God is the strength of our hearts and our portion forever (and ever and ever and for all eternity).
I hope this encourages you in your walk today. Let’s all together declare and receive this unfailing promise of God today and everyday, amen!
**We will be meeting at the Actors’ Fund Nursing Home this upcoming Sunday (12/6) from 2:00-3:00PM for our Christmas service with the residents. Please feel free to join us. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org with questions or comments.**