Just recently, my widowed mother expressed how she felt devalued by members of the body of Christ. She felt that as an elderly widow she wasn’t valued because she didn’t have much to offer in the way of finance or service. Later that day, I was studying the birth of Jesus and saw Anna’s story. I couldn’t help but think of what my mother had expressed to me just that day. Anna was old and widowed. She was continually at the temple. Perhaps, like my mom, what she did seemed insignificant to both her and those she served, however, she was rewarded by God by being at the temple at the right time in order to welcome the Messiah. Anna could have used her circumstances as an excuse to stay home. Instead her life offers us valuable lessons.
We are told in Luke’s account of Jesus’ birth that, “There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; (Luke 2:36a).” Sometimes it’s easy to leave things to those who are younger than we are. They seem more capable and they definitely have more energy. However, Anna didn’t allow her age to keep her from finding a way to be fruitful in the temple.
As I’ve entered my 50’s, I’ve found myself falling into this trap thinking that nursery work or teaching kids’ church is for younger people. It’s almost as though I feel that I’ve “paid my dues” and now the responsibility has fallen elsewhere. But the truth is that the body of Christ functions best as a multi-cultural, multi-generational entity. Our contributions, no matter how small they may seem in our own eyes, are valuable.
Not only was Anna a widow, but she had been widowed for decades! Anna became so busy and attentive in service at the temple, that she never remarried. “…she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four (Luke 2:36b-37a).” Too much time on our hands can definitely be a detriment to our well-being. Now that my children are no longer at home, as a single woman who is looking for full time work, I have experienced this. There are days that Netflix pulls me into someone else’s experiences or escapism. I’ve even had to guard my heart against depression and boredom.
However, as I’ve taken some of my extra time to serve at church through their ministry at a soup kitchen, seminars on evangelism and small group attendance, my time has become more balanced around God’s people as I wait for a job that requires more of my time. I have found purpose in the body of Christ and my mental and emotional well-being has improved.
Being a single mid-aged or elderly woman can feel very lonely. There are days when I’d love to feel sorry for myself, or envy those friends who have spouses and grandchildren around them every day. When I choose to do like Anna did and serve others, I am always filled with delight.
There are tasks that can be performed by anyone at any age and physical condition in service to God and to the church. One of them is prayer. Often times, prayer is undervalued and underestimated as a service to God’s people. Apparently, Anna made this her ministry for we are told at the end of verse 37, “She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying.”
We need to celebrate those who take on the service of intercession. After all, we know that our battles are often spiritual. Even though we may depend of the physical strength of those who are younger and stronger, they may be depending on our spiritual maturity and strength as we pray.
“Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem (Luke 2:38).”
Once Anna experienced meeting the Messiah, she shared the Good News with others. Even in her old age, Anna became an evangelist and Good News bearer! She was full of hope and excitement in those things that would happen in the next generation. She didn’t stay behind in her thoughts to what God did in the “good old days.” Instead, she rejoiced in what she saw God doing for future generations through the Messiah.
It’s so easy to fall into yesterday’s victories and compare how things used to be. The danger in this is that we miss what is happening “at (this) very moment…” Anna recognized the beauty of here and now because she was praying for the future.
Seasons come and go, and it’s okay to realize that you are in a new or different season in church community. However, never allow yourself to be distracted by your own loneliness, or physical limitations. Anna didn’t. Rather than wallowing in self-pity, Anna gave herself to service through prayer and fasting, even in her old age. Anna didn’t get stuck in the rut of remembering only the past, but was excited about a future she wouldn’t even experience; the future of a new generation. Because of this practice, she recognized a pivotal moment in history and shared the Good News of it with those around her; an inspiring example to all of us to be sure.
Rev. Dr. Rob Toornstra
Dr. Robert Ritzema