I just read a new article by John Piper entitled “Sanctification and Senility: How to Fight When Your Mind is Failing.” Piper’s focus is on those who still have some cognitive ability—for example, elders who are able to read, write things down, or use a smartphone. I appreciate his encouragements to work hard and trust God as memory starts to fade. As he writes:
“Ask the Lord — be urgent and sincere — to strengthen your memory of his promises. I know this sounds naïve in the face of real, physical brain deterioration. But I do not think we should be so fatalistic that we think God would not give us some help. We do not know what small miracles he might work for us.”
For me, his article raises the question: What about people who seemingly have little to no remaining conscious ability to lean in faith on God? How do people with Alzheimer’s and dementia continue to access the Lord’s promises and comforts?
God is able to do exceedingly abundantly beyond all that we ask or even think (Eph. 3: 20)
This is why I love doing what I do. Every single time that I lead a Bible study or worship service for elders with Alzheimer’s, I see miracles.
These dear elders say things you would never expect someone with dementia to be able to say. They praise God with tears in their eyes. They come to life—even if just for a moment—with gratitude for how God is with them. They recall scriptures hidden in their hearts for decades.
I can assure you that even when people seem “gone” in the fog of dementia, God never stops reaching out to bring them joy and hope. Their spirits are very much alive, and God has not forgotten them. He is the Good Shepherd, bringing his lambs home. He is always, always active.
Examples of “small miracles”
Just yesterday, I was leading a scripture discussion on Romans 8: 31-38 with a group of elders, most of whom have dementia. One woman was somewhat agitated, saying “help me, help me,” and her caregiver almost took her away so as not to disturb the group.
But I turned to her and started loudly reading the section, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, nor angels or rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation …” and then paused. Without missing a beat, this woman raised her hand and finished the verse, saying clearly, “SHALL BE ABLE TO SEPARATE US FROM THE LOVE OF GOD IN CHRIST JESUS.”
Another woman, who was new to the group that day, simply put her hand over her heart, closed her eyes, and said, “Magnificent.”
A couple of weeks ago, studying Psalm 103, I asked “What does it mean that God ‘forgives all your iniquity and heals all your diseases’?” One woman piped up, “God is a doctor!”
And when we discussed “forget not all his benefits” (Psalm 103: 2), I asked, “What benefits have you seen from God in your life?”
People answered so quickly I had trouble writing them all down: “Being born.” “Family.” “He heals all your diseases.” “He’s always there.” “His faithfulness.” “The luckiest I’ve ever been in when I got [my wife.]” “Joy.”
And one guy enthusiastically and wonderfully answered, “I’m not done yet!”
Amen to that.
Peace be with you,