I have had the honor of knowing an amazing lady in my church. Tillie Roberts, affectionately known to most of us as “Ms. Tillie,” was 106 years old when she died, just 3 month shy of her 107th birthday. Although she died a few years ago, I am often reminded of what an amazing lady she was and what the Lord had graciously taught me through her life and example. Here are a few of those lessons learned:
1) The “Having walked with the Lord longer than I’ve been alive” principle.
This is a good general rule for us as young pastors especially. If there is someone in our church that has been walking with the Lord long before we were born, they will probably have a thing or two to teach us about life. It may not be about the atonement, the active and passive obedience of Christ, or a complex breakdown of eschatology. There is, however, much they can teach us about marriage, child-rearing, walking with the Lord through suffering, and many other insights a long life brings. So pay attention when they speak. Ask them about their life, as I regularly did with Ms. Tillie. You might be surprised what you will learn.
2) The perspective of history.
I love history and loved learning it from this woman. I remember lunch at Cracker Barrel with Ms. Tillie a few years ago where she talked me through the different antique farming tools hanging on the walls. I was amazed not only in her knowledge of these things, but how she had remembered so well working with these tools while growing up on a farm. When you talk with someone who remembers when there were not any cars, really lived through the great depression, and watched loved ones leave for war assuming they would not come back…a helpful perspective on our Internet, I-Pad, GPS, world is powerfully given.
3) The usefulness of a sharp mind.
Even as her final days approached, she has a stunningly sharp mind. Less than 5 years ago, she could not only walk up to my children and call them by name, but knew each of their birthdays and how old they were (which meant the world to them). Ms. Tillie could not do much physically in recent years, but she used her mind to the fullest, even into these much later years. Until the day she died, she still read, studied her Bible, thought deeply about life issues, and was an inspiration to young and old to do the same.
4) Contentment in Christ.
This woman’s life testifies of the Christian calling that “with food and covering we will be content” (1 Tim. 6:8). She was widowed almost 40 years ago, yet never remarried. She bought a new car in 1970 and when she stopped driving it about 5 years ago it had only 25,000 miles on it. She was unable to have children of her own, so she made it a point to adopt and invest in every new child (including mine) that had come into the church the last 10 years. It is one thing for us to say we are content in Christ, yet it is another to race around seeking things in life that portray the opposite. This woman was truly satisfied in Christ and powerfully reflected that satisfaction in the joy she had in her simple life.
This woman was a gift to know and shepherd. If you have these kinds of elderly folks in your church, you are a blessed pastor. If you do not, I am sad for you for there are many lessons to learn from these faithful elderly widows entrusted to your care. I believe it is a part of God’s design to use these precious people to help us grow.