Building Up the Temple—Even When You Don’t Feel Like It

P1050100My mother enjoys reading to persons in the healthcare area of her retirement home complex. It may be more accurate to say she thrives on it—volunteering, having something special to do, connecting with people. She’s a very social 91-year-old.

When we don’t feel like singing (or doing whatever) because of illness, grief, or getting older, just start in and maybe we’ll cheer up and find a new way of looking at whatever confronts us.

A woman she’d read to once a week for a number of years died in the last year. So she was without someone to read to—a read-ee? Is that what you’d call such a person?

Finally, the volunteer department matched her up with a woman who wanted to be read to; the woman has mobility issues as well as increasing dementia. My mother noted the first name of the resident, but at first it didn’t ring any bells; it was a common name. Then she went to the woman’s room. It was a woman she has known from earliest Sunday school days; they grew up in the same church! Mother was delighted. She sometimes visited her anyway; I won’t share the name in the interest of patient privacy.

But reading to this woman was sometimes discouraging; here was her friend, not quite getting things anymore, although she knew Mother’s name at once. Some days her friend was more alert and responsive than others. All of us get a little discouraged when we are forced to confront our own aging, and see where we could be five, ten or more years down the road.

Mother carefully chose passages, planning what she would read. She enjoys picking things from one of my own books, Why Didn’t I Just Raise Radishes?, filled with short two- to three-page devotionals and packed with stories from my own child-rearing days. The book contains many family memories of which Mother was also a part.

So one week Mom chose a chapter sharing the sometimes unwittingly profound or amusing things children say or ask. One story was regarding the time my older daughter was giving her younger sister advice on going to school: “Don’t forget—a rule at our school is ‘Don’t walk out of the bathroom with your pants still down!’”

That same daughter asked me an unusual question when we were expecting our third child. I was reading a book of some sort when Michelle pried, “Mommy, is that book about pregnancy?”

“No,” I replied. “Why?”

“Well you should be reading books about being pregnant.” I’m sure both Mom and her friend chuckled over that one.

There were cute questions from kids about Bible things as well. One of our children once asked “Mommy, what comes after the New Testament?”

And this: “If you say God doesn’t need to sleep [Psalm 121—‘God never slumbers’] why does the creation story say God rested?”

And one of my own childhood questions to Mom was about whether in her day, Bibles were written on scrolls.

At any rate, the emotionally clinching story in that chapter was a true story from another family whose church building burned down. When the congregation gathered for singing at the charred site sometime soon after the fire, the family’s two-year-old was sad and said he “didn’t feel like singing.” A bit later, he had cheered up enough, hearing the music I’d guess, that he suggested, “Maybe we could sing ‘Building Up the Temple.’”

Mom said she and her friend sang that song together after Mom finished the reading—even adding the motions. Do you know or remember those hand motions, stacking one fist on top of the other? Mom said, “We probably looked funny, two old ladies singing and doing those motions” like they were back in Sunday school.

I’m glad Mom and her friend could still sing that great little chorus without real embarrassment. If we think of the biblical reminder that our bodies are temples for God’s Spirit in us (1 Corinthians 3:16), there’s a nice double message there: when we don’t feel like singing (or doing whatever) because of illness, grief, or getting older, just start in and maybe we’ll cheer up and find a new way of looking at whatever confronts us. It’s a way to build up fortitude, strength, and faith.


For a free leaflet, Journey through Loneliness, which may help you or others experiencing loss and change, request from Another Way, 1251 Virginia Ave., Harrisonburg, VA 22802, or email