Lessons Learned from Shepherding a 106 Year-Old Widow


I have had the honor of knowing an amazing lady in my church. Tillie Roberts, affectionately known to most of us as “Ms. Tillie,” is 106 years old and is doing well despite some recent health problems. She was in the hospital this past week for fatigue issues and has been moved to a nursing home this week. In caring for her this past week, I have been reminded of what a gem of a lady she is and what the Lord has graciously taught me through the years as her young pastor. Here are a few thoughts…

“Having walked with the Lord longer than I’ve been alive” principle. This is a good general rule for us as young pastors to consider. 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. 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 do with Ms. Tillie. You might be surprised what you will learn.

The perspective of history. I love history and love 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.

The usefulness of a sharp mind. Even now at 106 years old, 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 a lot physically in recent years, but she used her mind to the fullest, even into these much later years. She still reads, studies her Bible, thinks deeply about life issues, and is an inspiration to young and old to do the same.

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 3 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 has come into the church the last 10 years. It is one thing for us to say we are content in Christ, yet race around seeking things in life that portrays the opposite. This woman is truly satisfied in Christ and has powerfully reflected that satisfaction in the joy she has had in her simple life.

This woman has truly been 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. If you have led your church in such a way that elderly folks do not feel welcome or that you do not want them…well, I am concerned for you (that may need to be a separate future post…).

Brian Croft

Brian Croft is the pastor of Auburndale Baptist Church in Louisville, KY. He writes frequently at practicalshepherding.com. You can find him on Twitter at @PastorCroft.

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