What I Learned from Pastoring 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,” was 106 years old when she died, just 3 months 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 as a young pastor.

Here are a few of those lessons learned:

1. The “I’ve Walked with the Lord Longer than You’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. 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.

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.

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 Mr. Tillie. 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 at her knowledge of these things, but at how she remembered so well working with such tools while growing up on a farm.

When we talk with those who can remember when there weren’t any cars, actually lived through the Great Depression, and watched loved ones leave for war assuming they would never come back, we gain a helpful perspective on the things we’re most likely to focus on and strive after in our own day.

3. The Value of a Sharp Mind

Even as her final days approached, Ms. Tillie had a stunningly sharp mind. Less than five 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).

Physically, Ms. Tillie couldn’t do much in recent years. But she used her mind to the fullest to the very end of her life. Until the day she died, she still read and studied her Bible, thought deeply about life issues, and was an inspiration to young and old to do the same.

4. Contentment in Christ

Ms. Tillie’s life testified to the Christian calling that “with food and covering we will be content” (1 Tim. 6:8). She was widowed almost forty years ago, yet never remarried. She bought a new car in 1970 and, when she stopped driving it five years ago, it only had 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 came to the church over the past ten years.

Too often, we say we are content in Christ and yet race around seeking the things of this world in a way that proves the opposite is true. Ms. Tillie was truly satisfied in Christ and powerfully reflected that satisfaction in the joy she exhibited each and every day. In summary, she was a gift to know and to shepherd.

If you have these kinds of elderly folk in your church, consider yourself blessed. If you don’t, I’m sad for you—for there are many lessons to learn from the faithful widows all around us.

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