Have you thought much about getting older? Your answer probably depends upon your age now. Younger, not so much? Older, absolutely. Real question is, what should characterize us as we age?
Hi, I’m Rex Rogers and this is episode #41 of Discerning What Is Best, a podcast applying unchanging biblical principles in a rapidly changing world, and a Christian worldview to current issues and everyday life.
I’m getting older and so are you. There, I said it. The cat’s out of the bag…sort of.
We all know this, of course. I mean, who doesn’t know they’re getting older? Kids like to remind us, “I’m 8 years old and next week I’m going to be 9.” They’re proud of the process. It’s like an achievement. But for the rest us, the ones who’ve “reached a certain age,” we’re not so enamored about what birthdays imply. No one, but retirement homes and life insurance agents, seem to want to talk about it.
Meanwhile, the “Fountain of Youth” offered by the cosmetics industry notwithstanding, aging is inevitable, inexorable, and irresistible. And youth is irretrievable.
Now there is one alternative to aging. Not aging, which comes with its partner, death. Some wag once said, “Nothing’s certain but death and taxes.” Yes, that’s true on both counts, which is why one joke common among elderly folks is “I’m glad to be here. Hey, I’m glad to be anywhere.” Older people love that joke.
We know “people are destined to die once,” (Hebrews 9:27), but death doesn’t claim everyone early. Aging is the “better alternative.”
Aging comes to us all, great and small. So, the question is not will we age but how will we age?
When someone says, “My, she’s aging gracefully,” mostly what’s being said is that she is aging well physically. In other words, she looks pretty good. Nothing wrong with that, though some people wryly note that aging gracefully is more about gravity than grace.
Yet there are a few things we can do to reinforce our prospects of aging gracefully.
One of my mentors once said, “Are you taking care of yourself? You know, whatever you do for the Lord you do in a body, so if you burn out your body you can’t keep serving the Lord.” That was Dr. Wilbert W. Welch, long-time Chancellor of Cornerstone University, who at the time was well into his 80s. When a gentleman of this age gives you advice on how to take care of yourself you’ve got to admit his words carry a lot of credibility. He lived, by the way, into his mid 90s.
Aging gracefully seems to be what most people, and certainly Madison Avenue, are worrying about. To an extent, I have no problem with this. Like Dr. Welch said, taking care of yourself pays dividends.
But still, I’d suggest, if we’re talking about physical things, aging gracefully is mostly beyond our control. What happens, happens.
My energy in my 60s is not my energy in my 30s. My eyes were once especially sharp—I won all the read-the-sign-way-down-the-road contests. Now I wear blended tri-focal lens, and the beat goes on.
Aside from the physical, there’s another profoundly more important way to approach aging. We can consider what it means to age graciously, which is entirely within our control.
Abraham Lincoln once said, “Every man over 40 is responsible for his own face.” His point, for women too: our choices, our lifestyle, show up in our countenance.
Scripture says, “A happy heart makes the face cheerful, but heartache crushes the spirit” (Proverbs 15:13). What’s on the inside shows up on the outside and etches tracks of its passing.
It’s possible to abuse our body, mind, and souls with worldly excesses: binge drinking and alcohol dependency, drugs including prescription opioids, unhealthy diets, cigarette smoking, little or no exercise, ongoing stress-inducing behaviors like overwork, lack of sleep, relentless drive for greater wealth, damaging and broken relationships, absence from church or other positive community, addictive pursuit of psychoactive drugs, sex, gambling, social media/Internet, video gaming—“About 41% of video gamers say they play video games to escape from real life…Over 7% of video gamers are addicted to this activity.”
And then there’s shopping. Wait, shopping? Yes, shopping. “Over 17 million Americans cannot control their urge to shop, even at the expense of finances, marriage, jobs, and family.” Obviously, this stresses budgets and relationships.
Finally, there’s obesity, which can cause everything from arthritis to certain cancers to heart disease to diabetes. “The estimated annual medical cost of obesity in the United States was nearly $173 billion in 2019 dollars.” Obesity is linked to six chronic diseases. It is one of the top five causes of death.
Notice disease per se is nowhere listed. Of course, disease takes a toll in a fallen world, but human beings are more responsible for their problems than we are typically willing to admit.
So, to review, it’s possible to inflict all manner of attitudes and behaviors upon our bodies, minds, and souls that debilitate our physical, mental, and emotional conditions and increase the prospects of an early death.
It’s hard to age gracefully or graciously if we die before our time. And don’t blame the Lord for this. He gave us all we need in Scripture for a joyful, productive, healthy life. But sound counsel is not effective if it is ignored.
Aging graciously can contribute to aging gracefully, but it’s about more than the physical. Aging graciously is about the spirit. Aging graciously is how the “real me” interacts with the world.
We make jokes, but there’s really no place in Scripture where we can justify “grouchy old women” or “crotchety old men.” It isn’t there, yet who we are inside often heightens or sharpens with age, and it comes out. Meanwhile, Solomon said, “Gray hair is a crown of splendor; it is attained by a righteous life” (Proverbs 16:31).
Doug Steimers was a wise friend. He served 5 years in the Canadian Army during WWII, was married for 65 years to June, who’s with the Lord, and then several years to Betty. He pastored churches in Canada and the States for 40 years, helped churches in conflict for 10 years, and for more than 10 years in his “retirement” founded and led a caregiver’s ministry for his church. He did this into his 90s.
Rev. Steimers, or Doug to most anyone, uses the word “intentionality,” meaning we should not simply grow “older” but “closer,” on purpose, to awareness of God’s presence in our lives. He says, “I’ve often asked myself and others, ‘How are we seniors using our last years for God?’”
Doug said seniors should share more compassion than complaints. He recommended people do two things:
- “Use your life intentionally for God; think about your motives,” and
- “Broaden yourself,” keep learning, keep being open to what God can do with you now, today, at this age.
It’s true that Doug, like Dr. Welch, was blessed with good health, which allowed him to remain active. But he also made decisions relative to his activities. For example, he voluntarily decided not to drive after dark or in heavy traffic during the day. There came a point in time when he declined public speaking invitations because his own evaluation suggested he could no longer speak in a manner to which he’d been accustomed.
We can learn even more about aging graciously if we unpack Doug’s decisions. In thinking proactively about his life, he offered us a model. He didn’t “keep going” out of some spiritualized sense that he must because God demanded it. He didn’t wait until others felt he should not continue to serve—it’s always difficult (and it happens a lot) when an older person refuses to stop or change long after he or she should have done so.
Doug didn’t associate his “worth” with his ability to do certain things. Not doing these things didn’t create for him an “insecurity problem.” No, his sense of who he was rested in his relationship with the Lord. Doug knew God is in charge of aging as well as serving, ministering, working.
Dr. Welch modeled a similar process for me too. In his 80s, he chose a times, resigned from boards, decided not to continue speaking publicly when the rest of us still wanted him to do so, and made personal arrangements regarding he and his wife’s future living and care. I honor Dr. Welch and Rev. Steimers for their godly examples of proactive stewardship.
We can fight it and complain about it. Or we can consider it a blessing and use it. That’s what I learned from Wilbert Welch and Doug Steimers. Aging gracefully is OK but might be selling our potential short. Aging graciously is a way to multiply a positive impact upon others in our latter years.
Aging godly is another level. Who better to proclaim God’s faithfulness than older people?
I understand our Rogers family verse better now than when my wife Sarah and I chose it at the birth of our first child in January 1976. “The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy” (Psalm 126:3).
Aging ones know: “Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever” (Psalm 23:6).
Aging gracefully, graciously, godly is a worthy legacy.
Well, we’ll see you again soon. This podcast is about Discerning What Is Best. If you find this thought-provoking and helpful, follow us on your favorite podcast platform. Download an episode for your friends. For more Christian commentary, check my website, r-e-x-m as in Martin, that’s rexmrogers.com.
And remember, it is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm.
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