Aging With Grace

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Aging With Grace

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Face it. You and I are getting older. We don't like to admit it, but it is happening. We're not as young, fast or strong as we once were. Our memory likely isn't as sharp as it was a few years ago. The effects of aging have taken a strange toll on our bodies: altered the color of our hair (or banished large portions of it), slowed us down, made a lot of things sag. The whole process seems anything but graceful.

As a friend of mine once jokingly told me, there's one positive thing about growing old: It sure beats the alternative.

Actually there are many positive aspects of growing old, and the Bible recognizes that fact. In Leviticus 19:32 Leviticus 19:32You shall rise up before the hoary head, and honor the face of the old man, and fear your God: I am the LORD.
American King James Version×
God commanded His people, "You shall rise before the gray headed and honor the presence of an old man . . ."

God gave this instruction to ancient Israel. To this people, recently freed from slavery, He revealed guidelines to make a system of human society work and work well. The acts of respect and courtesy to be shown to the elderly were to teach the importance of honoring those who, by virtue of their age and experience, should have become assets to their community and possess reservoirs of valuable knowledge.

Since the over-60 group constitutes a significant part of society, it is important that members of that group react with their neighbors in a way that commands the respect the Scripture says should be paid to them. That respect must, of course, be earned, not forced.

How does this happen? How can we age gracefully, gaining the honor of others along the way?

God doesn't play favorites

We should understand that God has no favorite age-group. The Psalms tell us that a typical life lasts about 70 years (Psalms 90:10 Psalms 90:10The days of our years are three score years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labor and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.
American King James Version×
). People of all ages in the seven decades of this average human life span are successfully serving God. We are all responsible for doing what we can to make all our years valuable to God and our fellowman (Ecclesiastes 9:10 Ecclesiastes 9:10Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, where you go.
American King James Version×

Each stage of life has special joys and specific problems. If we are aware of the needs, realities and responsibilities of each, we will be much better equipped to function well and help others.

In later years a person's productive ability, especially the physical, will inevitably decline. This does not make him lazy. Aging is simply a natural occurrence, planned and designed by God. Therefore, as we grow older, it is not wise or accurate to make statements comparing our physical abilities with those of 20-year-olds: "I can do just as much work now as when I was 20" or, "I can outwork any dozen 20-year-olds."

It isn't realistic to expect that we can perform the same amount of physical work we were able to do when we were decades younger. Such comments will do nothing to command respect from younger people, who could be helped by the understanding and wisdom of those older.

Aging slows physical skills, but that's all right. God expects more from us than just our ability to perform physical labor.

We should take time and opportunity for refocusing on spiritual, intellectual and social values. Believe it or not, we should become sages.

Sagacity does not come automatically with the passing of years. The ability to render sound advice and judgments increases if those years are filled with broadening experiences, contemplative thought and profitable effort. That is why it is important that we both recognize the need for reflective thinkers and doers and make a concerted effort to fill the void.

Savvy senior citizens

An informed, knowledgeable older person who has the time, patience and skills developed by concerted effort and thought is invaluable as a source of knowledge. This is one reason SCORE, the Service Corps of Retired Executives, a Washington, D.C.-based group of retired people who donate their time and expertise to help others start small businesses, can be so important to a community. Business skills, as all others, must be developed over time.

(Call SCORE at [800] 634-0245, or find it at on the World Wide Web of the Internet.)

Long ago the poet Robert Browning captured the gist of the autumn of life when he wrote:

I'm growing fonder of my staff, I'm growing dimmer in the eyes,I'm growing fainter in my laugh, I'm growing deeper in my sighs,I'm growing careless of my dress, I'm growing frugal of my gold,I'm growing wise, I'm growing—yes—old.

Browning captured much of the essence of aging, both the realities (which cannot be avoided) and the proclivities (which can and should be avoided). In so doing, he provided us with a valuable key to override our less-desirable natural tendencies during these years.

Wrinkles reproduce themselves. Lotions help but little. Sometimes we're surprised when everything works reasonably well. It would be wonderful to grow rich and stay healthy and enjoy one's every moment as we age, but that's not the lot of most of us most of the time. Retirement is not all recreation. Stoicism, silence, even complaining and pretending, only make it more difficult.

The importance of being cheerful

It is vital that we do cheerfully what we can—to see a need and fill it—within the limits of our skills and abilities. Consider a tragedy:

A young man says to an old man, "What is your greatest burden as you grow old?" The ancient one replies: "That I have nothing to carry." Let's try not to let this kind of misfortune befall us. Some things we can no longer do, but there is much we can give. Let's strive not to allow the aging process to stifle our ability or desire to help others.

Life's memories can be beautiful, but many are not. Depression, losing friends and comrades, physical decline—the list goes on and on—can wear us down physically and mentally. It is not healthy to constantly relive our problems. We need to learn the appropriate lessons and try to live so that others, especially the young, are interested in what we have to say.

We do our credibility no good when we say: "When I was your age, we did it better . . ." or, "You aren't old enough to remember that . . ." We need to impart our knowledge in a way so that our young audience will want to know more of what we know. We need to convey our knowledge like effective teachers, not as faultfinders who demean their listeners. Getting this right is difficult, but it is not impossible.

"The best is yet to come" is a cliché that is not self-evident to aging baby boomers, but don't allow the advancing years to shrivel your enthusiasm, example, courage and fortitude.

Contrary to popular opinion, old is a beautiful word, albeit often misunderstood and maligned. A house that has stood and sheltered for decades or centuries is honored. Antiques are valued. Even old cars draw attention because of their rarity and resale value. People filling their years can grow to become antiques in the best possible use of the term-for their rarity, quality and ability to stand the test of time.

Time in a bottle

Carry your years confidently, as a container filled with information, knowledge and hard-won wisdom. Though infirmity might compel you to live with limited activity, keep your heart and mind alive with enthusiasm. As we age, we experience a diminution of energy, and things we do take a little longer. We have a tendency to allow interest and enthusiasm to decline. Be on guard.

Even if you must limit your activities more than you might prefer, find and keep your stride, even though your pace may be slower than it was. It is quite all right to saunter a bit. Enjoy the trip. Just stay in good humor so others will enjoy the trip with you.

Consider this stage of life as a sort of graduate course. List your plans for the day—books to read, friends to telephone, letters to write. In spite of the temptation to just sit there and soak up network programming, remember that television offers little of substance. The information gained from that source may provide little in the way of wisdom or experience worth passing on to others.

Strive to be a person who can impart wisdom and sound judgment to our youth. One definition of grace is "a disposition to be generous or helpful." With God's help, we can pass on the benefit of our experiences while we age gracefully. GN