Are you getting older? If so, shame on you! What were you thinking? How could you allow such a thing to happen? Weren’t you warned to avoid this at all cost!
Are you surprised to hear me say those things? You shouldn’t be. Don’t those questions embody the message we get from our culture today? That growing older is something to be ashamed of, denied, or at least put off as long as possible? And to assist you in this effort, there’s no end to the products you can spend money on to push back the clock. Available products include a “replumping mask” to get rid of facial wrinkles, eye gels to rehydrate areas around your eyes, retinoid pads to deal with wrinkles all over your body, and some kind of a headset device that reportedly “stimulates muscles to give a more toned and firm appearance.” You can even wear exfoliating socks (I’m not joking!) that get rid of dead cells on your feet. Of course, at some point we have to ask ourselves what we’re hoping to accomplish and if it’s all worth it.
I’ve been thinking about aging a lot lately as I’ve approached and passed a number of milestones and anniversaries. Last year, I celebrated ten years as pastor of First Baptist (I’m not sure if my congregation is celebrating), my daughter (my precious little girl who for some strange reason no longer wants me to zip up her jacket for her and wipe her nose) has started high school (unbelievable), and in just a couple of weeks I’ll be turning 50 (that’s right, half a century!). Suddenly, I’m faced with the uncomfortable truth that, in all likelihood, more of my life lies behind me than in front of me. Where have the years gone? I can still vividly remember the first time I was confronted with the fact that I was getting older. I was about 33 at the time and was talking with a girl in my youth group about someone she knew. I asked, “How old is your friend?” She responded: “She’s about your age. She’s middle-aged.” It took me months to forgive her for that comment!
My initial reaction to this off-handed comment is not surprising given the culture I’ve grown up in. As Miss Manners has written, “It has come to be generally considered disgraceful, if not disgusting, to age.” Movie and television producers want young actors to star in their productions, advertising companies target their products to the young, and you and I will spend huge amounts of money to try to look as young as possible for as long as possible. Churches, too, are not immune to this youth obsession, often passing up experienced older pastors for young ones whom they hope will bring in young people to the church. If only it were that simple—but that’s a column for another day.
But what does the Bible have to say about aging? Does the Bible teach that aging is something to be ashamed of and avoided? Does it look on the elderly as people who have outlived their usefulness? Far from it! The Bible teaches that the elderly are to be respected: Grey hair is a crown of splendour; it is attained in the way of righteousness.” (Proverbs 16:31)
The Bible teaches that the elderly have an important responsibility to teach the young. The psalmist wrote: “Even when I am old and grey, [I will] declare your power to the next generation, your mighty acts to all who are to come. (Psalm 71:18)
The Bible teaches that the elderly still have a responsibility to exercise their spiritual gifts and proclaim God’s goodness: “They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green, proclaiming, ‘The LORD is upright; he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him.’” (Psalm 92:14-15)
Young people are encouraged to seek counsel from the elderly: “Listen to a father’s advice and don’t despise an old mother’s experience.”(Proverbs 23:22)
In a youth-obsessed culture, it is important that we hear the Word of God remind us that aging is a part of God’s plan for us. It is God’s will that we spend some years young and His will that we grow old, become frail, and eventually die. My prayer is that as I grow old I won’t forget the growing part. I want to continue to grow in love, in wisdom, in patience, and in prayer. Even into my old age I want to continue to become the child of God that God intends me to be. When I am old, I hope that I will be able to echo the words that great Christian communicator, Malcolm Muggeridge, wrote three years before his own death:
“I am eighty-four years old, an octogenarian who has done much that he ought not to have done and left undone much that he ought to have done, and lived fourteen years longer than the three score years and ten which, the Bible tells, will be but labour and sorrow, they pass away so soon.
“For me, intimations of immortality, deafness, failing eyesight, loss of memory, the afflictions of old age, release me from preoccupation with worldly fantasy and free me to meditate on spiritual reality….
“And so I live, just for each day, knowing my life will soon be over, and that I, like Michelangelo at the end of his life ‘… have loved my friends and family. I have loved God and all His creation. I have loved life and now I love death as its natural termination…’ knowing that… Christ lives!”