Growing Old Gracefully

Some talk of old age as the “Golden Years,” but those living in them often don’t find much gold. However, there is treasure—if you know where to look!

Ecclesiastes 12 is as true today as it was when King Solomon wrote it about 3,000 years ago. He told young people, “Keep your Creator in mind while you are young! In years to come, you will be burdened down with troubles and say, ‘I don’t enjoy life anymore’” (verse 1, Contemporary English Version).

Of course, older people also need to remember their Creator, but they may have more time to focus on this important aspect of life. During the Golden Years priorities change, as most couples are no longer burdened by the responsibilities they had as younger people with demanding careers and young families. Now the children are raised, and there may be grandchildren to enjoy. And there is little threat of being fired from a job when one has already retired.

There are some definite positives for this new stage of life!

Realistic expectations

But do you find yourself glancing at the obituaries column to see how many friends and acquaintances may be listed? The accumulation of years does have an inexorable effect on our bodies. The older body doesn’t “bounce back” from an injury, illness or even a simple strain as it once did, so we may struggle with health challenges.

In Ecclesiastes 12 Solomon went on to say, “Your body will grow feeble, your teeth will decay, and your eyesight fail” (verse 3, CEV). Some things do become more challenging with arthritis, loss of mobility, diminished eyesight and even a need for false teeth.

“The noisy grinding of grain will be shut out by your deaf ears, but even the song of a bird will keep you awake” (verse 4, CEV). Hearing problems don’t guarantee sound sleep!

“You will be afraid to climb up a hill or walk down a road. Your hair will turn as white as almond blossoms. You will feel lifeless and drag along like an old grasshopper. We each go to our eternal home, and the streets are filled with those who mourn” (verse 5, CEV).

The human body was never designed to live forever, and we all will advance through these stages as we proceed toward the end of our lives. Along with all the other changes, even our hair changes—if it doesn’t turn white, it turns loose!

All of these factors and more mean that, in order to age with grace and dignity, we need to have realistic expectations of ourselves. We will need to gradually curtail heavy physical activities and will have to be more careful driving after dark—or perhaps give up driving altogether. While our expectations must change, this does not mean we cannot live satisfying and beneficial lives!

Aging heroes of faith

The Bible contains many stories of righteous people who continued serving God even in old age.

The patriarch Isaac, as he came toward the end of his life, was inspired by God to do something powerful and deeply meaningful. In the tradition of the time, he wanted to pronounce a blessing on his eldest son (Genesis 27:1-2,Genesis 27:21-22).

The blessing of children like this was intended to be encouraging for the family, and it also carried with it a legal implication regarding control of property and possessions. Although Isaac was blind and deceived by his younger son, God caused this particular blessing to confer prophetic blessings on the descendants of these men that would impact the world all the way down to our time today!

Many years later Jacob found himself nearing the end of his days on earth. He and his entire family moved to Egypt during a terrible famine; and upon meeting Pharaoh, he was asked, “How old are you?” Jacob answered that he was 130 years old (Genesis 47:7-9). Since it was not uncommon for people at that time to live 130 years or much more, one has to wonder if Jacob looked older and wearier than his years would indicate. He also passed on prophetic blessings to his children—and to his grandchildren, Ephraim and Manasseh.

King David, a good king who was strong in his faith, reigned over Israel and Judah until the age of 70. As the years went by, David, who had always been a smart, valiant and powerful warrior, came to the point where he could no longer cope with the rigors of battle (2 Samuel 21:15-17). So he handed over those duties to others and concentrated his efforts on ruling the kingdom with righteousness and grace.

At the time of the birth of Jesus Christ, Anna the prophetess was active at the temple (Luke 2:36-38). Various Bible commentators calculate her age as anywhere from 84 to 103 years old. At such an age, today we would expect her to be exempted from work. But she was still serving as best she could.

With aging affecting our once youthful bodies and minds, how can we grow old gracefully? Scripture is encouraging in declaring, “They shall still bear fruit in old age; they shall be fresh and flourishing” (Psalm 92:14).

There is gold to be found in old age

It is important to keep a positive, even humorous, perspective on aging, because God designed our bodies to age. It’s not the act of a vengeful God, but of a loving God. And God wants us to continue to bear fruit.

One of the biggest benefits of living many years is one that so many in our culture today overlook or dismiss. It’s the wisdom that comes from so much experience in life!

As the old adage says, we need to learn from the mistakes of others, because we can’t possibly live long enough to make them all ourselves! With age comes wisdom and understanding to pass along to children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren—if only they will have the wisdom to stop and listen.

Also with those years of experience comes a new level of learning—or at least it should! Another old adage says that wisdom comes with age; but sometimes age comes all by itself. But age does not necessarily eclipse our ability to continue learning!

The Bible is an inexhaustible mine of wisdom, and the more we study and understand, the deeper our understanding can go. We can also add deeper knowledge and insights on marriage and family, interpersonal relationships, business, hobbies, planning and the importance of love.

There is a lot of valuable gold from experience that comes with the silver in the hair!

Gracefully accept the positives

Age should also bring a level of maturity and mellowing gained by experience. There can be a digestion of life and an acceptance of loss and grief. The aged have absorbed life’s blows and wounds. Some heal; some scar; but all carry lessons to be learned and passed along.

The hard edges of a personality can soften; hot tempers can cool; rashness can become tempered with patience; and the foolishness of youth can be replaced by the wisdom of years.

Some older men seek leadership roles, while for many others what they’ve accomplished in their careers is enough. Some realize they may have neglected their wife and family through the years, so they work now to repair and rebuild those precious relationships with love and graciousness.

When a woman’s children are grown and move on to homes and families of their own, she may have a renewed opportunity to reassess and modify her life. She may be able to focus anew on the positives of her husband. She may become comfortable enough with herself to no longer feel the need to fit in with every fashion. She becomes more settled in what she likes and dislikes. And, of course, grandparenting experiences bring pleasure, hopefully without the strains parenting can carry.

And times are changing …

Those living the Golden Years today did not grow up in a computer age with mobile phones, tablets, megabytes, Google or DVDs. Learning to navigate these technological marvels can be challenging and quite frustrating! Failing eyesight can make it difficult to focus on computer monitors and TV screens. Diminished hearing can make it a struggle to even hear instructions clearly.

But older folks need not be afraid to give new technologies a try, and shouldn’t give up easily. Upon retirement some seniors have learned their way around a computer and have discovered a vast new world of information, ideas and entertainment online.

Some have even gone so far as to earn money on the side researching genealogies or digitally enhancing old photos from the comfort of their own home. The satisfaction that comes from learning something new and useful is perhaps worth more than the money such efforts bring in.

Nearer God’s Kingdom

A poster in a senior center boldly declared, “Growing old isn’t for sissies!” As the years go by, we will all identify with that statement more and more. But the Creator who designed our bodies to be affected by the passage of time does not leave us to suffer alone.

Through the prophet Isaiah, He says, Listen to Me, O house of Jacob, and all the remnant of the house of Israel, who have been upheld by Me from birth, who have been carried from the womb; even to your old age, I am He, and even to gray hairs I will carry you! I have made, and I will bear; even I will carry, and will deliver you” (Isaiah 46:3-4).

Growing old gracefully has its challenges. With age comes the realization of how physically close we might be to the Kingdom of God. In a very real sense we stand on the brink of eternity. But we should also understand that the final heartbeat is not an end—but a grand beginning. “But as it is written: Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him” (1 Corinthians 2:9).

The God who made us also planned a wonderful future beyond the certainty of growing old and ending our days on earth. We can look forward to that time with anticipation, while learning how to navigate the later years with grace and dignity.

With faith in this wonderful truth about the meaning of life, we can find there really is gold to be found in the Golden Years! Read more of what God has in store in the article “Purpose of Life.”

About the Author

Graemme Marshall

Graemme Marshall was a church pastor for the Church of God, a Worldwide Association, before his death in 2015.

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