The strength and beauty of old age

I once heard a sermon on aging based on the last chapter of Ecclesiastes, the book that Solomon wrote late in his life. In Ecclesiastes 12, Solomon said, “remember your Creator in the days of your youth” before the years approach when you will say, “I find no pleasure in them.” Solomon described old age as a time when “the strong men stoop” and “the grinders cease because they are few, and those looking through the window grow dim” and “the sound of grinding fades.” It is true that we lose strength as we age. We may lose our teeth. Our eyesight may dim and our hearing may fade. But even in old age, there is strength and beauty and joy.

Instead of complaining about how awful it is to grow old, my pastor began a recent sermon on aging by quoting from Proverbs 16:31: Gray hair is a crown of splendor. He then gave some advice to the old folks in the congregation.

††††††1. Choose to enjoy life

However many years anyone may live, let them enjoy them all.

Ecclesiastes 11:8

What is the secret to enjoying life in old age? Would you believe that it is as simple as giving thanks? Count your blessings. Appreciate the simple pleasures of life – art, music, books, nature, spending time with friends and family. Choose to have a positive outlook.

My pastor didn’t mention this, but a lot of people reach old age with baggage and it gets in the way of enjoying life. They carry the weight of regrets and resentments. My advice is don’t let your anger over past hurts mature into bitterness. Forgive and let go. Don’t waste the years you have left.

2. Look forward, not backwards

Although my pastor said to look forward, not backwards, there is value in looking backwards. When I turned 50, I looked back at my life and realized that despite the struggles, life has been good. In retrospect, I can see how God used challenges to build my character. Through struggles and failures, I learned self-discipline, perseverance, humility and empathy.

Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards. 

 Søren Kierkegaard

Whoever believes in the Son, has been promised eternal life. When you are old, you are that much closer to being with the Lord. How wonderful it will be to go home to Jesus!

But there’s far more to life for us. We’re citizens of high heaven! We’re waiting the arrival of the Savior, the Master, Jesus Christ, who will transform our earthy bodies into glorious bodies like his own. He’ll make us beautiful and whole with the same powerful skill by which he is putting everything as it should be, under and around him.

Philippians 3:20-21 (The Message)

3. Share your life experience and leave a legacy

Alanis Morisette sings a powerful truth about life: You live, you learn. You love, you learn. You cry, you learn. You lose, you learn. You bleed, you learn. You scream, you learn. Long life brings understanding and wisdom.

Is not wisdom found among the aged? Does not long life bring understanding?

Job 12:12

Tell the younger generations about all the wonderful things the Lord has done! Share your joys but also share your struggles and the lessons learned from falling and failing.

I will open my mouth with a parable;
    I will utter hidden things, things from of old—
things we have heard and known,
    things our ancestors have told us.
We will not hide them from their descendants;
    we will tell the next generation
the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord,
    his power, and the wonders he has done.

Psalm 78:2-4

4. Focus on becoming beautiful on the inside

What happens on the inside as our hair turns gray? In Where Is God When It Hurts, Philip Yancey shares J. Robertson McQuilkin’s response to an old woman who asked him why God lets us get old and weak.

I think God has planned the strength and beauty of youth to be physical. But the strength and beauty of old age is spiritual. We gradually lose the strength and beauty that is temporary so we’ll be sure to concentrate on the strength and beauty that is forever. It makes us more eager to leave behind the temporary, deteriorating part of us and be truly homesick for our eternal home. If we stayed young and strong and beautiful, we might never want to leave!

J. Robertson McQuilkin

When we accept the inevitability of aging, we are free to focus our attention on gaining the strength and beauty that lasts forever. The inner disposition of a beautiful heart is unfading and it is precious in God’s sight! The Spirit produces love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness and gentleness.

Your beauty should not come from outward adornment such as braided hair or gold jewelry or fine clothes, but from the inner disposition of your heart, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in God’s sight.

1 Peter 3:4

A Bright Sadness

My pastor gave some great scriptural advice about aging. But there’s a benefit to aging that he didn’t address, a level of spiritual strength and maturity that eludes many people. In Falling Upward, A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life, Richard Rohr describes wonderful older people he has met who have a “kind of bright sadness and a sober happiness.” What Rohr calls a bright sadness is contentment in the midst of suffering. It is hope and fearlessness in the midst of darkness. Think of the apostle Paul who “learned the secret of being content in any and every situation.” The secret of his strength was the Lord (Philippians 4:11-13).

The beauty and strength of aging well is in the increased capacity to love and accept people without thinking you need to change them. Wise people of any age understand that we are all in this together. As Rohr says, “This is human life in its crowning, and all else has been preparation and prelude for creating such a human work of art.”

You live, you learn. You love, you learn. You cry, you learn. You lose, you learn.

*****

Photo by The Nigmatic on Unsplash