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.

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Photo by The Nigmatic on Unsplash

Truth: Philosophy and Ethics

I am studying Focus on the Family’s “The Truth Project” this year. The topic of the second lesson is Philosophy and Ethics. The lesson guide states that “there is a formal and vital connection between our ideas about the nature of the world (philosophy) and our understanding of right and wrong behavior (ethics).” What happens to this connection when you exclude God from your search for knowledge and wisdom? How can you really understand God’s truth if you conform yourself to the ways of the world?

Dr. Del Tackett says that philosophy is the love of wisdom. Dr. R.C. Sproul defines philosophy as “a scientific quest to discover ultimate reality.” The website, The Basics of Philosophy, lists many other definitions of philosophy including “the study of knowledge” and “thinking about thinking.” Philosophy is a broad subject that includes thinking about the nature of existence and reality and the search for knowledge and truth.

Because truth is based on reality, the quest to discover ultimate reality should be aligned with the quest to discover ultimate truth. Dr. Tackett notes that contemporary culture has excluded God from the search for ultimate reality. Many people only believe in what can be perceived with the senses. As an example, Tackett quotes Carl Sagan:

The Cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be. Our feeblest contemplations of the Cosmos stir us — there is a tingling in the spine, a catch in the voice, a faint sensation of a distant memory, as if we were falling from a great height. We know we are approaching the greatest of mysteries.

Carl Sagan

Tackett calls Sagan’s philosophy the “cosmic cube.” It’s the belief that the material world is all that there is, that nothing exists outside the box. And yet human beings long for something beyond the material. We long for a higher meaning and purpose. We sense that we are not just physical beings.

Tackett points out that many people accept the words of people like Sagan because they use powerful and deceptive “assumptive language.” If you don’t critically examine the assumptions, they may sound plausible. He makes a good point. I have long noticed that when explaining human conduct, people claim, without proof, that evolution explains our behavior. For example, they would explain my husband’s inability to find something in the kitchen cabinet and his concurrent ability to spot a deer far away with evolutionary psychology. 

Tackett reminds us that there are scriptural warnings about being taken captive or sucked in by hollow and deceptive philosophy.

See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces[a of this world rather than on Christ.

Colossians 2:8 (NIV)

Dr. Tackett didn’t say much about ethics but he explained the difference between morality (the rightness or wrongness of conduct; that which is) and ethics (principles of conduct; that which ought to be).

I have taken ethics courses but I have never formally studied philosophy. So how do I connect philosophy and ethics? How are my ideas about ultimate reality connected to my beliefs about right and wrong and how humans ought to behave? Why do I believe God exists? How do I defend my faith in an age of profound skepticism?

Those of us who believe in God believe that he is inside the box and outside the box. He’s everywhere. We can’t see him with our limited human senses but we see physical evidence of him in the wonders of creation.

C.S. Lewis said that if there is a controlling power outside our universe, it could show itself as one of the observable facts, as an influence to behave a certain way. He said that if this power behind moral law is interested in morally right behavior, then it follows that it would not approve of wrong behavior. I think it also follows that this higher power would want us to know what it means to be upright and moral and he would want us to live together in peace. And what better way could he show us the way the world ought to be than to come down to us like a Son of Man?

We have a sense that the world is not the way it ought to be. We have a sense that we are very flawed and yet very great. We have a longing for love and beauty that nothing in this world can fulfill.  We have a deep need to know meaning and purpose. Which worldview best accounts for these things?

Timothy Keller, The Reason for God.

Kinder, gentler, wiser

But where is it written that we must act as if we don’t care, as if we’re not moved. Well, I am moved. I want a kinder, gentler nation.

George HW Bush, 1988 speech

When I heard that George HW Bush passed away, I thought not about his politics but about his call to care about others. “I want a kinder, gentler nation,” he said. Bush knew that in caring about others, some would see softness and weakness. He cared anyway.

In the kinder, gentler speech, Bush said, “[p]rosperity with a purpose means taking your idealism and making it concrete by certain acts of goodness.” Thirty years later, America is still a prosperous nation.  Unfortunately, she is losing sight of her noble purpose. She is losing her goodness.

George Bush’s sentiments were at odds with those of the current president. Today, Americans are encouraged to be self-centered – to put America first. Today, Americans are urged to live in fear of others. Instead of celebrating a thousand points of light – selfless volunteerism – we’re building walls to keep others out. 

George Bush had a privileged upbringing yet he still lived a life of humility, a life of servant leadership. He understood that from those who have been given much, much will be demanded. He understood that from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked (Luke 12:48).

Kindness flows from wisdom, but as I think Bush understood, it is not the “wisdom” of the world. The world sees kindness and gentleness as weakness. The world teaches a false wisdom of selfish ambition and vain conceit. Those who subscribe to this way of thinking put themselves first, viewing others with an “us verses them” mindset. Instead of sowing unity and peace, they sow division and discord. Instead of practicing acts of goodness and kindness, they look only to their own interests. Instead of lifting others up, they tear others down. 

Kindness and gentleness, like all good virtues, flow from the wisdom of God. A person with heavenly wisdom sees the self realistically, with humility. It’s a wisdom born of pain, the ability to step into and share the feelings of others. Kind and gentle people value others above themselves, looking to their interests (Philippians 2:3-4). Those who are wise in God’s eyes, emulate Christ, clothing themselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience (Colossians 3:12).

Where is it written that we must act as if we don’t care, as if we are not moved? Where is it written that we should act out of selfish ambition? Well, I am moved and I want a kinder, gentler, wiser nation.

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Photo by Andrea Tummons on Unsplash