I’ve heard many an elderly person reflect that “aging is not for the weak or faint hearted.” As one who just had another “zero” birthday moving into a new decade of life, I am starting to identify with that sentiment. The reality is that at some point we all start to creak, at some point we all are tempted to focus inward on our maladies rather than outward on the continuing purpose of God in our lives. Aging is truly an unavoidable test of resilience, and we all must choose how we respond to the challenges and opportunities which aging brings. Will we finish strong? Will we get better or bitter as we age?
During the time I was commanding the “Fighting Eagles” (1st Battalion, 8th Infantry) at Fort Carson, Colorado; Dr. Jerry White, retired Air Force Major General and International President Emeritus of the Navigators, taught our Sunday School class at Pulpit Rock Church in Colorado Springs. One Sunday he was absent and we later read in the local newspaper that his son had been murdered the night before. After three weeks Jerry and Mary returned to our class. Recognizing the “elephant in the room,” Jerry immediately and graciously helped the class members who didn’t know what to say or how to express their condolences. As he reflected on the tragic murder of his young adult son, he said “This is what God has taught us:
As we grow older, if we are growing spiritually, we grow in HOPE.
If we do not continue to grow spiritually, we grow in BITTERNESS.”
I have found this to be very true… Whether you are a young wounded warrior whose future has been changed forever, or a businessman whose life’s work has been negated by a sudden reversal, or a senior citizen facing mortality in the twilight of your life, this spiritual dynamic is essential. Through spiritual engagement and growth we all can prosper in hope, avoiding the debilitating shackles of bitterness.
So let’s discuss some Biblical principles related to finishing strong, to aging well:
- As we get older we will sooner or later “lose a step.” This is not a matter of if, but when. One goal as we age is to be wise about best use of our declining capabilities. I think a passage in Acts 1 provides wisdom in this area:
7 He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority; 8 but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.”
When we reach the height of our personal and professional competence, we are often operating locally, regionally, and even globally — to the farthest extent of this mandate from Jesus, “even to the remotest part of the earth.” Yet, at some point in our aging process (we are all different), our capacity will not be able to handle such demands on time, health, and energy. We have all seen elders who overstay their utility and try to maintain a youthful tempo — eventually these unrealistic attempts result in relational tensions and bad outcomes. The wise person recognizes the need to voluntarily shrink their perimeter, progressively limiting their activities to their core gifts. Apart from physical incapacitation, we can exercise our core gifts to our dying breath — I say this boldly because I have seen this in so many inspiring elders, even as they neared death.
- For a pithier piece of wisdom, Dr Jim Dobson addresses priorities as we age: “What really matters at the end of life is who we loved, who loved us, and what we did in the work of the Lord together.”
- Another reality of aging is the death of friends and loved ones you have shared much of your lives with. This is where aging becomes a team sport. It is critical to help one another finish strong, help one another focus outward on God’s continuing purpose, and eventually fold those who fall first into the loving arms of Jesus.
- Storehouse of WISDOM. “Wisdom is with aged men, with long life is understanding.” (Job 12:12) “A grey head is a crown of glory, it is found in the way of righteousness.” (Proverbs 16:31). “Wisdom is the bridge between Character and Competence” (Resilient Leaders) Solomon in response to a blank check from God, “Give me wisdom.” The bottom line is that WISDOM is an invaluable asset usually possessed by those who have many laps around the track of life. “Senior Citizens” should recognize the value of the wisdom they have amassed, and they should consider it a high purpose or CALLING (related to the next point below) to pass this wisdom along to future generations.
- Remember your CALLING. Aging often brings with it the impression (or temptation) that one no longer has a significant purpose or calling. The reality is that we all have a God-given purpose (Calling) until our dying breath. The elderly are such a valuable resource – whether they know it or not. Whether blessing others or being blessed by others, they serve such an important role in God’s economy of life. As we have said in our writings, CALLING is the golden thread of resilience. Hence, knowing your calling, remembering your calling during tough times, and revalidating your calling during life transitions and recovery from difficult times are critical. Resilience God Style has more about CALLING, and the use of a personal board of directors to achieve clarity and renewed momentum, regardless of age.
As an example, I recall standing in front of a group of 80-95 year old veterans from the Korean War. I called them to “Attention,” told them to stand up straight, and reminded them of their high calling as veterans, role models, standard bearers for our nation, particularly the youth. I challenged them to continue to serve in every way possible as priceless national treasures. You could see a new spark in many of those veteran’s eyes as they “Remembered Their Calling.”
- Role of the Church. Transfer of Godly values across generational lines is so needed in today’s culture. The Church is a primary means to do this — assuming Church leadership appreciates this dynamic, they lift up the value of “senior citizens” in the Church, and proactively create venues where young and old can bless one another in so many ways. The younger members must reach out and the elderly must fight to stay engaged, overcoming the inertia of lower capacity, and cling to the reality that they can bless others by their presence.
- Dependence on GOD. With advanced age comes decreased capacity, physical maladies, and an awareness of weakness and vulnerability that most have not experienced in their earlier years. While not minimizing these challenges, this newfound “weakness” is often a forcing mechanism to trust God in even greater ways. The words of Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:9 make the point well — “And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.” Resilience God Style includes viewing the reality of weakness and dependency as God-given opportunity to lean in to God even more in our “golden years.”
- When Kathleen and I were teaching parenting classes, we often said “God has plenty of time with our teens, but He is running out of time with us.” This certainly applies to aging. Prayerfully the aging person is in deep and intimate relationship with God through Jesus, but as our clocks run down, we must ensure we are right with our Creator.
While the points above will help us navigate the challenges of aging, there is an even higher HOPE that is critical to finishing strong. It is simply “Blessed Assurance, Jesus is mine. O, what a foretaste of glory divine.” First Corinthians 15 lays out the truth that is an anchor for our soul as we anticipate our own death, or as we encourage others as they transition to eternity with their beloved Lord:
“54 But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, “Death is swallowed up in victory. 55 O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”
What a joy to know that our perishable bodies will become imperishable, immortal in the risen power of Christ! What a joy to know that death is swallowed up in victory! Having established this truth, the Apostle Paul returns to the “here and now” at the very end of this chapter:
“58 Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.”
The guidance he gives applies to young and old alike. These are our marching orders until our last earthly breath: 1) Confidently recognize that those in Christ are victorious over death, 2) Be steadfast (firm and unwavering), 3) Be immovable (not yielding to pressure), 4) Be abounding (overflowing with plentiful harvest) in the work of the Lord, and 5) Know that your work has a continuing purpose.
“He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” Philippians 1:6
This is what finishing strong looks like, Brothers and Sisters. This is Resilient Aging — God Style!
Respectfully in Christ,