On Aging Well

I have spent several years observing the elderly in hopes of gleaning some wisdom about the aging process. I think a definition of “elderly” should be more intricate and beautiful than age alone. We should avoid saying the thing so many of us say, that is, an elderly person is an old person. I couldn’t disagree more.

I have noticed two types of elderly people: those who are on mission and those who are not. My hypothesis is those who lived their youth with daily surrender to Jesus live their later years with holy expectancy and joy; while those who lived their youth for anything other than Jesus burn out when their life goals, for better or worse, end.

When our eyes are fixed on that beautiful country God promises to all who trust in him, age cannot deter us from radical joy. I’m grateful for the older friends I have who teach me the importance of surrendering to Jesus through their actions and words. When I observe their life, I notice several things.

First, they recognize the brevity of life and use their time for Christ-exalting, redemptive work.

How many of us spend our years exalting ourselves and putting our own agendas before Christ’s? I have spent more time building my own kingdom than I’d like to admit. Honestly, it’s an exhausting and miserable way to live. I want to be more like my friends who understand life is not about them.

C. T. Studd penned the famous words, “Only one life, ’twill soon be past, only what’s done for Christ will last.”

My wiser friends have learned these words well and practice them daily. Long gone are the days of making a name for themselves. Their one desire is to make much of Jesus and, when they meet him face-to-face, hear those beloved words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Oh, how I desire their obedience and faithfulness. How I long to one day hear those words myself.

Second, they never cease praying for their family, friends, and neighbors.

When we are wrapped up in ourselves, finding time to pray is next to impossible. Sure, we’ll pray for our needs and agendas, but praying for the needs of others is rarely a priority.

My elderly friends are praying. They are not wasting precious time on trivialities but are going straight to the source of life. I know, at the very least, they’re praying for me, because they often follow up with things I shared months ago. They care enough to ask about my life. It’s not about them.

I sometimes hear Christians say that older people pray often because they have more free time than the rest of us. I think older (and wiser) Christians pray more because they’ve learned life is all about Jesus and his work of redemption. Far from being bored, these people know how dependent every human life is on the Creator of human life.

Third, they seem to possess no regard for their own reputation and are willing to do whatever it takes to make disciples of Jesus.

One of the last words Jesus spoke to his disciples is known as The Great Commission. He said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew‬ ‭28:18-20‬).

The older, wiser Christians in my life are eager to see the world transformed by the redemptive power of the gospel. For them, the words of Jesus are not simply greeting card words, but rather, marching orders. It’s so refreshing to have friends in their seventies who are willing to start new things in an attempt to reach lost people. They are on mission and take The Great Commission seriously.

Lastly, they seem to have a supernatural ability to laugh and cry in the same sentence.

My older friends don’t take themselves too seriously and can laugh at their mistakes. I have seen them come to tears when discussing loved ones and belly laugh a moment later. They are not phased by the ups and downs of life but have their gaze fixed on the promised land ahead.

Like many people, I learned to keep my emotions at bay as a child and have lived a stoic life ever since. I’m learning stoicism (our attempt to have it all together) isn’t brave nor does it reflect the heart of God. God has emotions. Jesus felt things deeply.

As I continue my life journey, I want to lose more of myself to gain more of Christ. I want to surrender my will to a will that is forever greater. Aging well has nothing to do with my outer appearance. It has everything to do with the condition of my heart and my ability to stand in awe of Jesus, even after years of serving him.

8 thoughts on “On Aging Well

  1. Thank you for being observant concerning older people. An elderly friend of mine once said, “It seems that the older you get, the less people know or care that you are there.” Intentional conversations with those who are “old” brings out treasures stored away in their hearts and minds, battles fought whether the outcome was victory or defeat, sweet memories of things we forget to care about, including Scriptures that are lodged so deep into their souls that when the mind is fading, God’s Word is still a vibrant part of each story. You will often hear them say, “but, the Lord . . .” You see, the Lord has done many marvelous things in their lives that they are eager to share with the younger generations. One other thing I notice about people who are “old” – they shed a lot of tears in their prayers when they pray for those whom they love. They have lived through both good times and hard times and know that unless we turn to Christ for our strength, wisdom, joy, love, and peace, we will, because of practice, become very self-focused “old” people.

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    1. Thank you for your comment. You are so right. Older people have lived longer and experienced more. You’d think we’d be more eager to learn from them. There’s an old John Prine song called “Hello in There” where he makes the same point your elderly friend made. I try to say hello to every “old” person I cross paths with. More times than not, their facial expression seems to question whether or not I’m actually talking to them. It makes me sad.

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  2. Thank you for these thoughts. There is so much to learn from those further down the path of life than we are. I agree that only a life lived for Jesus Christ will have lasting value. I also agree that aging people are not old. We can see this from the lifespan data recorded in the Old Testament. For almost one third of human history, mankind lived far beyond the 75-85 years that we see as “normal” today. Isaiah 65:20 seems to indicate a restoration of longevity. What are your thoughts on this?

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    1. Thanks for the comment! A restoration of longevity wouldn’t surprise me, especially knowing that God is in the business of redemption.

      Isaiah 65:20 is a tricky verse, however. I’m not sure we can know for certain what the prophet is talking about. When we read the context, it looks like the new heaven and new earth is in view; however, we know from other places in Scripture that death and sin will no longer exist in eternity, both of which are mentioned in this verse. Therefore, two views are generally promoted:

      First, the verse is using figurative language to describe a future in terms we can better understand. John attempts to do this with his visions in Revelation. Basically, Isaiah is saying people are going to live “a long time.” I don’t really love that view, but it’s out there.

      Second, many commentators believe Isaiah is discussing the millennial kingdom, a time in which Christ rules on earth for a thousand years (see Revelation 20). I believe such a view is feasible, but still difficult to determine from this text. Of course, there are differing views on the millennium also, so we could go down a rabbit trail.

      I haven’t “landed the plane” on my opinion. I think the Bible is mysterious at times. I’m learning to live with that mystery. Our God, who created heaven and earth, is certainly mysterious. We can’t know everything about him from Scripture. We will spend eternity learning about God’s greatness and character. I’m looking forward to that. I hope this helps.

      What are your thoughts?

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