James Houston and Michael Parker in their A VISION FOR THE AGING CHURCH, ask which of these two views of aging dominates our churches today?
How hard and painful are the last days of an aged man! He grows weaker every day; his eyes become dim, his ears deaf; his strength fades; his heart knows peace no longer, his mouth falls silent, and he speaks no word. The power of his mind lessens, and today he cannot remember what yesterday was like. All his bones hurt. Those things, which so long ago were done with pleasure, are painful now, and taste vanishes. Old age is the worst of misfortunes that can afflict a man. (Egyptian philosopher and poet Ptahhotep (2500 BC), quoted in J Viorst, Necessary Losses, p.319)
Youth is not a period of time. It is a state of mind, a result of the will, a quality of the imagination, a victory of courage over timidity, of the taste of adventure over the love of comfort. A man doesn’t grow old because he has lived a certain number of years. A man grows old when he deserts his ideal. The years may wrinkle his skin, but deserting his ideal wrinkles his soul. Preoccupations, fears, doubts, and despair are the enemies, which slowly bow us toward earth and turn us into dust before death. You will remain young as long as you are open to what is beautiful, good and great; receptive to the messages of other men and women, of nature and of God. If one day you should become bitter, pessimistic and gnawed by despair, may God have mercy on your old man’s soul. (General Douglas MacArthur)
What contributes to depression and anxiety in older adults? Exercise, social connections, late life purpose and telling one’s story can help prevent depression in many older persons. We must believe in God more; in faith we hook ourselves into God’s promises, claiming them for our lives. “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires” (2 Peter 1:3,4).
God’s grace is realized in us when we believe that each of us has a unique, eternal mission, “the hope to which he has called you” (Ephesians 1:18. What is that calling? The mission statement for all seniors can be found in Psalm 71:
For you have been my hope, O Sovereign Lord, my confidence since my youth. From birth I have relied on you….Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, O God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your might to all who are to come. (Psalm 71:5,6,18)
The role of faith in our lives opens up a new dimension to the aging process. It enables us, enriches us and empowers us to live beyond what we, alone, could achieve. “May God not find the whine in us any more, but may he find us full of spiritual pluck and athleticism, ready to face anything he brings … God never has museums.” (Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for his Highest, p.136)
“The most frail and physically dependent person may also be the most ardent prayer warrior or the most wise or courageous member of a congre-gation… Elders can leave us a multitude of legacies, including how to live sacrificially, how to appreciate traditions that teach us to value history, how to treasure the moment, how to confront our materialistic tendencies, how to value life from the womb to the grave, how to maintain robust health and intellect for as long as possible, how to live successfully with and learn from chaos and difficulty, how to live courageously, how to persevere, how to express faith in love, how to genuinely worship, how to live on a budget, how to forgive, how to share one’s faith, and how to glorify and enjoy Christ now and forever.” (p.125)