Musings on Growing Older
The length of our days is seventy years—
or eighty, if we have the strength;
yet their span is but trouble and sorrow,
for they quickly pass, and we fly away.
One of the privileges of the pastoral ministry is visiting elderly members. Very often the visitations are mutually edifying. They are not only blessed by my visit; I am also blessed by them. They have so much to teach and show me, not just about the general things about life but spiritual realities as well.
One of the often-quoted comment I hear from elderly people is that they are just sitting around and waiting for their time to be up – i.e., expiry of their earthly life. It saddened me to hear that our believing seniors are also looking at old age as a passive waiting for their time on earth to be up. Many unbelieving elderly folks would often tell me that is what they are doing – just waiting for their turn – to pass on (等死).
As believers, I do not think that is a very biblical way of looking at old age – a passive waiting for expiry of our earthly life. Instead, I believe a few truths we need to reflect and embrace.
First, growing old need not be an anxious and fearful experience. I am growing older. This is evident that I am having less hair on my head. And those remaining on my head are greying. I am slowing down in my recovery and metabolism. I get tired easily. I have slowed down my pace and shortened the distance of my outdoor running workout. When I get injured, it takes a longer time to heal. Now, all these signs and symptoms of aging can scare me, but should they?
Some time ago, I watched an interview with Jackie Chan. When the host asked him if he was afraid of growing old, Jackie replied, “Nope, not at all! I think it’s a privilege to be able to grow old. Some of my friends never got a chance to grow on; they had passed on while young!” Whether those words were original to Jackie or not, it does not matter. These words are gems for us to help us have a healthy perspective on growing old. As believers, having the chance to grow older means we have lived longer and thus have more opportunities to experience God’s mercy and grace – His greatness and goodness!
Second, growing old does not mean growing stale. So long we have the breath of life, we should live on as we always had. Yes, we may slow down. Yes, we may have less energy. Yes, we may have less friends as some of our friends have passed on. Yes, we may not be as mobile as before. Regardless, we should know that God has ordained us to live our lives to and for His glory. We should never tell ourselves that we should just linger on and not live on, waiting around to be called up by God to leave planet earth! Instead, we should stay fresh for life, learning and leaning on God’s Word, and depending on God’s grace. We should never allow ourselves to grow stale spiritually…until we are expired!
Third, growing old is not a unique experience of elderly. The moment we are born in the world, we grow and develop until we die. So, growing old is not a unique experience of the elderly. Throughout life’s journey, whether young or old, we continue to grow older. Therefore, whether we are younger or older, we need to live by the mercy and grace of God.
The elderly folks tell me that I am still much younger than them and so have a long life ahead of me. I correct them saying, “What makes you think that you will expire earlier than me just because you’re older and I’m younger? I may expire at the next moment, in the next hour or day! Like you, I too, am living by the mercy and grace of God, moment by moment, and day by day. Learning to live by the mercy and grace of God, because of the frailty of life and our bodies, is not a unique experience belonging to the senior folks.
Fourth, growing old need not be a lonely experience. One of the commendable things that our Singapore government has done is to encourage active aging. Many institutions, initiatives, and programmes are now geared towards encouraging and engaging seniors to be active in old age. Through the activities and programmes organized, they hope to help stay engaged socially. When we are called to believe and belong to Jesus Christ, we are called to be committed to a community of like-minded disciples. The New Testament knows no solitary Christians; it only knows Christian communities. Thus, the writer to Hebrews urges his readers with these words so relevant for those of us who are not keen to gather and meet for Christian fellowship in old age:
23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. 25 Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (Hebrews 10:23-25)
According to Moses, the author of Psalm 90, it does not matter whether we live up to 40, 60, or 80. But it does matter that we learn and lean on the mercy and grace of God, through a heart of wisdom, informed and inspired by the Word of God (Psalm 90:12), not alone but together as a community!
Therefore, my senior brothers and sisters in Christ, let us not wait around for expiry. Instead, let us work around the uncertainty of life by choosing to live purposefully and meaningfully for God. Let us not sit and wait around for our expiry, losing the opportunity of staying fresh in our walk with God. Instead, let us seek to learn and lean on God’s grace and mercy, moment by moment, and day by day! As we grow older, let us continue to gain from the Word of God a heart of wisdom!