It seems like yesterday I was driving around town in my blue Mazda GLC jetting from one YMCA to another. For a twentysomething who majored in gerontology and exercise physiology in college, the job was a perfect fit. I got to hang out with really cool older adults and challenge them toward wellness. We called the program Prime Time 55+. Whether backpacking in the Catskills, camping on Catalina Island, or participating in routine YMCA fitness classes, these older adults realized life did not have to plateau when they reached a certain age.
Since those days, I’ve tacked on an additional twenty years in full-time ministry. And I’ve discovered that each of us, no matter how old, has options on how we age—spiritually speaking. Whether fifteen, twenty-five, fifty, or beyond, each of us is aging at this very moment. The question is, Are we aging well spiritually?
Over the years I’ve observed some pitfalls that hinder us. These serve as warnings to stay fresh and age well.
As we age, we become aware of more things to fear: dying, losing a child, losing a parent, being single, infertility, cancer, another 9/11. Gradually we lose the freedom and simple wonder that we had as children. We see the atrocities that life brings. Over time, if not attuned to what Scripture tells us about fear, we can unknowingly live with a fearful heart. As we look at reality, we must cling to God’s commands in Scripture that tell us, "Do not fear for I am with you" (Isa. 41:10). If God is with us, why are we living in fear? To age well we must give our fears to the Lord and remember that He is Immanuel, God with us.
By the time a person reaches the mid-forties, he or she has probably experienced hurt such as betrayal, slander, or gossip by other believers. When pain occurs in relationships, our natural tendency is to pull away. God’s Word commands us to "see to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many" (Heb. 12:15). Bitter roots can grow like uncontrollable weeds in our hearts and affect our relationships. But we musn’t let them. We must practice forgiveness and love others well, pouring ourselves into the next generation.
The West today might define "aging gracefully" as maintaining physical beauty, staying self-sufficient, and being physically active and healthy. Is that possible? Not really. Wrinkles are inevitable, no matter how hard we try to hide them. We can’t count on perfect health. We will age.
The body is a beautiful gift from the Lord, no matter what shape it is in. As we age, we find we are unable to do what we once did. Yet we can encourage, pray for, and support those around us who find their bodies declining. When we face our own physical issues, we must "not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day" (2 Cor. 4:16).
Often as people age, they develop a "been there, done that" mentality that can lead to apathy. Their status on Facebook could read "status quo." As we age, we can grow weary of so many things and even find our weariness acceptable. God’s Word warns us to "Consider [Jesus], who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart" (Heb. 12:3). God knew we would need such an admonition to live life to completion. He knows our tendency to lose heart when troubles come. So don’t give in to weariness. Stay fully alive.
When was the last time you complained or grumbled? Yet Philippians 2:14 tells us, "Do everything without complaining or arguing." Is it possible not to complain or grumble?
While living in Chicago, I observed that we Chicagoans had a problem with complaining about the weather. I thought it was "a Midwest thing" until I moved back to sultry Texas and once again heard the same fussing, only at a different time of year. I realized that with help from the Holy Spirit, I didn’t have to succumb to such a complaining spirit. Through the power of the Spirit, we can be free of complaining and grumbling about anything.
Too many older people become so negative that their faces look like their spirits. They’re unpleasant to be around. Over time, life will hand out plenty of challenges that could lead to a complaining spirit. But how will we respond when challenges come our way? What crummy attitudes have gotten the best of us as we have grown older? We can find out by checking in with a spouse or close friend.
What kind of person do you want to be when you are older? I’ll never forget Florence Travis. She celebrated her one-hundredth birthday and radiated Christ at the nursing home where I worked. One day, before I left the job, she handed me a card with these words on it, "Draw near to God and He will draw near to you" (James 4:8, NASB). That card became my marching orders for years to come. I’ll never forget Florence’s words. I’ll never forget Florence. I want to be like Florence when I’m her age: spiritually alive. It is possible!
class="author">Nancy Barton Abbott (MACE, 1990) has served in California, Illinois, and Texas churches for the past twenty years. She currently works serves as a speaker to single women with Intimate Issues conferences.