by Margaret Zook
August 21 was National Senior Citizens’ Day. By 2060, those aged 65 or older will total more than one quarter of the world’s population. According to the World Health Organization, the number of persons aged 80 and older is expected to triple between 2020 and 2050 to reach 426 million.
Community elders, or those of us who are aging, may be viewed as retired, empty-nesters, babysitters, volunteers, or vacationers spending their children’s inheritance. Others may think of them as forgetful, frumpy, frail, and feeble.
“Who wants to be 91?” a 19 year-old young man asked with a sneer. “I do,” replied a ninety-one-year-old man modestly. Most of us want to live a long time, but we don’t want to grow old.
We start aging the moment we are born. The first stage of life is filled with learning and growing. The second stage is focused on production and accomplishment. These years go quickly.
The third stage of life, or the later years, is time for reflection, renewal, relationships, and grace. Author Katie Funk Wiebe writes of the third stage as the “proving ground of whatever one has believed, thought, practiced, and said.” It is a time to use life-giving skills—those skills developed and practiced during the previous two stages—that will continue to give meaning and strength to life and faith.
“Can we expect to become brighter and sweeter as the years roll by?” asks Tilman Smith in In Favor of Growing Older. “Not necessarily; it depends on how we live today. You will take your baggage with you as you grow older.”
Life is complex at all stages. Funk Wiebe recommends in her books Border Crossing: A Spiritual Journey and Bless Me Too, My Father some faith practices for living today and all tomorrows. “It’s never too late to learn,” says Smith, so “develop the resources within … throughout your life.”
I invite you to, no matter what your age is, join me in some of these faith practices:
Gratitude: Exercise the “thank you” muscle. Repeat the words “thank you” to God and to those around and watch what happens.
Generosity: Scientific studies report that giving back and helping others make us feel happier and more content. Create an inward picture of your generosity’s recipients and pray a blessing for and around them.
Reframing: All of life has its share of reverses, losses, and sorrows. What makes a difference is the attitude we have towards them. Practice reframing time and focus on the positive aspects of the present. Be aware of events and persons in the present—give them your attention.
Flexibility: Things change as we age, and some of those changes are irrevocable. But with every reversal comes a new opportunity. Practice never giving up learning, listening, and growing.
Forgiveness: Anger and payback do not turn into the healing balm of love. Forgiveness is the therapy of old age that wipes the slate clean and heals. Practice true forgiveness, for it is more important to the one who forgives than it is to the one who is forgiven.
As the Apostle Paul reminds us, “I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me…. I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:12-13, NIV).
Margaret Zook is the Director of Collaborative Ministries for Mosaic Conference. She and husband, Wib, are members of Salford Mennonite Church and live in Harleysville, PA.