Hope in Aging

Revisiting Aging

Maybe it’s because middle age is bearing down. Maybe it’s because my youngest is now a senior in high school. Perhaps the struggles of my aging parents are the reason. Or, maybe it’s simply the increase in body aches and inflexible muscles. Could also be my going back to school and wondering if it’s crazy to do so at my age. Probably, it’s all of these combined.

Whatever the reason on any given day, aging and the fleetingness of time has become more of a focus for me. I can easily get overwhelmed and even depressed about it. To prevent that, and further, to embrace what lies before me in the second half of my life, I turn to what the Bible says about aging and time and purpose.

It’s a topic I revisit more frequently with every passing year. Fortunately, the Bible offers much in the way of wisdom about aging. In my revisiting, then, I find tremendous peace.

Startling Aging Facts

Statistics tell me that a lot of people struggle with aging:

  • The highest suicide rate is among adults ages 45-54.
  • The second highest is adults over 85.
  • Younger groups have consistently lower rates.

Even worse, they show that many give up on that struggle. They simply lose hope.

The Bible and Aging

Fortunately, the Bible offers a lot of hope for those at any stage in this struggle.

“Gray hair is a crown of splendor; it is attained in the way of righteousness.” (Proverbs 16:31)

“Is not wisdom found among the aged? Does not long life bring understanding?” (Job 12:12)

“Praise the Lord, my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name. Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all his benefits — who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desire with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.” (Psalm 103:5)

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.” (2 Corinthians 4:16)

These verses remind me that, as a Christian, there is honor and blessing in growing old. They tell me that while my body may be weakening, I am growing in wisdom and my spirit is being renewed every day.

God, through his word, focuses me on hope. He focuses me on Him.

“But the godly will flourish like palm trees and grow strong like the cedars of Lebanon. For they are transplanted into the Lord’s own house. They flourish in the courts of our God. Even in old age they will still produce fruit; they will remain vital and green. They will declare, ‘The Lord is just! He is my rock! There is nothing but goodness in him.’” (Psalm 92:12-15)

Looking Ahead

There are circumstances beyond our control that contribute to decline as we age. Physical decline and possibly even mental decline will happen. Spiritual decline doesn’t have to happen though.

Doing what I can to age gracefully in the temporary dwelling of my human body, I grasp what God’s word says about how he wants me to flourish in old age. I hold on to the fact that my spirit will live on into eternity and never grow old.

Social Connection… Not Easy But Best

Because introversion is a dominant part of my personality, I used to believe I did not need much social interaction. In fact, I once bragged I could go days without talking to anyone outside of my immediate family.

Gradually, I realized that just because I can doesn’t mean I should. What changed my mind? Three insights.

Introverted ≠ Anti-Social

After reading a lot about introverted personalities, and helping others learn How to Interact with an Introvert, I realized there are a lot of misconceptions about introverts. Unfortunately, I had bought into many of those misconceptions and turned them into excuses for living fully in my introversion.

First, just because so much is happening inside an introvert, as opposed to extraverts whose activity is much more visible, does not mean introverts don’t need to interact externally too. Introverts tend to prefer one-on-one or small group social interaction instead of large groups, but they do need interaction.

Also, the interaction introverts do have, and it is usually less than extraverts, tends to involve less small talk and to instead focus on more in-depth interactions. And after any social interaction, introverts need to recharge with alone time. That’s where we get our energy. Extraverts seem energized by the interaction itself.

Being alone is much easier for me than engaging in social interaction. But as my kids would tell me if they heard me say that, “Easier isn’t always better.”

In fact, most people are some combination of extravert and introvert, known as ambivert. This means that the vast majority of us need some level of alone time and some level of social interaction. It’s just different for everyone.

I finally realized I was taking the easier route, and it wasn’t better. I was often lonely, and I knew this was not how I wanted to live my life.

Social Interaction = Healthier Aging

The second insight came inadvertently. In an attempt to put more variety into my reading selections, I subscribe to a few different RSS feeds. One article sent me on an unexpected quest.

Let the “Black Mirror” References Fly: Britain Has a Ministry for Loneliness

The article initially caught my attention because I wondered what “Black Mirror” was. (In the article, Black Mirror refers to a show on Netflix.) I finished the article and forgot about this reference, instead focusing on how a country’s government would allocate funding toward making sure people are less lonely.

“For far too many people, loneliness is the sad reality of modern life. I want to confront this challenge for our society and for all of us to take action to address the loneliness endured by the elderly, or carers, by those who have lost loved ones, people who have no one to talk to or share their thoughts or experiences with.” (British Prime Minister Theresa May)

The brief article also provided these, to me, startling research findings:

  • Approximately 42.6 million Americans over age 45 suffer from chronic loneliness.
  • People with social connection have 50% lower risk of dying early.
  • Studies suggest that isolation and living alone impact a person’s risk for early death.
  • Loneliness is worse for health than smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

Additional research on my part showed these findings are accurate. The Brits were on to something, and I wanted in. After all, one of my life goals is to age gracefully, and now I saw that a healthy social life was a major key for that to happen.

God Encourages Fellowship

Even in my regular Bible studies over the years, I somehow managed to neglect the importance God places on fellowship. By no means does that mean a lack of awareness on my part. I knew what Scripture said about fellowship, but I foolishly thought that my minimal interactions fulfilled what God wanted.

The Holy Spirit used the above insights about introversion and loneliness combined with reintroducing me to what God’s Word says about fellowship to redirect the social focus of my life.

“Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.” (1 Thessalonians 5:11)

“Not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:25)

There are many additional Scripture advocating for the connection we are to have to one another as Christians and to the benefits gained from that fellowship. So, really no surprise to find out that we are physically tied to the benefits of connection with others too.

What finalized the need to shore up my social life is how I finally really saw Jesus’ own interactons during his 3-year ministry.

  • Jesus took time to be alone while also making time with others a priority.
  • He never showed annoyance at those wanting his attention as he was walking from one place to another or as he was speaking to crowds.
  • He spent a great deal of time with his small group, his disciples.

Jesus’ examples combined with the many other references to fellowship in Scripture make me simply unable to deny the importance of social interaction for my own life any longer.

Be More Social!

Likely, I’ll always struggle with social interaction to some extent. Yet, I feel I will struggle less so now that I understand how intertwined it is with our physical and spiritual health.

One of my current goals is to “Be more social!” I realize this goal is much less than what experts recommend for goal setting. It’s not specific or measurable. Yet, I’ve still made progress with it. That progress comes because of the motivation, the “Why?” that pushes me onward.

Ultimately, the “Why?” is to finally live in obedience in this area of my life. It also involves knowing that God encourages social interaction because He knows it makes this race of life better for everyone, much like running with a friend increases our endurance. Having research back up the benefits of social interaction is akin to God putting an exclamation point on my goal.

Social interaction is not easy for me. But, it is important, crucial actually. So, I push toward this goal every day, letting my “Why?” lead me ever on to the best way over the easy one.

How to Live a Long, Good Life

It’s NOT About the Numbers

scaleCurrent weight. Weight lost. Weight gained. Calories burned. Calories consumed. Miles ran. Miles biked. MPH. All numbers that could easily steal my life’s focus. Add into the mix comparison to the numbers of others, and I’m stuck in not being skinny enough or fast enough or in any way good enough.

But the number that messes with my focus worse than any of these is my age. This number derails me the easiest because I can do nothing to change it. My age will increase regardless of what I do and don’t do.

StopwatchAs explained in Aging Gracefully, I struggle with aging. Within that struggle though, I am determined to age gracefully. I want my years this side of Heaven to be meaningful and effective. This requires a right focus, one that pleases God, one where numbers don’t consume me.

Unfortunately, my focus still too easily gets caught by the advertisements and books and news articles toting the keys to longevity. What the world says about living a long, good life catches my attention pretty much every time it enters my awareness.

What does the world say about living a long, good life? Here are two examples representing the world’s view well:

  • Martha Stewart (She’s now 71!) says to eat well, maintain a healthy weight, stay physically active, get quality sleep, wear sunscreen, collaborate with a good primary care doctor regularly, find your passion, connect with others, stop complaining & stay curious.
  • The Huffington Post says to avoid 7 things in order to age gracefully: Wearing too much makeup, eating too much salt, negativity, watching too much TV, too much sun, stress & overindulging.

Most similar sources say basically the same things, and they’re not wrong. The problem I have with this advice is that it never seems like enough. When I focus on what my culture and science says to live a long, good life, I never find lasting peace. The only satisfaction I’ve ever found, the kind that left me truly feeling peaceful with my life’s focus, is that shaped by my Creator’s intentions.

What does the Bible say about living a long, good life?

They key difference between what the world says and what Scripture says about living a long, good life is that Scripture points to a life not defined by the number of years but instead by satisfaction with days lived. And the only times I’ve been satisfied with my days lived are when God is satisfied with them.

God’s satisfaction with my days comes through living out His Word, which tells me that a long, good life comes when I…

  1. Control my tongue. (Psalm 34:12-14, 1 Peter 3:10)
  2. Avoid evil. (Psalm 34:12-14)
  3. Do good. (Psalm 34:12-14)
  4. Pursue peace. (Download Pursuing Peace study)

In a practical “How do I live this out?” sense, the difference between the world’s view and God’s view of living a long, good life involves focus. When I focus on what the world says, my focus goes toward myself. When I hone in on what God says, my focus aims directly at pleasing Him. My focus determines my reality.

So while the physical aspects of our lives DO have some value, and measuring them at times can be helpful toward our productivity (which we’ll talk about next week), priority goes toward godliness, toward living to please God, which has value not just now but into eternity (1 Timothy 4:8).

DISCUSSION: What do you see as the key difference between the world’s and God’s views on living a long, good life? What other principles does Scripture give for living a long, good life?

Aging Gracefully

Birthday Confetti Email SalutationEvery year as my birthday nears, I struggle with aging. Actually, I continually battle the thought of aging but fixate on it more when I must actually add to the number that captures the reality.

Yeah, I know the “age is just a number” sayings, but I don’t buy them. To me, that constantly-increasing number reminds me of my mortality, and I find I must deliberately confront my thoughts in this area in order to not find myself consumed by what sometimes feels like futility.

Maybe I love this world too much. Maybe I’m too attached to the desires of my flesh. Or maybe I simply struggle with the wasted time of my past, now lost forever. Regardless, I know I need to, as my pastor said recently, live forward instead of backwards, and for me this means confronting these thoughts that could paralyze me if I let them.

tent

While I struggle with aging, I’m also acutely aware that the number placed on my age only involves my current dwelling or “tent” as Paul calls it (2 Corinthians 5:1-10). I know that the real me, my spirit, renews daily (2 Corinthians 4:16)… it doesn’t age. I hold dearly to my future promised with Christ in Heaven, and I know I must “not think only about things down here” but must “also set [my] sights on the realities of heaven” (Colossians 3:1-2).

At the same time, I can’t deny my desire to extend this tent-dwelling life as much as possible, to live a long, good life on this earth. I simply cannot escape the deep sense that this mortal life truly matters even amidst its fleetingness.

Since this life does matter, I want to age gracefully. I want to live fully in a way that pleases my Creator because I don’t believe He would give me this life if it didn’t matter much, if He didn’t have a specific purpose for both now and into eternity.

Do you have a similar struggle with aging and/or a desire to age gracefully?

In my goal to age gracefully, the focus topic for August on Struggle to Victory, I’m looking to what Scripture says to help me live in victory even within the struggle. In that, I will explore what the Bible teaches about living a long, good life (which is actually quite a lot), attempt to understand the truth that “physical training is of some value” (1 Timothy 4:8) and look at what it takes to finish well.

DISCUSSION: What are your thoughts on aging gracefully?

A New Vision for My Life

Well, today’s the day. TODAY is the 11th Anniversary of My 29th Birthday. I’ve finally reached an age that no longer sounds young to me. I have reached “middle age.” (Is that anything like Middle Earth?)

I have been attempting to come to terms with my aging for a while now, and I think I am starting to believe that there is a new vision for my life. This point did not come in the form of an epiphany by any means; instead, it came gradually and through unexpected paths.

About two years ago, I began to feel that God was leading me on a quest (hey, this is getting to be more and more like Middle Earth) to discover His vision for my life beyond 40. That realization began as I was reading the book of Isaiah.

“Do not call to mind the former things, or ponder the things of the past. Behold, I will do something new, now it will spring forth; will you not be aware of it? I will even make a roadway in the wilderness, rivers in the dessert.” (Isaiah 43:18-19)

Part of that quest involves my health journey, which I talk about in How to… Be Victorious. About a week ago, through comments in the post Approaching Halftime, several of my online friends encouraged me in another aspect of my quest with the following pieces of advice.

“The best is yet to come.”

When I look back over the past 40 years, that statement has held true for sure, and there’s no reason to believe it won’t continue to do so. So even though a part of me wishes this life involved immortality (if I could be any mythical creature, it would be an elf), knowing that “the best is yet to come” adds an excitement to life.

“We are not guaranteed tomorrow.”

Because any of our lives could end in a blink of the eye (just watch the news if that fact isn’t clear), enjoying the gift of today provides tremendous motivation for discovering and living out the vision God has created for my life. Thinking on this statement encourages me to truly “make the most of every opportunity” that God gives me within each and every day (Ephesians 5:15-16).

“Celebrate the gift of life.”

The gift of life includes the joy of family. It’s thankfulness for successes achieved. Knowing that life is a gift means realizing that God allows dreams and goals to unfold when we don’t even realize it and in doing so creates something to celebrate that is bigger than our greatest imaginations. Celebrating this gift of life has to involve not letting birthdays burden you. And certainly it also means sharing that gift, and more importantly the Giver, with others.

A New Vision for My Life

I do not know specifically what God’s “new vision” looks like for my life, but I do know that it involves better than I can imagine, more joy in my life and celebrating His goodness and mercy. Even though my thoughts sometimes dwell too much on the past or too often on “what ifs,” I know that He is creating a roadway for me to follow and rivers that will bring refreshment along that journey.

Sometimes we will wish parts of our lives did not happen and that we could erase them. And too often, perhaps, we pretend they really didn’t happen and fail to ever really deal with them.

Frodo: “I wish the ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.”

Gandalf: “So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

(Fellowship of the Ring)

But instead of living in regret, the birthday present I am giving myself, is to now decide how to live out the time that has been given me and to age gracefully. And even though I may not know the specific details of that living, I do know that it involves a tremendously hopeful future (Jeremiah 29:11).

DISCUSSION: If this post reads like I struggled through writing it, that’s because I did. Do you have any recent struggles that you have made public to allow others to come along side you in your journey?

 Subscribe to Struggle to Victory by Email or Subscribe in a reader

How to… Age Gracefully

The word graceful, when sticking purely to the dictionary definition of the word, characterizes a beauty of movement, style, form and execution. Being graceful holds the tendency to be elegant and smooth. Graceful also seems to suggest ease and wealth to some extent. Being graceful also carries with it charm, good taste, kindness and generosity of spirit. To me, the world’s view of being graceful gets at a sort of charisma someone either has or doesn’t have.

While there certainly are many characteristics of being graceful that appeal to me, especially kindness and generosity of spirit, the idea of being what the world considers graceful remains elusive. Honestly, graceful has never been a word used to describe me.

But that doesn’t mean that living gracefully isn’t a huge part of who I am. In fact, the presence of grace in my life determines everything about me. Without grace, my life would be absent of hope.

In Approaching Halftime, I listed four life lessons that are helping me to live in God’s grace. His grace drives my life in a way that allows me to truly age gracefully. Because of His gift of grace, my life can be one of impact and meaning that would otherwise not exist or at least be only temporal.

Knowing the impact of the grace of God in my life, I can dive into life with the freedom that only His grace can bring. To me, that is the essence of living gracefully.

God’s grace in my life equates to his favor (Genesis 6:8) and His forgiving mercy (Romans 11:6). His grace is the source of my salvation (Acts 15:11). His all-abundant (Romans 5:15-20) and all-sufficient (2 Corinthians 12:9) grace is something I can abound in (Romans 5:2), be strong in (2 Timothy 2:1) and grow in (2 Peter 3:18).

So how does all of this translate into aging gracefully? For me, aging gracefully, as in living my life in a way that truly shows the presence of God grace, means deliberately planning my way knowing that His constant guidance directs my every step (Proverbs 16:9). With that, I offer the following “plans” for aging gracefully in the second half of my life.

  1. Embrace aging and use it to inspire & instruct others. (Titus 2)
  2. Get to know God better than ever before. (2 Peter 3:18)
  3. Step outside my comfort zone regularly. (2 Kings 5:1-16 & Matthew 14:22-33)
  4. Share how God’s favor has worked and continues to work in my life. (Genesis 6:8)
  5. Seek to show His power through my weaknesses. (2 Corinthians 12:9)

I considered setting SMART goals for these “plans,” but that approach didn’t seem quite right. At that point, God used a comment by @tnealtarver from A Curious Band of Others on my post Approaching Halftime to redirect how I approach accomplishing them. In his comment, Tom said, “I just read the opening chapter of Deb MacComber’s “God’s Guest List“yesterday. She said she wrote out a list of 30 people she wanted to meet and she did meet them. Many were major disappointments. Then she felt God prompt her to create another “30 People to Meet” list. This time she would leave the lines blank and allow God to fill them in. I think that might be good advice for goals as well.”

Because God’s grace abounds in my life, it turns out that grace really is a word that can be used to describe me. In fact, when it’s His grace that gets the glory, embracing the idea of aging gracefully becomes not only a way to help me come to terms with inevitable aging, but it also helps keep Him as the focus of all that I am and do.

And as the “how to” accomplish the plans listed above are left blank, a new excitement is brewing in my spirit. Could it be that I’m finally looking forward to the 40s? No, I’m sure it’s not that!

DISCUSSION: Are you aging gracefully? How has God’s grace worked in your life?