Re-post: Does Aging Scare You? Learn to Laugh

photo credit: deepblue66 (via flickr.com)

I first became aware of the relentless process of aging in an unexpected way. I was a college pastor, 37 years old, and a student from the campus across the street came for an appointment.

She talked out her problem and we had prayer. As she got up to leave, she said with a warm smile, “Thanks very much for seeing me; I thought it would be good for me to talk to someone middle aged.”

It was an entirely unexpected thought. Me, middle aged? I pondered it after she left. I’m not middle aged, I said to myself. I am not that much different from the hundreds of students I preach to every Sunday.

But the truth slowly sank in, and since then, people here and there have managed to keep me conscious of the aging process.

For example, I was holding a church conference in Western Canada when I was in my early 60s. I was crossing the conference grounds from the lodge to the meeting place, singing to myself, when I saw Maurice coming toward me.

Maurice stopped, put his hand on my forearm gently, and with understanding in his voice, said something like, “At your age, you shouldn’t be walking and singing at the same time.”

Some time later, my wife Kathleen and I were driving across Michigan on I-94. It was late afternoon and time to quit for the day, so I pulled into a motel and went inside. I asked the usual questions: Do you have a non-smoking room for two — preferably on the main floor?

The man at the desk studied his charts and then, breaking out in a smile as if he was going to be helpful, said, “I can give you a handicapped room. Fully equipped.” I showed no shock but it was another jarring moment. Did I look that decrepit, I wondered.

But the coup de grace came closer to home, administered by the boss of a roofing crew replacing the shingles on the house next door. I asked him to look at the roof of my house and give me his opinion. We walked together to my driveway and he stood for a few moments looking up. Then, he said pleasantly, “You won’t be around to replace those shingles.”

I’m not alone with such experiences. I was standing with the late Bishop Paul N. Ellis once when a young man asked him what it was like to be old (he was then in his 60s). He replied, “At least I’ve got there, while you aren’t sure you will.”

It was a humorous exchange, but his question did not surprise either of us. Observant seniors aplenty can tell about the subtle social changes that begin to manifest themselves as age creeps on: sales clerks may show lack of intere; con artists look on the aging as easy prey for their scams; people in a group may ignore their comments.

Growing old is not for the humorless. I’ve been collecting funny stories about aging and loss of memory for some time now. To do so is not politically incorrect because I’m telling stories on myself.

One story my wife and I both enjoy is about the elderly couple that were driving out to meet friends for a social evening. She says to him, “Honey, you try to remember where we’re going and I’ll try to remember who we are.”

Admittedly, there is a less pleasant side to growing old. Strength begins to wane, degenerative diseases show up, floating creaks and aches become regular companions.

Perhaps worst of all is the subtle uncertainty, always just under the surface, about what the future will hold in this brave new world. The Psalmist’s prayer takes on new meaning for us: Do not cast me away when I am old; do not forsake me when my strength is gone (Ps. 71:9).

In my experience, that sort of response is the right one. We can allow faith to take us by one arm and hope by the other as we walk, perhaps a little less briskly than before, down this pilgrim path.

Faith says in one ear, And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you (Rom. 8:11).

That doesn’t need to apply only to our future resurrection. It can also mean that even the closing years of this stage of our mortal journey can be infused with special spiritual energy from God’s Spirit.

Meanwhile, hope says in the other ear, Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of highest privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory (Rom. 5:2, NLT).

If faith brings the future into the present, giving substance to our hopes (Heb.11:1 NEB), then hope gives the present the assurance of a glorious future.

In the meantime, the people of God — the church — can do a wonderful thing for those in their midst who are of advanced years. It can counter today’s tendency to diminish and devalue the aged.

I think of this when I read one of my favorite chapters in the Old Testament at the present, Leviticus 19. It sets forth a summary of how God’s chosen people were to live out his holiness in community, and one verse says, Rise in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God. I am the Lord (Lev.19:32).

First published in Christianity Today

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6 thoughts on “Re-post: Does Aging Scare You? Learn to Laugh

  1. Lorraine and I can identify with your comments Pastor Don. I confess that I have to check worries about future disabilities and arrangements but I try to remind myself; “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.”

  2. I thought, since my earlier comment, about the preacher, over 100 years old, who is purported to have said, “Oh to be 90 again.” It must be all a matter of perspective.

  3. This devotional on aging really hits home, for three months ago I moved from my farm home of 64 years to a condo in the retirement complex at Winona Lake. This has been a difficult decision and move, but I am confident that the Lord has led me to where I should be at this point in my life–and my widely scattered family is happy that I’m not isolated out in the country and am surrounded by a fine Christian community. Aging is difficult, and one of the most stressful aspects is recognizing and adjusting to diminished strength and physical capabilities. Having lived a very active life on the farm, raising a fine family, I did not anticipate having to use a walker to be secure in home and away. But God is good, and I am finding that with the removal of some of my longtime responsibilities I have more time to nurture my walk with God as I strive to live a meaningful life as long as possible.

    • Loraine: Thank you for your good statement on looking aging in the face. I think we have met in the past but mu memory won’t pull up the connection. Kathleen and I are in our 93rd year and still in our own home. We give thanks daily to our Father for long life together and know our future is in God’s hands — as it always has been . Cordially, Don Bastian

  4. When we were reroofing our flammable cedar shake roof with less flammable shingles in 2004 a year after the too close to Kelowna wild fires we were offered 20 year quality or 30 year quality. I think this was according to the thickness of the underlay and we asked for 20. Six more years.

  5. “Six more years” must make you thoughtful. We are aware that at 92 years of age there’s not much point in long term guarantees. But. at the time we are reasonably well and as they used to preach at the Moose Jaw camp meetings, we’re packed up and ready to go. We have the certainty that we will go to be with the Lord but we have some cleaning up of household affairs to tend to. One day at a time.I sent an email of congratulations to your daughter as you suggested. Uncle Don

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