We all want to live long but nearly everyone fears growing old. One of the longest Bible passages on ageing is found in Ecclesiastes 12:1-8, where there is quite a commentary on what happens as we get older.
Our bodies are more vulnerable to illness and decreasing strength; we may have feelings of redundancy, and the loss of friends and loved ones through death; the reality of our own mortality draws nearer; we feel lonely and estranged from one’s children and grandchildren, who are busy with their own lives; and very often there are financial concerns due to decreased income.
How are we preparing to face old age? If we aren’t contributing to a healthy lifestyle now, we can’t expect one then. If we aren’t developing a walk with God now, we won’t have one then.
The older we get, the more meaningful eternal life becomes to us, and at some point we become aware that trying to stay alive is a bit like trying to hold water in our hands; it unavoidably slips through our fingers.
Despite this, there is still much we can look forward to whilst getting older:
A Happier Outlook – Studies show that seniors are actually among the happiest groups of people, as “older people tend to have internal mechanisms to deal better with hardship or negative circumstances than those who are younger.”
Grandchildren – Grandparents can experience the joys of little children – without the sleepless nights. Research shows that “the grandparent/grandchild relationship is second in emotional importance only to the parent/child relationship.”
More Time for Loved Ones – In retirement, there is more time to spend with family, friends and loved ones.
Opportunity to Pursue Your Dreams – The time gained during retirement is an excellent opportunity to pursue dreams and passions that might have been put on hold.
Volunteering – Retired seniors also have more time to be civically and politically involved. It has become normal to spend at least 25 years in retirement, so one of the disasters for modern elderly Christians is to be given nothing useful to do.
What Jesus has to say in John 6:25-35 and in 6:48-59 about eternal life is an insight into this subject. There are two Greek words for life: bios and zoe. Bios is the word for biological, physical life, but here, Jesus is talking about quality of life. Zoe is the word for quality of life, as opposed to just existence. Nowhere, when the Bible speaks of eternal life, does it simply mean life that goes on forever. There is a huge difference between existence and living. Eternal existence without quality of life is the definition of hell, and there are only two places to live when this life is over: a place of eternal existence or a place of eternal life.
Jesus points out our options in verse 27: “Do not labour for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life….” We think that real quality of living is having enough money to have everything done for us, but Jesus said real living is having a servant’s heart. His warning to us about our picture of life is, “It will spoil.”
There are many things churches can do to support and encourage older congregants, including:
- A regular service designed for older people, who find all-age worship spiritually unrewarding.
- A special service in celebration of older age, thus placing older people at the heart of the Christian story and, in addition, acknowledging the anguish and losses that come in later life.
- Celebrate the richness of inter-generational relationships with a special service for grandparents and their grandchildren.
- Celebrate retirement and the opportunities it brings. Evangelist Billy Graham said: “There isn’t anything wrong with retiring, and those years can be some of the best of our lives if we can see them as a gift from God… We shouldn’t feel guilty if God gives us the opportunity to rest once our work is done.”
- Host a celebration service for those who have been married for forty years or more.
- Support ministries that work with members of the congregation living in care homes and no longer able to attend church on a regular basis.
All faiths have a special place for old age. They honour it and recognise it as a time of vision and prayer. I am astonished when I hear talk of ‘elderly congregations’. There should be elderly congregations and young ones too.
We cannot turn back the hands of time, but we can live a more abundant and healthy life right now, regardless of how much time has passed, or how much we may still have before us. Ageing is a gift from God, and the knowledge and wisdom gained over the years is like secret treasure.