Appreciating Aging!—Part 1
February 4, 2017
by Maria Fontaine
Appreciating Aging!—Part 1
For age is opportunity no less
Than youth itself, though in another dress.
And as the evening twilight fades away
The sky is filled with stars, invisible by day.
—Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
“The gift of these years is not merely being alive—it is the gift of becoming more fully alive than ever.”—Joan Chittister
“You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.”—Les Brown
Since I turned 70 I’ve been thinking more about the benefits of aging. Even though many of us have already felt some of the disadvantages or difficulties, there are also many good things to be found in this stage of our lives. I want to explore a few of these with you by sharing some of my own thoughts and experiences. Of course, I realize that not everyone reading this will be at the stage in life where these things apply to you personally, but you may be interested for the sake of seniors who you may be ministering to.
Then in part two I’ll present some further benefits and advantages of age, along with some articles about social and scientific studies that have been done that showcase the amazing array of opportunities and potential in those who are in this stage of life.
One thing that’s important for us to bear in mind is that as we age, we will be happier and it will be easier if we decide to concentrate on the positive aspects of being older. Since we know that this phase of life, like any other, is a gift from the Lord and part of His plan, we can choose to live this stage to the fullest and accept it as a special time from God to experience and grow in ways that will add value to our lives.
Just as with any of the other stages of life, aging will bring some major challenges. For some, they come sooner, for others later, and everyone’s experiences are different. Some of the things that we encounter may seem like major disruptions to our plans and desires for our lives, but if we take the time to see the potential those challenges also unlock, we can actually turn the aging process into a very positive asset. As we age we have valuable gifts to share with others. We have the wisdom and understanding acquired through experience. We have the compassion and empathy gained through confronting life’s challenges, losses, and disappointments. We have the vision that we can be valuable to Jesus in ways we might not have realized.
Though I admit there are times when the aches and pains and other drawbacks can seem less than beneficial, I’m determined to see these years as a unique opportunity for growth in important areas of my life. I want to continue to “run with patience the race that is set before me, looking to Jesus, the author and the finisher of my faith…”1
Some people call having this positive mindset “aging gracefully,” “aging victoriously,” or “triumphant aging.” If we have this attitude, we will look for the opportunities that are sure to come along during these later years of our lives. There will be opportunities to gain and share the blessings, benefits, valuable takeaways and lessons learned from the treasures of our life experiences.
I’ll share some of my reflections regarding how we can live our lives well as we age, but of course, please bear in mind that these points are by no means the “all in all” about aging. My thoughts are based on my personal situation and life experience, and my hope is that although your situation may be quite different, you’ll be able to apply these ideas in some way to your life.
Greater respect for time. Aging brings a more elevated sense of the importance of using our time wisely. I have more motivation to set firm goals to accomplish while I have the opportunity, rather than putting them off. Leaving them until “some other time” seems much less secure now because “some other time” might not come. As the awareness of the priority of making wise use of time grows, it becomes a priceless motivator that helps the distractions of this life to fade in importance. This is a gift that age offers us.
Efficiency through single-mindedness. For me, the key to remembering is to focus my attention on one thing at a time. Multitasking may be a popular habit for many, but it has some serious downsides. Often, it results in a less than efficient way to accomplish things thoroughly. Trying to do many things at once at first appears to be getting more done. However, when you add up all the little checks and balances and details that are often missed in this way of operating, it’s not actually that effective.
Since I have as much to do as ever, not trying to do several things at once means that I have to become more efficient in how I manage my time. Rushing faster, which looks like the obvious solution, doesn’t work. Instead, I have to find ways to do what is needed by staying focused in order to make every moment count. To help me stay focused on what to do next, I write down the several things that are on my mind that need to be done in the next little while. That works great—if I don’t forget to look at my notebook! Ha! I’ve even had some pockets sewn on some of my clothes, which makes my longtime habit of carrying around a notebook even easier to continue. Doing these things helps me to be a better manager of the time that the Lord has given me. By working on this, I’m also learning more self-discipline, which makes forming better habits easier in many other areas of my life.
Depending more on others. Feeling less independent or that you’re less able or even incapable of doing some things that you’ve done in the past can be frustrating. However, the upside is that needing more help from others brings humility and provides opportunities to encourage others with your thankfulness for their help. It can also help to keep you in closer communion with Jesus.
Challenges keep our brains active. I’m finding that even though there are many new challenges in my life now, with every challenge there is always a solution if I’m working together with my heavenly CEO. Because each of our situations will be unique to us personally in some ways, we have to work together with the Lord to see what the best solutions are for us personally. This keeps our brains active—thinking, developing new ideas, growing, and keeping our minds focused.
Attitudes for staying vibrant and flexible in spirit. For many of us, our lives serving Jesus have helped keep us young in spirit, which is an important quality to retain as we age. Being young in spirit is not dependent on how many biological years you’ve lived. What you choose to believe about yourself is what will be reflected in your thoughts, words, and actions.
The more you act on a positive attitude about yourself, the more it convinces your heart and mind of who you are as a part of God’s kingdom. If you choose to treat each new day and whatever changes it may bring as an opportunity to stay young in heart and vibrant in spirit, then you can.
We have benefited from much wise counsel about the power of a positive attitude. As we wait on the Lord, we can renew our strength. We can mount up with wings as eagles. We can run and not be weary; we can walk and not faint.2 Even our minds can be renewed, as one of my favorite verses for aging says, “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.”3 What a wonderful promise to hang on to; we can claim the blessings of renewal with each day and each year gained. What a gift!
Ultimatums and lifestyle changes are blessings. Change for most of us has been an integral part of our lives. Experiences like living in multigenerational and communal environments where change and travel and the need to be flexible and adaptable are virtually part of survival have enabled many of us to continue to see opportunities in whatever obstacles we face. Aging is no exception.
Some changes are easier to make than others for many reasons, but sometimes, as our bodies age, making those adjustments requires more effort, and that can be challenging. When the Lord knows that something that is difficult for us is crucial, out of love for us He might have to show us why a particular change is necessary and the potential consequences if we don’t make the change. In other words, He might give us ultimatums.
I’m thankful for ultimatums that require me to change, even if in the moment they may be uncomfortable, inconvenient, humbling, and sometimes even scary. They are His love for us in order to prevent something even worse.
I have some friends who have had ultimatums in the form of heart attacks that have forced them to slow down, analyze, and change their lifestyle. As a result of those changes, they have often discovered a whole new lease on life, as well as a whole new perspective on what is important.
Of course, not all ultimatums are this drastic. In my case, the Lord spoke in prophecy; He warned me clearly on a number of occasions that I needed to take serious measures to reduce stress in my life, including getting more exercise, more sleep, and more relaxation, as well as making sure I was more conscientious with my diet and water intake. He also warned me about the need to go slower.
Doing as He instructed has borne positive fruit! Abiding by these ultimatums has brought improvements to my health in a number of ways and has enabled me to do the tasks He gives me with a minimum of negative side effects. It has taken time and determination to make some of these changes, but progress is being made. With each change, I can say that the benefits have been more than worth the effort.
Health awareness. A part of valuing life more as I age is that I’m seeing the importance that God has placed on health. Even more than before, I tend to tune in to things that are happening in my body. Many times in the past, I was too busy doing other things to pay attention to symptoms until they were so substantial that they grabbed my attention by force.
Our health is a very important part of our quality of life, and one that is not to be minimized or neglected. David was strong on this, putting health rules in place for Family members from the beginning. So as I age, I find that I’m more interested in researching health challenges, getting reliable counsel, and finding good, natural remedies or solutions.
Building bonds with other seniors. We seniors have a lot in common, and it’s helpful to find a support group wherever we are. Together we can help each other appreciate the many positives of aging. We can be a witness of how God can keep us and help us cope, even to rise above and to be positive in spite of any negatives. A seniors’ support group is a wonderful place to encourage each other and to share notes and tips and information.
More fulfillment with a slower pace. I have accepted that I have to go slower, because I have less energy and my body won’t go as fast or work as hard physically as it did in the past. But going slower also keeps me from making as many mistakes.
My slower pace and more intentional approach is far less stressful and brings more peace that Jesus is guiding me.
With aging, our slower pace can also give us an opportunity to be an example of love and encouragement to others in ways that our busy lives in the past didn’t provide time for. Perhaps it can be a chance to build relationships with neighbors or other older folks or with our grandchildren (either personally or through other means of communication).
Imparting valuable experience. Being able to pass on our experiences, the wisdom that this life has taught us, our testimonies, or our stories both to others around our own age and also to younger generations, is a priceless privilege.
I’ve found that many younger people will take encouragement and counsel more easily from a grandparent figure than a peer or a parental figure. In your later years, you can be an even greater blessing to the younger generations, and perhaps even a confidant and/or mentor. If you are living in a multigenerational home or even if your local community has a range of people from younger to older, you can find opportunities where others can benefit from your loving care, suggestions, and experience. You have an opportunity to encourage both young and old, to help them look forward to what’s ahead, not only in the rest of their lives here on earth but in the life to come.
Of course, offering advice or sharing experiences with others can’t be in the form of preaching or lecturing. Many times, your calm spirit and openness to listen to others without judging them can be the key to their seeing you as a haven in the storms that are howling about them. In that situation you have the opportunity to offer suggestions couched in wisdom gained from a lifetime of experience.
Benefits of perpetual learning. If you are learning something new and feel as if you’re really having to stretch, you can still have a lot of fun getting where you’re going or doing something that you have to really concentrate on. This will help take your mind off yourself and any negatives. Whether these opportunities are physical or mental, it can be a very great advantage when you are older, in order to keep your mind active.
You may find new things that you enjoy. One of my TFI friends said that for the first time she had, out of necessity, started teaching English as a second language. It was then that she realized that she loved teaching, and it became a passion for her.
Time to reflect on heaven. Your slowing, aging body helps you to have time to reflect on the life to come, and to prepare. You are slowly letting go of this life and reaching for the next one. You can start to enjoy some touches of the next life while thinking and reflecting and dreaming about it.
Sharing compassion, comfort, and the motivation to strengthen others. As you grow older, you generally become more compassionate toward others regarding their illnesses and their fears about death. You become more skilled in the ministry of comfort, since you can relate to the challenges yourself, and you have come to see this stage of life as a further strengthening and the “next grade.”
The gift of simplicity. Another benefit of growing old is recognizing the simpler blessings in life. You become more conscious of the little things that people do to help you: opening a door for you or stopping to let you walk across the street or handing you a little flower or telling you you’re growing old gracefully.
Opportunities for better life balance. I have seen the benefit of becoming more focused on living the moment instead of the constantly stressful striving to do more. Both are necessary, of course, but the latter takes lesser priority as we get older and become more focused on the importance of maximizing the experience we are in.
As we age, we start to realize that we can balance our action and effort with seeing life as more of an experience to be lived than something to be endured or overcome. That’s where tuning in to others and individual needs can take precedence over so much action.
When circumstances require us to go slower, we can use those times to give to others through prayer and encouragement and in fulfilling the things the Lord shows us in those times of restful meditation. Stopping to receive His guidance enables us to understand when to go slow and when to invest our strength to do things that may take a greater effort. We do have to struggle, but when He shows us to expend our strength, even that works in our favor to keep us alive and moving. Best of all, we have the time to find the balance.
Filling the empty places. If you are lonely because your children or grandchildren are far away, or your spouse has gone to be with the Lord, or you can’t get out so much and see others, you can turn the loss into an opportunity to reach out to others who are lonely, whether someone is near your home or on Skype or other forms of social media. There’s no better way to fill the emptiness in our own life than by filling the empty places in another’s.
Benefiting from laughter. Laughter is a great mood elevator. Being able to laugh, especially at myself, turns things that could be discouraging into something more positive. For example, one of the challenges for some of us is the faltering of our short-term memory and the funny things we sometimes do as a result. These little faux pas can give you some great “conversation starters,” and keep you humble at the same time.
Some of the things I do sometimes are quite humorous, such as picking up something, intending to take it into the other room, but then getting there and wondering what happened to it. Then returning to the other room only to realize that I had picked it up, gotten distracted by something else and put it down in the same spot instead of bringing it into the next room. Or, have you ever been looking all around for your phone when it was in your hand? I have!
Occasionally I can forget whether my glasses are on my face or not, or where I just put down my pen, or whether I sent that file off a minute ago or not.
Laughter is a great stress releaser. Laughter is also good for your health. It relaxes the whole body. A good hearty laugh relieves physical tension and stress, leaving your muscles relaxed for up to forty-five minutes afterwards4. Laughter boosts the immune system. The Mayo Clinic says, “When it comes to relieving stress, more giggles and guffaws are just what the doctor ordered. Here’s why: whether you’re guffawing at a sitcom on TV or quietly giggling at a newspaper cartoon, laughter does you good. Laughter is a great form of stress relief, and that’s no joke. … When you start to laugh, it doesn’t just lighten your load mentally. It actually induces physical changes in your body. Laughter can stimulate many organs, activate and relieve your stress response, soothe tension, and more.”5
I enjoyed a talk that someone gave at a conference on aging. Maybe you will too. I laughed so much that I think I must definitely have been relieved of a lot of my stress! (Disclaimer: Of course, not everyone likes the same brand of humor.)
To be continued.
1 Hebrews 12:1–2.
2 Isaiah 40:31.
3 2 Corinthians 4:16 ESV.