I wonder how many of you have a place in your home (or the one where you grew up) with marks on the wall to show how tall you were growing. I didn’t, but I know others who have that memory. It was obvious that from the moment you were born there was an expectation that you would grow, not just taller but in every other way as well. Milestones were significant and parents eagerly awaited marking each one.
But what happens when those milestones we all recall and look forward to have been checked off the list? When does that happen? Is it after formal education ends, after a wedding? Somehow it can seem as though no one looks so much at growth after these big milestones. Does that mean it is supposed to somehow plateau? Do we grow heavier but not smarter, more interesting, and wiser?
Is there a downward slope toward our senior years and retirement without much expectation of growth? It matters to me more now since I am in that senior category with adult children and six amazing grandchildren moving toward adulthood at a tremendous pace. And I am not naive to think I am not the actual age that my birth certificate says, but I am still interested in learning new things, having new adventures.
This week I was reading something that jumped off the page at me. Let me share it with you:
“Aging is inevitable, but it’s biologically programmed to be a slow process. Most of what we call aging, and most of what we dread about getting older, is actually decay. That’s critically important because we are stuck with real aging, but decay is optional.”Chris Crowley and Dr. Henry S. Lodge in Younger Next Year
Okay, you’re right, there are things that are going to change. Our hair color (if we choose), our skin tone and texture, gravity takes its toll, senior discounts show up in our inbox or our mailbox, and more. There are also those genetics we talk about or hear our doctors ask us questions about, but more doctors are aware that we can affect those genetics more than we once thought by the lifestyle decisions we start making in mid-life and beyond. And it’s not just our exercise choices (or not) and our dietary choices that matter, even though these are big keys to how “gold” those golden years may be. Whether we continue to enjoy learning something more or different, have a passion we are committed to pursue long after we enter that last third of our lives, and hence, keep growing are all key. And that is all about stewardship of all that God gave us.
There are cultural differences in how we approach aging that impact us a great deal. They don’t just affect how others view us but also how we view ourselves. More than ten years ago I read a fascinating book some of you may have heard of entitled The Gift of Years (Growing Old Gracefully) by Joan Chittister. Her book is chocked full of nuggets to rethink your view of aging and growing.
“It is not getting older that is difficult. It is the fear of getting older that plagues us.
When we count age as nothing but a series of losses, we lose sight of its gains.
What we must not do is do nothing. We cannot allow ourselves to die from the outside in. It may be necessary to live with a body that is changing. That we can’t avoid. But the shape of life itself we can control. We are responsible for the shape of our world, however much it seems to be reshaping itself.”Joan Chittister in The Gift of Years
Another key is to not cut yourself off from meaningful relationships. God designed us for them and when we have them, whether a spouse, a dear friend, or a small group of “buddies” we enjoy hanging out with, it results in a better quality and longer life for any one of us.
We see a number of great examples about how various persons in the Bible approached age. One of my favorites is in the Old Testament book of Joshua. In Joshua 14:12-15 we see the story of Caleb whom we met as one of the 12 spies Moses sent to check out the Promised Land. Only he and Joshua saw the fruit in the new land despite the giants they would face. They saw the possibilities with God. Now at this point in the story only Joshua and Caleb are left entering that new land. Caleb is 80 and yet he tells Joshua “give me that mountain” as the land he will occupy. That says a lot about how Caleb approached life and how his faith continued to grow.
You see I think God intends that we continue to grow long after those marks on the wall at home have faded from view. It won’t look the same for me as it does for you, but (like Caleb) we need to look at the possibilities out there and not only look in the rear-view mirror. One of my dear friends will be 86 in a few months. Yes, she has a variety of evidence of aging going on, but a few weeks ago when I was feeling overwhelmed with handling my husband’s recovery from surgery, she arrived in our driveway with a multi-course meal she had prepared. Her face was beaming because this is what she most loves to do – bless others with food she prepares when things are not as easy for them.
Possibilities…they are endless if you take time to discover them and allow the Lord to continue to grow you up in Him.
“Who hasn’t gone through a period in life when they wished they could simply disappear and start all over again? What most of us do not realize is that today old age is that new life. And we must deal with it, in one way or the other. The gift is recognizing the potential of it, both spiritual and social, and knowing what to do with it.
We get to make new friends, to develop new activities, new routines, new social circles with them. We begin to do untried things in unprecedented places. And we get to tell all the old stories to a whole new group of people.
There is startling experience of variety in it all. A kind of giddy sense of possibility.
We no longer have to wear the old roles that so defined us for so many years…”Joan Chittister in The Gift of Years
The pandemic caused most all of us to feel closed off and shut away from much of how life had been. We couldn’t be together and if we could, we couldn’t really see each other’s faces behind the masks to enjoy a familiar smile and hugs weren’t supposed to happen either. And it hasn’t stopped yet after a year, but that doesn’t mean growth in us should stop. Life is still in you if you are reading this. How can you spend it today? What mountain is there for you to conquer?