By Chaplain David Brinker
Rev. Dr. Frederick Schmidt is the Rueben P. Job Associate Professor of Spiritual Formation at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary. He has shared insightful principles on the difference between aging and growing older in an online spiritual journal called “Patheos.” He writes:
Sometime ago, a friend who had just celebrated his 84th birthday observed, “You know, when I was young, I thought I knew what being in my eighties would be all about. But now that I am well into the experience, I realize that I don’t know at all. Oh, sure, I have aches and pains that I didn’t experience in the past and I move more slowly. But inside, life feels much as it did in my thirties and forties.”
Thanks to his friend’s observation, Rev. Schmidt found himself musing about what it means to age vs. what it means to merely grow older. Here are some conclusions that might be helpful to you…
One: Everyone gets older, not everyone is able to age well.
Popular singer, Rod Stewart is known for his song “Forever Young.” Botox and hair dye alone will not keep us in eternal youth. But we can have a young frame of mind that engages life with energy and hope! This is possible. We can have a realistic faith, which admits many things will change, but that God can be trusted to stand alongside of us as we find ourselves facing new horizons. This kind of faith sees life as a much larger, endless journey into a God who loves us better than we love ourselves. “Forever young” is not the same thing as “forever adolescent.”
Two: Aging can offer new gifts and graces.
The benefit of the second half of life is that it yields wisdom. Getting older can rob us of strength and endurance, but aging enhances our grasp of life’s subtleties. It can plane off the rough edges of our behavior. It can make us more forgiving, less anxious. We can even find a greater measure of humility and inner strength. Learning these lessons however, requires a steady perspective of attention to what life can teach you..
Three: Aging reminds us to look beyond the boundaries of our lives.
We have been taught in so many ways to look out for ourselves. This is seen as the responsible, adult thing to do. But only looking after our own concerns can mask selfish behavior, dressing it up as a responsible endeavor. Aging forces us to face the futility of an anxious, self-serving lifestyle. It also alerts us to the value of giving ourselves to the efforts, causes and people who will outlive us.
Four: Aging can teach us what matters.
One common problem of getting older is that we major on the minor and minor on the major. The passing of time makes it easy to see what really matters. Aging allows that perspective to change your behavior and let life’s small stuff take a back seat where possible.
Five: Don’t let yourself be “profiled” by your age.
We hear in the news how people are “profiled” and treated in unfair ways because of the way they are seen by others. It is easy to be treated like a “retiree,” a “grandfather,” or a “grandmother;” as someone who is finished being creative; as someone without a past or without passions, goals, and commitments. Some of those labels are not bad things. Being a retired, a grandfather, a grandmother, or a person in the second half of life is a wonderful thing. But don’t let these roles or the label of being “old” totally define you. You will always be more than a “profile.” You are God’s gift to the world in the making. Seen from a spiritual perspective, life is much longer journey than even the one we are on now.
Are you aging well in years and wisdom, or just watching the number of year add up? Think about it.
Yours in Christ’s service,
Rev. David L. Brinker, Chaplain
David Brinker is an Elder of the Susquehanna Conference of the United Methodist Church. He has been the Chaplain at Normandie Ridge CCRC in York, PA since 2012. Recently, he has developed the spiritual care component of the Kaleidoscope therapeutic engagement program for memory care. You can view his profile on LinkedIn.