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I hate growing older. I'm losing visual acuity, struggling with aches and pains, fighting obesity, coloring gray hair. My heart aches for my parents and elderly friends as I watch them deteriorate. I know my attitude is wrong and comes, in part, from fear. What will happen to me? Will I become demented? How will I feel when I'm not "useful" anymore?

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Earlier this year, Pat Emery introduced me to a revolution in long-term care (pp. 16-23), while Sharon Fish Mooney opened my eyes to see elders differently (pp. 6-14). Their ideas made me realize my thoughts might not line up with God's view of aging (Is 55:7-9).


The Bible reveals that God values aging. Devotion and obedience to God create usefulness, not age (see Abraham and Sarah in Genesis 21:2-5; Moses in Deuteronomy 34:7, 10-12; Caleb in Joshua 14:6-12; Zechariah and Elizabeth in Luke 1; Anna in Luke 2:36-38). People who follow God are wise in old age (Job 32:7), to be respected and honored (Lev 19:32) and God will not abandon them (Ps 37:25). Psalm 92:12-15 explains the righteous will flourish fresh and green, still bearing fruit in old age.


So why does aging seem like such a crummy deal?


My search took me to a long-time, dear friend. In her 80s, BJ has faced painful deterioration. We talked about the difference between our aging bodies and what we read in Scripture. BJ pointed out that since Genesis 1:1, there has been a beginning and an end to all things; that for new things to come, old things must pass away (2 Cor 5:17). She reminded me that as Christians, our bodies are temporary-a tent we use until we are given heavenly bodies (2 Cor 5:1-6). She relayed, "My times are in God's hands" (Ps 31:15).


But what about life now? We explored Psalm 92, trying to understand how elders can flourish-full of sap, green, bearing fruit. We discovered that the allegory of righteous people as palm and cedar trees (vs 12) fits BJ well. Palms are long-lived, stately, upright and useful, while cedars are majestic, stable and durable. Being fresh, green and full of sap (vs 14) represents spiritual vitality and being rich in trust, love and contentment. Despite life's challenges, BJ speaks with grace and wisdom. Growing old is like "living in a box; the walls are moving in, and the only way you can look is up." Her focus has shifted from what I can do, to who I can be. Aging has required greater dependence on God. Life now must be lived in light of eternity. Death is an "expansion of my horizons," where "I will no longer be earth-bound."


Rather than worrying about "lost independence," BJ says she has "planned independence" for going places or getting things done. Sadly, she feels health care providers are tired of her, and she has to carefully advocate for herself. She appreciates nurses who offer assurance, talk with an adequate volume and offer caring touch.


BJ is a living memorial of God's character and faithfulness (vs 15). She remains fresh and green, bearing fruit unique to old age.


To my amazement, the next day I found research that supports the outcomes of Psalm 92. Older people have greater emotional stability, richness, and are better able to experience conflicting emotions than younger people (having peace in the midst of fear).


Researcher Laura Carstensen concludes, "When cognitive speed and biological hardiness are on the decline, emotional functioning may continue to improve."1 The research-based theory of gerotranscendence describes the potential in old age to move away from the materialistic, rational perspective common in younger life to a transcendent experience with the self, relationships and cosmic insights. 2 Are these findings about old age akin to the fruits of a righteous life?


As a final point, I discovered a picture of Psalm 92 in nature called botanical senescence. This is when plant metabolism shifts from growth to ripening, from life to death, to prepare for the most fruitful event in the plant's life cycle-the harvest of nutritious, delicious fruit. 3


I see now that I've been focusing on the losses of aging. The ancient words of Scripture, and now modern research, reveal a lot more is going on than deterioration. While decline does happen, the truth is, there is much to treasure about old age.




1 William Thomas, What Are Old People For? (Acton, MA: VanderWyk & Burnham, 2004), p. 27. [Context Link]


2 Ibid., pp. 27-31. [Context Link]


3 Ibid., p. 13. [Context Link]