When I look into the mirror I am sometimes oddly surprised by the older man looking back at me. How did this happen? The gray hair, what little I have, the lines in my face, are time’s mark. Mostly I am at peace with the fact of ‘age,’ but there are moments when I wish I had the stamina of my youth, the strength of my 30’s! Then, too, I exist in a culture which assigns no value to growing old. Billions of dollars and millions of hours are spent to hang onto a firm body, to reclaim the beauty of youth. And, why not, when we see the elderly left alone, sometimes warehoused in nursing homes by families with no time for Mom’s stories, Dad’s rambling, or the time it takes to get around at 80? Then, too, it is hard to see any glory in an Alzheimer’s ward, isn’t it?
But, does all of our fixation on eternal youth and virility keep us from finding a greater grace?
Mark Galli writes in the May, 2018 issue of Christianity Today about aging. He asserts that “we are in our physical and mental prime from our late teens to our early 20’s. … But from that point on, we slowly but surely become unable. We’re not as quick on the field, childbearing takes something out of else that never comes back … a knee goes out, vision clouds … Whether gradually or quickly, we move to that state where our entire being is ‘disabled;’ we die.” He goes to say that while this may be heartbreaking it is not tragedy.
Before you dismiss him (or me) would you listen to the Word of God? “Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-17, NKJV) It can be hard to grasp that there is a glory unfolding inside even as there is loss on the outside. It requires faith. In the last decade, I have lived up close and personal with loss, with sickness, with death. I won’t insult your intelligence by putting a nice spin on it, tying it up with a neat bow of platitudes.
Watching my Dad die a hard death with wasting disease over 14 months was an agony. Yet, tempering the pain, there were moments of amazing grace. I’ll never forget cradling his head in my lap at 2 am on a Monday morning, singing softly to him of God’s faithfulness and feeling the Spirit minister to both of us. Our stormy relationship found healing in the long nights of shared pain; his physical, mine emotional. As I watched death stalk him, my vision developed that allows me to see into eternity with more clarity.
2 years later one of my more crushing memories is coming home from vacation that Summer and having to make the trip to tell my Mom that her doctors had found advanced lung cancer in her body. That little woman of 73 years bent herself in half sobbing. But, then she composed herself and her final days were a demonstration of the depth of her faith as life was slowly ending. She moved into our home and in her company I found sweet loving peace. I can still see her lying in the bed where she would die, holding frail hands heavenward, caught up in prayer. Faith grew!
Three years after Mom’s death, my own Bev was diagnosed with advanced ovarian cancer and we began a 20 month journey of grief, resolution, and love; accompanied by our 4 adult children who spent themselves to come and stand alongside of us. It was ugly to live with the almost weekly losses of that last year. In all the sorrow and pain of loss, we found the deepest love we had ever known. I am shocked today when I look at the pictures of her in advanced stages of her cancer. She looks terrible, but then I saw only the woman I loved. The promise of the Resurrection is no longer just words! It is my hope.
No, I am not suggesting that the only way to find love, grace, or faith is to get terminal illness. But, I will boldly suggest that the things of God become dearer and nearer when and if we accept the inevitable decline of the body and increasingly turn our gaze to spiritual things.
One of the tragedies of our culture is the failure of my generation to let go of the obvious benefits of their youth to claim the prize that is found in loving deeper, serving faithfully, and becoming wise. These are to be the glory of our later years. They can make us beautiful even as bodies grow wrinkled and weak! We don’t have to turn into bitter old people, railing at ‘those terrible kids’ who live around us. We can be sweet with the love of Jesus, capable of spending more time with Him, loving the beauty of life around us, even those we see it through clouded eyes.
Galli writes “There is something about our inability that reveals the heart of the Gospel. We’re not sure what Paul’s ‘thorn in the flesh’ was, but it is not a reach to see it as a physical disability.” How did the Lord explain that to the preacher? Here is what Paul tells us – “even though I have received such wonderful revelations from God. So to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud. Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.” (2 Corinthians 12:7-9, NLT)
Have you bought the myth of a fountain of youth?
Are you captivated by the superficiality of maintaining the illusion of agelessness?
Living a healthful life is good. Making choices that allow a good and long life are admirable, but … No one stops time. Make the choice to grow beautiful in soul, filled with the glory of God.
Here is a word from the Word. “Don’t let the excitement of youth cause you to forget your Creator. Honor him in your youth before you grow old and say, “Life is not pleasant anymore.” Remember him before the light of the sun, moon, and stars is dim to your old eyes, and rain clouds continually darken your sky. … my child, let me give you some further advice: Be careful, for writing books is endless, and much study wears you out. That’s the whole story.
Here now is my final conclusion: Fear God and obey his commands, for this is everyone’s duty. God will judge us for everything we do, including every secret thing, whether good or bad.” (Ecclesiastes 12:1-2,12-14, NLT)
Pastor Jerry Scott
FAITH DISCOVERY CHURCH