GROWING OLD GRACEFULLY
T. PIERCE BROWN
There are three words in the title of this article which are significant. I want to emphasize all of them. There is a difference in “getting old” and “growing old.” The first is inevitable, unless one happens to experience the alternative. Everyone “gets” old who does not die young. But not everyone “grows” old!
It is true that I now have what I call “old timer’s disease” which seems me to cause me to forget more than I did when I was younger. But I am convinced that much of the time the atrophy of the brain that appears in some of us who are in what we call “retirement years” is not because of mere physical debility, but because of a mental attitude. We retire, then we degenerate physically, mentally (and sometimes morally, spiritually and financially) not because we have to at the rate we do, but because we “think old.”
Samuel Johnson said, according to Boswell, “It is a man’s own fault, it is from want of use, if his mind grows torpid in old age.” That is not hard to believe if one looks at the list of men who have made notable contributions to society in one form or another. We are not just talking about Abraham and Sarah, Moses, or some ancient Bible character. A whole list of persons, writers, statesmen (or at least politicians), artists, architects, and others in every walk of life have learned the secret of growing old productively.
Our article has to do with something besides productivity, but the first part is the same–growing. How does one keep doing it? Here are some suggestions: First, find one or more things that are interesting instead of drawing up in a shell like a turtle, sitting in the courthouse yard whittling on a stick, or hunched in a chair looking at the boob tube. The greater the value of the things you plan with respect to serving the needs of mankind for the glory of God, the more help it will be in accomplishing the goal of growing old gracefully.
To know why this is so might be helpful. The purpose for which man was made was to glorify God. Paul expresses one of the ways to glorify Him in Acts 17:26-27, “And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation; that they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after Him, and find Him, though He be not far from every one of us.” The purpose for which we were created was to seek and find God! Jesus indicated another way to glorify God in Mark10:43, “But whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister.” Since all we do is to be for the glory of God (1 Corinthians10:31) then to serve mankind, especially in helping them to find God, for His glory is man’s purpose for having been created. The simple principle is this: When man functions in harmony with the purpose for which he was made, all life is more harmonious, happy, fulfilled, and gracious.
One can spread butter with an ax, and might eventually cut down a tree with a knife, but either would be frustrating, for the instruments were not made to function in that way. Neither were your members. They were to be instruments to glorify God. Paul says in Romans6:13, “Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God.”
Any other suggestions, rules, techniques, or methods by which we grow old gracefully are actually subheadings under this one, for without this no one can grow properly, much less grow old gracefully. Second, in the growing process, there should be specific and attainable goals. Growth suggests movement and progress. A sedentary purposeless life cannot achieve the goal of growing old gracefully.
Third, having goals is not enough. There must be a systematic, regular effort to attain those goals that are for the purpose of aiding mankind in finding God (or any other subordinate goal). Because of an aversion to the idea of “old people,” the term “senior citizen” was coined. We may have quoted “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” but it is not so. Why do you think, “Old soldiers do not die; they just fade away” and most of us will “pass away” or “fade away” rather than “die”? Words DO change things, and can split churches, start wars or create love and bring salvation. This is true because our lives are a triangle consisting of three sides–thinking, talking, and acting. When one changes the way one thinks, he changes the way he talks and acts.
The point is, if you “think old,” you “get old.” It may not help much just to say, “I’m advancing in years” instead of “I’m getting old,” or “I’m a Senior Citizen” instead of “I’m an old man.” But whatever it takes to make you think forward in terms of growth, productivity and gracious living instead of backward in terms of stagnation and uselessness will help you to grow old gracefully. This may be one of the reasons Paul said in Philippians 3:13, “This one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” There is much truth in Browning’s statement in “Rabbi Ben Ezra,” “Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be, The last of life, for which the first was made.”
Although all I have said so far has to do with growing old gracefully, not just growing old, I now want to emphasize “gracefully.” The most important point I want to make about it is that we must realize that we cannot wait until we are already old to learn to do it gracefully. The point is, a ten-year-old child is growing. And whether we think of it this way or not, he is growing old! And if he is not cultivating graciousness and gracefulness all along the way, he is not apt to develop it suddenly at sixty-five!
So we need to learn early how to “roll with the punches,” or to “suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,” to make our stumbling blocks into steppingstones, to discipline our thinking until we can “bring into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). Philippians 4:8 is especially helpful here, for “whatsoever things are true, honest, just, pure, lovely and of good report” as we think on these things instead of thinking on blighted hopes, frustrated ambitions, and anticipated miseries it will help us to grow old gracefully.
Let each one of us start NOW to DO WHAT WE CAN, WHERE WE ARE WITH WHAT WE HAVE, and we will grow old gracefully, if we grow old at all! Go with God!