Grow old with me,
the best is yet to be,
the last of life for which the first was made:
our times are in His hand
Who saith, a whole I planned,
youth shows but half; trust God, see all, nor be afraid!’
* * * * * * * *
There is a story of a man who nearly drowned in a sinking ship because his cabin door was locked. After pushing and rattling the door handle frantically, he suddenly realised that it wasn’t locked at all, and he managed to escape. He had simply been pushing the door away from him instead of pulling it towards him.
Is that what we’ve been doing when it comes to unlocking our vision of God’s purpose for those older people who are enjoying the ‘last of life’, those latter years that are ‘the best for which the first was made’?
When He created the universe, God set in motion times and seasons, and the ageing process. Old age was part of His plan from the beginning – that people should ripen to maturity, developing wisdom and ‘proven character’ through a life time of experience and relationship with Him, eventually taking their place as elders in society. Robert Browning saw it, and so do others, including many experts on old age. Psychologist James Hillman wrote “…let us entertain the idea that character requires the additional years and that the long last of life is forced upon us neither by genes nor by conservational medicine nor by societal collusion. The last years conform and fulfil character.”
So why haven’t we seen it? Leading psychologists, psychiatrists and social scientists say we have been seduced by the adulation of adulthood: when we are at our physical best. Our mistake is to believe that adulthood is the peak of human development, and anything that follows is the downward cycle to nothingness. Looking on the ‘outward appearance’ (1 Samuel 16:7) we fail to see the inner qualities of older people, those that have been ‘ripened’ and refined, as God intended. We see wrinkles instead of wisdom, creaking instead of character.
God build old age into His life design. Each older person is here for a purpose, for those ‘good works’ that God has equipped him or her to do, (Ephesians 2:10). And, like a rustling in the tree tops (2 Samuel 5:24) are the growing numbers of older people living out God’s purpose in old age, sometimes quite magnificently. People who are blessing and encouraging others as well as themselves; such as Douglas Higgins,[i] an evangelical Christian who wrote a book at the age of 100 as a testimony to win others to Christ, because he said he couldn’ stand long enough to give talks any more. And the woman in her 80s, whose sight is failing, who will ask someone waiting in the bus shelter to read a Christian leaflet to her then ask them what they think about it. There are so many more …
Psalm 92: 12 – 15 says, ‘But the godly will flourish like palm trees and grow strong like the cedars of Lebanon. For they are transplanted to the Lord’s own house. They flourish in the courts of our God. Even in old age they will still produce fruit; they will remain vital and green. They will declare, “The Lord is just! He is my rock! There is no evil in Him!’
We need to up our expectations of old age, both for ourselves and for others, for as far as God’s plan is concerned, age has everything to do with it.
[i] Autobiography of a Yorkshire Christian, Douglas Higgins, Banner of Truth Trust, 2014