When I retired in 2014 I bought and read a variety of books about retirement to learn as much as I could about my transition. A lot of what I read was informative and helpful, and I wrote some blog posts about retirement.
Since officially retiring I have continued to work part time and for the last couple of years have had the privilege of being Pastor to Senior Adults at our church. A couple of weeks ago in our Encore Bible Study we began a study of what comes after retirement: aging.
While we are digging into a variety of Bible passages, we are also reading and discussing a book by J.I. Packer entitled FINISHING OUR COURSE WITH JOY: Guidance from God for Engaging with Our Aging. The title says much about its content and the brief 99 pages are giving us seniors a lot to think and talk about.
Yesterday we began our meeting with several participants answering Packer’s question, “How should we view the onset of old age?” Packer suggests “The common assumption is that it is mainly a process of loss” (p. 14). Someone in our group wisely noted “it is inevitable.” In one of his books (written over 35 years ago) Charles Swindoll affirms “The fact is that all of us are getting older. There is no getting around it.” Most of us, I’m sure, are more open to aging than we would be to the alternative.
There are a couple of unvarnished assessments of aging in the Old Testament. One is by a man named Barzillai in II Samuel 19:31-37a. I find his evaluation to be pretty negative. A better known assessment is from the wise man Solomon in Ecclesiastes 12:1-7. Using a variety of metaphors he describes the process of loss in aging. You can go to a commentary for help with the metaphors, but here is the passage from New International Version:
Remember your Creator
in the days of your youth,
before the days of trouble come
and the years approach when you will say,
“I find no pleasure in them”—
2 before the sun and the light
and the moon and the stars grow dark,
and the clouds return after the rain;
3 when the keepers of the house tremble,
and the strong men stoop,
when the grinders cease because they are few,
and those looking through the windows grow dim;
4 when the doors to the street are closed
and the sound of grinding fades;
when people rise up at the sound of birds,
but all their songs grow faint;
5 when people are afraid of heights
and of dangers in the streets;
when the almond tree blossoms
and the grasshopper drags itself along
and desire no longer is stirred.
Then people go to their eternal home
and mourners go about the streets.
6 Remember him—before the silver cord is severed,
and the golden bowl is broken;
before the pitcher is shattered at the spring,
and the wheel broken at the well,
7 and the dust returns to the ground it came from,
and the spirit returns to God who gave it.
For those who may be interested, Psalm 71 is a noteworthy read as well in what Derek Kidner calls “A Psalm for Old Age.”
In my collateral reading for our study of Packer’s book I also read an older book by Sherwin B. Nuland entitled The Art of Aging: A Doctor’s Prescription for Well-Being. I think his observations give us some things to think about in terms of aging:
“Nothing is accomplished by soft-pedaling the physical and emotional realities of aging” (p. 10).
“. . . individual men and women age at different rates” (p. 23).
“Aging is not a disease” (p. 24).
“It is not the adversity itself that determines the shape of the future, so much as our response to the adversity” (p. 114).
It seems obvious that one’s outlook and attitude is extremely important in terms of not only the onset of aging, but the process of aging. As the title of this post suggests, for most people aging will include both the good and enjoyable as well as the bad and troublesome.
At the age of 68 I’m into the process and mostly enjoying it. However, I also realize a lot of the things Ecclesiastes 12 looks forward to will be coming to me in the years ahead. My hope and prayer is that Packer’s book title will be true for me – that in the coming years God will allow me to finish my course with joy.
Hopefully whether you are young or old or in between, you too will stay on course and finish it with joy.
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