The Challenge of Aging


By Dr. John Button

Have you ever heard others saying: I wonder how much influence I am having over other people since I am getting older? Or have you ever wondered how much good you can do as you get older?

I am reminded that:

Michalengello designed the Sistine chapel and painted it from age 72-88.

Noah Webster at age 70 complilled the two volumes of the American English Dictionary.

Golda Meir served as prime minister of Israel from the age of 70 to 76.

Frank Lloyd Wright designed the Guggenheim museum in New York City at the age of 91.

What does it say to you that people as they get older can and do a lot of important creative work? This church would not be what it is if it were not for people over the age of 60. Everybody is needed in the church. The church would die if people would just quit because they are getting older and think that they have done enough for the church.

The challenge is that if you do things that are soulful and soul fulfilling, you will find that you have a far more fulfilling life, and you will understand the process of living fully.

As I am getting older at 75, I am noticing that I share some things with every other person who is getting older. These things are somewhat painful truths, and yet they are crucial and have made me wonder why these things happen. I have found there are four important things that we all are called to deal with. If we deal with them we can be a lot happier as we grow older. We all know of old people who are grouchy, and we know how miserable they are. We all hope that does not happen to us. The four challenges that I sense we must face are:

First, we are called to be more open-minded, to be more accepting toward other people. That is the way life is built. We are called first to love ourselves. As we do that, it means loving all the parts of ourselves — even those things that are hard to like. Until we do this we are our own worst enemy. We find that we are far more accepting of others when we love all the parts of ourselves. To all persons, the challenge of loving oneself with all our own flaws is the first major step in maturing emotionally.

We begin life called to love our parents. As we get older it continues to broaden out further. We have to get along with our fellow classmates, and the teacher. We have to begin to open our mind and accept other people the way they are. That is quite a challenge! Sometimes that can be an incredible challenge just in one’s own family.

Somebody said: “ I just love everybody, that is until I get a chance to know them!”

A little boy opened the door to greet his grandmother who had come for a visit. He said in front of the whole family as he saw her: “I have been excited about your coming! Now daddy can do his new trick! The grandmother said: “What new trick are you talking about?” Well daddy said that if you ever came in this house again, he would climb the walls!”

We all have people in our lives who cause us to” climb the walls.” The expansion of having to deal with people we don’t care for at first goes on and on. Have you noticed? There is always someone we meet:  at work, a next door neighbor, a person on television, or a person in the church who in some way emotionally challenges us to accept them. I have concluded that this is the way God has set us up — to be to be more accepting. If we don’t somehow learn that, we will spend the rest of our life complaining about “other” people.

This is the first challenge of growing older and mature: to love those who are different from ourselves. “When did I love you? When did I feed you? When did i clothe you? When did I visit you in prison?” Jesus said: “You did it to me when you did it to the least of these, my brethern.”

The second challenge that I see as we age and mature: to deal with things that are being taken away. Have you ever noticed that as the completion of this life nears that things are being taken away? Many of our relatives and friends have passed to the other side. We may have had to move to a smaller place and had to get rid of a lot of things because we don’t have the space to keep them.  And most difficult of all, have you noticed that your own health is probably slowly diminishing as well?

Someone said to me recently: “After fifty, it is just patch, patch, patch!” though we laugh about that, most of us are aching at the same time.

A friend of mine gave me this cloth doll for a birthday present. It has this little pin at the top that you take out and stick it in the part of the body that is aching so that others will not have to ask where your pain is today.

Have you noticed that most of us complain about our aches and pains? How do these aches and pains make sense in our life? I finally figured something out that the goal of life is for us to become one with Christ.  It is not for us to be comfortable and pain free.  This  take away program of life that God has instituted has a purpose.  It is for us motivate us to move closer and closer to Christ in order to emotionally survive His take away program.

Yes, we have a choice to complain or move more deeply and even closer to Christ’s love in order to survive emotionally. In the end the challenge appears: to see whether we are living in the love of Christ as we move from suffering in this life to the next that is pain free. So if we see the suffering as simply another test to move us closer in Christ’s love, we can make sense of the process or we can reject that possibility and choose to simply complain. To me this  is like there is an inside reminder within us all to help us  come to realize we are all dependent on Him.

Sally called Herman on his cellphone in the car. “Hermon, be careful! I just heard on the news that there is a car driving on 95 going the wrong direction. Be real careful, watch out that you don’t get hit by it!” Herman responded: “No there isn’t! There are a lot of cars going the wrong direction!”

Some of us are losing it upstairs.  Those are the days we are having senior moments!

To those who are not physically challenged by your aging process, there are other things that you may have lost. We lose things at all ages.  For instance, some lose their sense of security as they move to start school somewhere away from home, some lose these sense of self-worth because some person or situation as made them question their self-worth, some lose their grandparents or friends in death, some lose friendships  in our mobile society as people move away, As a result people have realize that Christ’s presence is a wonderful help in coping with loneliness and in gaining the courage to realize our own sense of worth through Christ. Yes, the sense of loss happens at all ages and the sooner we learn to lean on Christ for our strength, the more fulfilled and strengthened we become.

The third thing that we have to work through with aging is dealing with our indignation. Do you ever see in your rear view mirror someone throw up their hands when you stop a little too quick? Or maybe you do that when someone cuts you off on the highway, just too close for your comfort zone. Yes one of the big things we have to deal with as we get older is our indignation, our self-righteous indignation.

Because we are older and have lived through it, we think we know the answers. When you see people with green hair, piercings all over, clothes that look like they are barely on, people saying things in public that you can hardly believe, don’t you say to yourself: my mother would hemorrhage if she saw that or my father would turn over in his grave if he know such a thing was happening.

Our opinions and indignation are “ours,” and they may not be God’s at all! I find myself getting angry over things that people don’t do and should, and then it dawns on me : who am I to think that they should do it? It is not for me to judge, who am I to say that that is what god wants in that situation. It was only ‘my’ opinion. It seems to me that we are to let go of our indignation and let God deal with it, turn over our opinions to Him and go on with life. If we hang on to our righteous indignation, we are going to have difficulty finding any inner peace with God.

I am reminded of the man who was driving down the highway when he noticed that the woman in from of him was driving while putting on her make up. He vocalized his righteous indignation: “Women drivers! Putting on make-up while driving should not be allowed. “ As she got close to the mirror to put on her eye make up, she drove over the yellow line and then counteracted by practically driving off the road. The man was so upset for he had to turn quick to not hit her. As he did, he dropped the cellphone from his ear, knocked off the cup of coffee that was on the dashboard that fell into his lap scalded himself and ruining his pants. He said: “ Those women drivers! They should not be putting on their make-up while driving.”  A lot of times when we point to others we need to remember that three of those other fingers on that same hand are pointing to ourself. Righteous indignation often does that to us. It often forces us to eat our own words.

And for those who are younger, remember when you feel a sense of self-righteous indignation, you too might also be too narrow in your perspective. When we see others in this indignation  attitude, the challenge for all ages is to ask if we are absolutely sure that we are right, and if we are open enough to tell them lovingly how we see things differently.

The fourth challenge in the aging process is to see the beauty in all of life. “Seek first the kingdom of God, then all else will be added to you.” That is the challenge:  to see the beauty of life suggested by Jesus.

Helen Luke, a Jungian analyst said that you find god in the simplest of things. How can you stand and look at a tree and not stand in awe! How can you look in a child’s eyes and not see the future and the beauty of love! How can you not look in each others eyes and not see the grace of god at work!

A little boy asked his grandmother: “How old are you granny? “ she said: “I am 39 and holding!” Her grandson then asked: “How old would you be if you let go?”

If you ponder that, it is quite profound. How old would you and I be if we let go? If we broaden our perspective, appreciate God in Christ as our things are taken away, turn our opinions over to God, and stand in awe of the grace of god each moment.

The challenge is for our religion not to become a head trip into our theories and our theology, but to let it be a heart trip so that we can know and experience Christ fully before we pass.

Leslie Brandt wrote:

“The lord is my constant companion

There is no need that he cannot fulfill.

Though his path for me points to the mountaintops of glorious ecstasy

Or the valleys of human suffering,

He is by my side.

He is near me when I tread the dark streets of danger

And even when I flirt with death itself

He is beside me.

When the pain is severe,

He is there to comfort.

When the burden is heavy

He is there to lean upon.

When depression darkens my soul

He fills me with eternal joy.

When I am empty and alone,

He fills the aching vacuum with his love.

My security is in his promise to be near me always,

And in the knowledge that he will never ever let me go.”

To the challenge of aging! Let us say: Right On!


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