Reflections on Getting Older

Well, it’s happening.  I’m getting old.  Maybe I shouldn’t say old; I’m getting older.  As I write this article, I’m 63.  And according to some commercials I’ve heard on the radio, 65 is something like the new 40; but I neither look nor feel 40.  I remember 40 and this (excuse the grammar) ain’t it.  If you’re reading this and you happen to be 75, according to my reckoning, 75 should be the new 50.  Good luck with that, I hope it works for you.

OK, you might be wondering, what’s this guy talking about and why?  I’ll tell you.  I come from a somewhat large family by most standards.  Eleven children were born into the Jesse and Gladys Brown clan in Wichita, Kansas. I was fourth in the birth order and to date I’ve lost a younger sister and two older brothers.  And when I was a younger man I hardly gave death a passing thought.  Like most, I just assumed I’d live forever.  Now I see my mortality in the rear view mirror and it’s gaining on me - fast!

So, I think it’s time for me to begin re-thinking this whole thing about getting older and about death and dying.  I don’t intend to be morbid about it.  I’m not trying to scare anyone and I’m certainly not trying to elicit some silly, sympathetic, emotional reaction that’s here today and gone tomorrow.  As I usually do, I just want to educate.  On the one hand, I see some positives (I’ll get to those a little later); yet, on the other, I see some negatives.  I’ll talk about those first.  There are some aspects of aging that are difficult at best. I’m reminded of a sign an aging friend had on the door of her apartment at the senior complex.  It read, "Old age is not for sissies".

But, this is my reality.  I’m not as strong as I used to be.  I don’t have the energy I used to have.  I can’t do some of the things I used to do.  I don’t even want to do some things I used to do.  Yet, I wish I could do some other things I used to do.  And, there are even other things I can still do, but it takes longer to do them and it’s not nearly as easy as it used to be.  I’m not going to go into detail here, but you get the idea.  If you don’t understand now, you will later, your time will come.  The point is, I’m getting older and there are things that happen (or don’t happen) almost every day to remind me of that fact.  And when I’m reminded of it, my thoughts sometimes go to a place in time yet future, when I leave this world and meet my Maker.  So, the Father lets us experience old age because it eventually serves as a somewhat constant reminder that we’re going to "pass on".  And, it is at that juncture it is hoped some wisdom has been gained and applied, some preparation has been made.

There are several things that come to mind as I start this.  First, I’d like to say that youth is mostly wasted on the young.  They don’t usually appreciate it, and they hardly ever use it to its full potential.  And second, I can say from personal experience that I’m convinced God in His mercy has a specific purpose in old age.  You may take this for granted or just accept it, because you assume it’s the natural order of things; but it was a brilliant move on His part to make us young and impetuous in the beginning of our lives and then slow us down to give us the opportunity to maybe think about what’s really important at the end.  This may sound ridiculous, but if at age 63 I was getting younger and stronger, more and more bullet proof, even more distracted with life and living, I’m afraid I just wouldn’t have time to think about my relationship with God.

Another is that we can always check our spiritual condition by honestly examining our attitude towards death.  Fear of death causes instability, insecurity and the inability to maintain a healthy relationship with God.  This fear is something the god of this world has always used to cripple people mentally, emotionally and spiritually to effectively keep them from being what the God of the universe intended.  "Since the children are flesh and blood, He too shared in this same physical nature so that by His death He could destroy the one who holds the power of death – that is, the devil. And, so He could completely set free those who had been enslaved all their lives by the debilitating fear of death." (Hebrews 2:14-15)

Now, I hope I can communicate this principle clearly for you.  I’ve kind of touched on the negatives of getting older, so what are the positives I mentioned above that I would talk about?  Well, the positives are all of the negatives.  You might want to give your eyeballs a good, hard knuckle rub, then read that last sentence again.  That’s right.  I said the positives are all the negatives.  Let me explain.

I’ve talked about this before in several articles, how suffering is a part of the deal.  The Scriptures tell us Jesus was perfected (completed) by the things He suffered.  We must share in His sufferings, if we expect to share in His glory. The Father has determined that difficulties are a necessary part of our pursuit of Him and of His plan for us.  That He uses unpleasant events and circumstances to mold us into the image of His Son.  The narrow road that leads to life is actually a path that takes us to difficult obstacles and stressful dilemmas, hopefully forcing us to learn how to trust God and rely on Him.

Do you get it?  The aging process is nothing more than an accelerated series of opportunities to gain the spiritual maturity the Father desires for each of us.  And let’s be clear; when I say spiritual maturity, what I really mean is an intimate relationship with the Father that’s real (for an explanation of intimacy, read "Intimacy with God and Eternal Life").  The older we get, the narrower the path.  The great thing about getting older is that the difficulties can be more numerous, the negatives more constant.  The reality is that life can become more of a struggle as we see our strength, our health, and our ability to provide for ourselves and take care of ourselves get less and less. We won’t fully realize our dependence on God as long as we’re independent.  We don’t tend to ask Him for help until we’re helpless.  We don’t usually learn to rely on God the way we should until our own resources are exhausted and our options have run out.  That, unfortunately is our nature.  But the Father knows that.  So, in His great love for us, He lets us get old.

Now, this is precisely why I try to write these articles.  It is my sincere hope that at least some who read them will take the practical information and apply it to their experience so it becomes a reality for them.  The aging process is God’s way of putting our lives in reverse.  In many ways, we become like children again, in need of someone to care for us, protect us, provide for us.  Our earthly father can’t do that any more (and we can’t bear the thought of our children doing it).  But if the Scriptures are true (of course, they are), then our Heavenly Father stands ready to prove to us that He can be a father to us in every way.

In the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5, 6 and 7, Jesus presents His Heavenly Father, as the One Who is everything a father should be – in fact, everything we need.  This should be a comforting thought as we get older.  In 5:44-48, He presents the Father as the perfect example of unrequited and unrelenting love.  In 6:25-34, He tells us to trust the Father Who knows what we need and is well able to provide it.  Then my personal favorite is 7:7-11, where the Father is the One Who will never betray our trust and takes great pleasure in giving us the best He has to offer.  This is what it says: "Be persistent when you need the Father’s help.  It proves your reliance on Him alone.  When you ask Him for help over and over again, it proves He’s your only source.  When you consistently pursue Him, it proves you really want to know Him.  And when you look only to Him for guidance, it proves you want to follow Him and no other.  Then, when you show the Father you’re depending on Him alone, He’ll honor your trust and reveal Himself to you. Your Heavenly Father is just like any earthly father who truly loves his children; He will not betray your trust or disappoint your reliance on Him. If you ask Him for something good or useful or needful, could He give you something bad or harmful instead?  Of course not!  Even as bad as some parents are, they still take pleasure in giving good things to their children. Your Heavenly Father, Who is perfect, takes even greater pleasure in giving the best things to His children."

I just know there’s a message in there somewhere.  Let’s make the application.  Getting old may be difficult.  In many ways, it must be uncertain, even fearful.  It’s definitely not for sissies.  Most people would probably do anything they could to avoid it, but that would be a mistake.  I hope I age gracefully, and if I do, it will require courage and determination. The passage above is one I started to use in the aforementioned article on intimacy.  If you look closely, you see what I’ve described many times before regarding the conditional nature of God’s covenant agreement with us.  If we’re persistent and prove our reliance on Him; if we look only to Him and prove He’s our only source; if we seek only Him for guidance and prove we want to follow only Him; then He’ll honor our trust in Him, reveal Himself to us, be a true father to us, never betray our trust or disappoint us and take pleasure in giving us His best.  All things considered, this is a great description of intimacy with the Father.

As is usually the case, Jesus is our example.  I’m reminded of John 18:11"Then Jesus said to Peter, Put your sword away.  The cup My Father has given Me, am I not determined to drink it?"  Jesus knows His death is imminent.  He knows it will be a horrific experience.  Yet, when you read the Gospel accounts of the events leading up to His arrest, trials and crucifixion, you see Him conduct Himself with grace, courage and a determined submission to the Father.  And even more to the point, He maintains that same grace, courage and determination all the way through to His death.

Now, contrast that with the actions of Peter.  Why did he draw his sword and cut off the right ear of the high priest’s bondservant? (Luke 22:50)  Was it because he was not prepared to face the circumstances he found himself in? Confronted by an angry, armed mob of close to 700 men (the word "band" in John 18:3 is speira, a military cohort consisting of 600 men), Peter’s first impulse was to draw his sword and defend himself.  From where did Jesus draw His confident courage?  How could He show such self- control?  And what was Peter missing that made him so fearful and impulsive?  Jesus had what Peter lacked at that point in time– intimacy with His Father.

There is no doubt Jesus was emotionally overwhelmed by the events that were about to end His life (Matthew 26:37,38), distraught to the point He even asked the Father if there could be a way to avoid them (Matthew 26:39). But in the end, Jesus’ spiritual maturity (His intimate relationship with the Father) allowed Him to stay the course.  As He explains to His disciples in the next verse (Matthew 26:40), the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.

And this is precisely what I’m trying to illustrate here.  As we get older, we begin to realize there are things we would rather not face – our flesh is weak. But, the Father wants our spirit to be strong and willing.  He wants us to be able to face those inevitable difficulties related to our getting older with the same grace, courage and determination we saw in Jesus.  It is the intent and desire of a loving Father to see His children live, and even die, in freedom from fear.

But, let’s not have any doubt here about what I’m saying.  I’m not proposing some pie-in-the-sky, unattainable, unrealistic, religious concept.  I’m not saying the Father wants us to enjoy intimacy with Him so we will never have to experience fear.  Or, that if we have the kind of intimacy with the Father we should have, we’ll never feel fearful.  I’m not advocating that we do what many religious folk do when fear comes – go directly into denial, put on your happy face and hide the fear, because you mistakenly consider it a sign of spiritual weakness.  Instead, let’s be realistic about this, you need only to go back two short paragraphs to see the example of Jesus experiencing what some translations call "agonizing fear" and "crushing distress" in Matthew 26:37-39.

No, as Jesus clearly illustrates to us, freedom from fear doesn’t mean you will never experience fear, it means you will have the strength you need to overcome the fear when it comes.  And so we come full circle again.  Where does that strength come from?  Where did Jesus find it?  I’m constrained to repeat this ever-recurring theme; He found it flowing out of His intimacy with the Father.

And while I’m being realistic, may I be practical, as well?  How does this whole intimacy thing work?  What are the mechanics of it, if you will?  If the Father wants me to have an intimate relationship with Him, what do I do? How do I do it?  I suggest you go back up to the spot earlier in this article and read my translation of Matthew 7:7-11, not once, but several times.

When faced with the fear of His impending rejection, torture and eventual death did Jesus share His feelings with the disciples?  Did He seek the comfort, the courage He needed from His friends?  Did He ask for their advice, so He could decide what He should do?  Did He look for a priest to confide in?  Did He call His pastor and set up a counseling session?  Did Jesus call a prayer meeting, so the religious elite could intervene and change the Father’s mind or somehow assuage the Jew’s hatred of Him?  Or, better yet, were the intercessors summoned so they could yell at the Devil and his imps, thus pretending to subdue the evil spirit realm to their will?  No, no, no, no, no, no and no!  He did what He had always done.  He got alone with His Heavenly Father and talked to Him, and Him alone.  Then the Father responded to Jesus’ submission and obedience, giving Him the strength to face His fear.  Jesus understood the difference between getting emotional support from men and spiritual strength from the Father.

And while I’m at it, maybe I should touch on another matter related to all this.  There are those who may never have the intimacy with God they could have or should have, because they don’t understand Him.  It’s a matter of perspective.  They don’t see things the way He sees them.  "For My thoughts are not the same as your thoughts, and My ways are not like your ways, says the Lord.  As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts higher than your thoughts." (Isaiah 55:8-9)

As I’ve said many times before, the purpose of God is to conform us to the image of His Son.  He is not now, nor will He ever be, interested in allowing us to conform Him to our own image.  He could never do that.  However, because our flesh tends to gravitate towards a religious perspective, our desire is to mold for ourselves a god who will take away anything negative or hurtful from our lives.  On the other hand, His perspective is to allow the negative and hurtful and turn them into something positive and helpful. And He does this through intimacy in relationship with Him.  And the result is always good – we learn to trust Him more, we experience greater strength to endure the trials, our love for Him grows and our desire to see Him and be in His presence gets stronger.

The principle of intimacy is simple.  Our experience coupled with our weakness tells us we are not equipped to face the difficult situations and circumstances of our lives alone.  And anything we might get from others is temporary and inadequate, at best.  But true intimacy with the Father, that is, our consistent determination to be submissive and obedient to Him, coupled with our willingness to share our insecurities, our failures and our fears with Him, all work together to teach us that this life holds nothing so distressing, so frightening or so painful, that we can’t face it together with Him.  So, as I get older, I find myself reflecting more and more on that fact.

And we have every reason to believe this is true.  Jesus demonstrated the reality of it; and when we follow His example, we will experience the same result – that’s why He gave us the example in the first place.  I’ll close this with Hebrews 12:1-3:

"So then, since we have the benefit of so many examples, let’s get rid of anything that might make us stray off course, and let’s live the life that has been appointed for us with patient endurance.  Looking to (the example of) Jesus, Who is the Source of everything we believe in, and the One Who will bring it all to completion.  He, Who for the promise of what was to come, endured the cross, ignored the humiliation of it and is now sitting at the right hand of the throne of God.  Just think of Him, Who endured such mistreatment from sinful men (and compare it with your own trials), so you will not get discouraged or lose hope."

So then, this is my perspective.  As I grow older, every day that passes puts me one more day closer to His presence.  I can live with that!