This teaching within this series is based in part on Adam Hamilton’s book, Unafraid.
Age is a funny thing. When I was a kid, I couldn’t wait to be 10. There was just something cool to me about finally making it into double digits. When I was 12 I couldn’t wait to be 13 – finally a teenager like most of the older kids I looked up to. Becoming 14 meant I was in high school; 16 meant driving; 18 meant I was a legal adult; 21 meant I could buy alcohol at reputable stores; 25 meant I could rent a car. For me, my late 20’s was the beginning of my career. I was looking forward to the day when I wasn’t a “rookie.”
Even though I looked forward to getting older in some respects, I was still aware of some milestone birthdays that I was conditioned to dread: 30, 40, 50 (just a couple of years away). When these bigger birthdays approach, you realize that while they are simply a number, they represent the slipping away of youth. I am not a Young Adult. I am not a 30-something. I am aware that in terms of my career years, I have crossed the halfway mark. My body isn’t as forgiving as it used to be – pushing my limits means weeks or recovery whereas is used to be measured in days. My increasingly platinum hair – all natural! – reminds me that the clock continues to move forward. My parents’ aging is more evident and important to me as well now that they are both in their 80’s. I cherish my moments with them now more than ever because I know, statistically speaking, they are running on borrowed time.
Some questions… How have you navigated the emotional labyrinth that is aging? How have you lived with the weird tension we hold in our culture where youthfulness is the measure of good looks even while we also celebrate wealth and success that require more years than less under our belts? What age milestones have been difficult for you? What fears do you have revolving around aging?
Hamilton provides some interesting data on aging that I found helpful and hopeful. First and foremost, the research indicates that people experience more happiness in life as they age, not less. He does note that there is a shift somewhere in our 40’s where our happiness finds it’s lowest ebb, and then climbs for the following decades. That’s hopeful. His research offered similar data in terms of marriage – once marriages reach the empty nest stage, the happiness level increases. Conclusion? Kids bring a lot of pain and suffering… Well, not exactly, but parents are deeply concerned about their children, and when children are beginning to feel out their identity through their teenage years, there is more to be concerned about! Fears of Alzheimer’s and Dementia also weigh heavily given that together they are the cause of death for a third of seniors currently. This also means seniors have a 66% chance of not acquiring the disease, which gives some hope.
If I may, I’d like to offer some pastoral encouragement on this subject. First, to those in your 20’s and 30’s. For the most part, it gets better, not worse, as the stats indicate. You will go through tremendous stress, but it will not always be so. Be wise in your pursuits. Trust the ethic of Jesus which loves God and others prodigiously and much good will come online for you. For you who are married, learn to love each other through every stage. You are not who you were when you fell in love. Grow together, learn what it means to love deeply and be loved deeply. If you find yourself in a rough patch, you’re not alone – every marriage goes through rough patches. Seek counsel if necessary, yet realize that an ounce of prevention really is worth more than a pound of cure. For those of you with kids, the data suggests that life and marital happiness keeps decreasing until the kids are out of the house. That’s because it is really hard to raise kids, stay in love, and remain sane! Take comfort that you are not alone! Hard is normal! Lynne and I worked hard over the years to grow a companionship marriage – we are each other’s favorite person to be with at the end of the day. That’s still the way we are because we made “us” a priority throughout our lives. Do the same. You can love your kids and be all about them and grow your relationship, too. Like Lynne and I, you want your kids to grow up healthy in every respect. I believe the greatest variable which you can influence is you. Your kids will, for better or worse, base their lives on what they see in you. If you’re healthy and growing, you are modeling health and growth, which they are more likely to follow. By the way, we don’t choose our parents. Some have been born to absolutely lousy parents by anyone’s definition. Some of their kids catch a clue early on and make a note to never be like their parents. If you grew up with lousy parents, you’re not stuck – for your sake and the sake of those you influence, choose health and growth. For Lynne and I, doing our best to follow as fully as we know in Jesus’ footsteps – which results in being made more and more well/whole – has given us a great life and has rubbed off on our kids. If you want the best for your life and your kids’ life, follow in the footsteps of Jesus. Jesus was all about love, which is where we know true, abiding happiness resides. Follow him to love. The good news: we deeply love our kids and they deeply love us, and we are happy empty nesters looking ahead to a really great future. It gets better.
Now for you old people over 50… As Hamilton noted, the reason happiness tends to grow is because we’ve lived enough to know what actually matters. We’ve seen fads come and go. We’ve watched people lose their lives in the pursuit of wealth, and we’ve been to a lot of funerals. We know increasingly that love is the true source of happiness. Being loved and loving others – an inseparable combination. Yes, we’re generally more stable than previous decades, but that stability affords us perspective to not get sucked into perilous pursuits. Some of you may be wondering how to increase your happiness. The answer is simple: love. Give yourself to something or someone who needs your help. Many of you are already doing this. Love someone through your time and attention, and you will find yourself less lonely and more loved than if you don’t.
Tying into our younger folks given their stage… There used to be a pervasive attitude in the church that when it came to any kind of children’s ministry, you would hear someone say, “I did my time – let the next generation do theirs!” I am so glad that so many of you have not adopted that line of thinking! We have a number of people helping in the nursery that are beyond their own child-rearing years. I want to challenge more of you, however, in the name of Jesus, to step up and be helpful and present to support our younger families who are living through an increasingly hard stage of life. Be a blessing to them. Help shoulder their load. That can happen by volunteering in our ministry here, or on an individual level. This was done for Lynne and I through Gary and Karen Mills. Their offer to watch our kids every Friday night meant Lynne and I could keep dating. The byproduct was that we each found “family” in each other – lifelong bonds that have extended way beyond what started. It was a win-win-win. I am encouraging you to be Gary and Karen to someone’s kids. You have no idea how such an act of love will influence you, the kids, and their parents. And not just those with kids – why not do lunch or coffee with a younger adult or young couple simply to offer support? They probably would love to have someone with some wisdom and perspective in their corner.
Finally, as Hamilton pointed out, remember that some of the greatest contributors in our faith story began their work when they were older, not younger. Noah, Abraham, and Moses were all old when they were just getting started. May it be the same for you, too.