Reflections on Aging (2) – The Travails of Aging (Part 2)

In the first part of this reflection, I painted a somewhat pessimistic but (hopefully) realistic picture of the aging body where physical deterioration, bodily aches and pain, falls and fracture can happen slowly or suddenly. We can add to these – brain atrophy, cardiovascular blockages and the possibility or even likelihood of cancer. As we age, the lights will go out and the sky gets darker – slowly or suddenly.

All these seem unavoidable. We should not deny them. It is best to be prepared to learn to live with such frailties, illness and ailment, and even to view them as “friends.” We should not fantasize about stable, quiet days without any trouble in our body. But neither should we be resigned and give in to anxiety, restlessness and depression.

1. Stay Positive & Active: They are things that we can still do. For a start, it’s good to maintain a positive mentality or attitude towards life as a whole, and particularly for this season – as it comes with many invitations and opportunities (more to be said below and in due time). I place gratitude and contentment high on my list. And I try to embrace Paul’s exhortation in Philippians 4:8 – “whatever is true … noble … right … pure … lovely … admirable … excellent … praiseworthy – think about such things.”

The onus is also on us to maintain a regular routine or regime, to be as consistent as possible, in proper exercise and stricter diet, and having sufficient sleep and rest. 7-8 hours are highly recommended. I do strength and conditioning exercises (weights, “body pump”) to ensure my bone and muscle mass are maintained, in addition to my intake of calcium and vitamin D3 supplements. For cardio, cycling or RPM and brisk walks replace my inability to jog because of my knee injuries and deterioration (thanks to playing badminton for a good 45 years!). Medications are in order for my enlarged prostrate, higher cholesterol and blood pressure levels. What are you doing to stay active?

2. Invest in Inward Beauty: Besides the need to undertake responsibility for the care of our body and to embrace a grateful and positive attitude, I reckon the need and importance to invest in inward beauty. Disabilities and deformities are not a mistake but part of God’s eternal plan. His way of dealing with them is not to remove them but to endow them with godlike strength, dignity and beauty and to put them to his intended use.

Has aging brought some humiliating disfigurement? Do you consider yourself an eyesore, too ugly to be of use? Your countenance, though wrinkled or blemished, can be adorned with the joy of the Lord and made lovely with his kindness and compassion.

One of the ills of growing old is the tendency to grow grumpy, as in “the grumpy old man/old woman.” One can become critical or judgmental on one hand or legalistic or moralistic on the other. The old can become preoccupied with other people’s imperfections and brood over their failures and faults. Or they may harbour grudges and resentments, remembering the wrongs that people have done to them.

How many relationships have ended because someone’s mistakes loomed large in our minds? Many marriages have died because we brooded and obsessed over our spouse’s flaws? How many of us have alienated our children because we have endlessly chided them and harped on their failings?

Love is not gullible or naïve, but when we love each other deeply, it covers a multitude of sins. Love looks for goodness and nobility in others. The apostle Paul advocates in Philippians 4:8-9 “Whatever is true … noble … right … pure … lovely … admirable … excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.” Aging can be a time when we develop what one author calls, “the grander curves of character” – when we become more Christlike in cultivating the fruit of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness. In Colossians 3:12-14, the apostle advocates what I’d like to call the relational virtues – compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience, forbearance and forgiveness.

Aging gives us the opportunity to focus or center on inner beauty and be less preoccupied with the external glory that is inexorably fading away. Paul puts it clearly in II Corinthians 4:16, “Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.” There’s a deep spiritual beauty that is much deeper and more enduring than what we can see with our natural eyes – the beauty of holiness. Our present culture, sadly, turns the phrase upside down, worshipping instead the outward appearance, the holiness of beauty!

3. Cultivate an Eternal Perspective: Gerontologists tell us we are three ages all at once: chronological, physiological and psychological. Our chronological age is the function of our years; the physiological, the measure of physical well-being, and psychological, the age we “feel.” One may be in his 70s but feel like in his 50s, still full of energy and drive. As Christians we should add a 4th age or dimension, viz., spiritual. This measures our spiritual maturity, our relationship to and our perspective of God.

In II Corinthians 4:17, Paul continues with, “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So, we fix our eyes not on what is seen but on what is unseen, what is eternal.” As we age and our bodies deteriorate, we can focus not just on inward beauty but eternal glory!

Aging and its weaknesses should send our thoughts after God; we learn to fix our eyes on him and on unseen realities. We look beyond the present frailty to what we will be someday – glorious creatures, bursting with radiant beauty and infinite energy. Meanwhile, we don’t need to lose heart. We can partner our pain and go on serving, praying, loving and caring to the end of our days. We can even be joyful and confident at the edge of death. We can and should press on because we will see his glory!

Physical ageing and deformity should lead or spur us then into two deeper aspects of our journey, viz., an inner beauty or “the grandeur curves of character” as well as towards an eternal perspective of the eternal glory that awaits us.