Summary: A message for "older members" month (May) that challenges myths about aging and what people can do in thier twilight years.
Proposing a New Image for Old Age
Sunday, May 5, 2002
TEXT: II Corinthians 4: 7, 16-18
You might find today’s sermon title a little funny. It’s a beautiful Sunday in May and we’re talking about getting old. What made me start thinking along this line was something in our Presbyterian calendar. This is Older Adults Week. Did you know that? Nationally, it is Older Adults Month.
Why should we bother with this subject of aging? Because we can’t help but experience it. Is there anyone growing younger? We all are going to experience aging, and you don’t have to wait until you are retired to experience the effects of aging, am I right? Can you do now what you could when you were 17?
We will all hopefully deal with aging parents. I say hopefully because it is hoped that you will experience having your parents with you that long. Not everyone does. Hopefully, God willing, we too will become old because the alternative is not all that good.
Paul Mays is the administrator of a nursing home who happened to see a lovely, well-groomed 86 year-old woman walking slowly down to the dining room. He said, “Hey, Mavis. How’s it going? How is everything?” Mavis said, “Well, as good as can be expected.” Then she stopped for a moment and thought a bit and said, “You know this growing old stuff is for the birds. But considering the alternative, I’ll take growing old.”
She represents our ambivalence towards aging in that all of us want to live a long time, but none of us want to grow old. I think the reason for this is due to our image of an old man or an old woman. Think about it. What comes to your mind when I say old man or old woman? Is it wrinkles, sickness, weakness, loss, forgetfulness, nursing home, dependence, crotchetiness, incontinence. All these things come to mind and this is fueled by our mass media which depicts old age as a calamity, something to be avoided. In fact, we try to mask it or hide it with dyes and creams and elective surgeries to show people that we are not growing old. We spent $4 billion on these things on a yearly basis.
In our public discourse, senior citizens are referred to as a problem, as a threat to the collapse of our Social Security system, as a siphon of our medical dollars. Sometimes they are referred to as a burden or “the fate of the young.” With all those negative images, who wants to get old? Nobody does. But is this an accurate image. Is this the real picture of aging and of growing old? If it is, should that be our focus? If not, what should our focus be as we age?
Let’s hear from a man in his own culture and his day–the Apostle Paul. He was very old, but he never retired. He experienced what aging is as well as its effects, and he dealt with it very appropriately. He tells us how we can deal with it ourselves. Growing old and aging can be a very satisfying, very fulfilling experience if we follow Paul’s advice. We find this in II Corinthians 4: 7, 16-18.
We need to develop a right mental image of growing old. So much of what we experience and the meaning of it is dependent upon our expectations. If we expect it to be a very bad experience, we are going to think this as we enter into it. If we expect it to be something very good, we will experience this instead.
Have you seen the movie, “Home Alone”? This little boy is told about the crotchet guy who lives next door and that he has murdered his whole family. If the little boy peeks at him through the window and the man sees him, the boy shuts the blinds real quick because he fears him. However, the little boy finds that he is really a kind, elderly gentleman who was a devout Catholic and a loving person.
To develop a positive imaging of aging, we need to take our lives off what is seen. I am not saying that we should deny reality. You will find a very realistic portrayal of aging in Ecclesiastes 11: 8-10. This tells us to enjoy life while we are young because dark days are ahead. Paul himself does not deny the effects of aging. He says that outwardly we are wasting away.
I witnessed the wasting away of my grandparents and their deaths, and we must be very realistic about this. Aging does keep you from doing the things you did when you were young. As you age, you tend to experience more pain in different places and recovery time is a lot longer. Some people experience some sensory loss. As you age, your bones become more brittle and falls can cause us to become disabled or even crippled. As you age, you lose loved ones.