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Home Improvement: Growing Old Without Getting Old

I Timothy 5:1-8

This is the time of the year when graduating seniors all over the country are hearing commencement addresses. But today I would like to address seniors in the university of life. Call it a commencement address, if you like, but I would like to speak to those who are older and I would like to speak to the rest of us about them. My title is “Growing Old Without Getting Old”, and my text is the great word from Paul to Timothy: “Treat older men as fathers…and older women as mothers.” Let’s begin with something light. Someone shared this with me and I want to share it with you.

HOW TO KNOW YOU’RE GROWING OLDER

  • Everything hurts, and what doesn’t hurt, doesn’t work.
  • The gleam in your eyes is from the sun hitting your trifocals.
  • You feel like the morning after the night before, and you haven’t been anywhere.
  • Your little black book contains only names ending in M.D.
  • You decide to procrastinate but then never get around to it.
  • You’re still chasing women, but can’t remember why.
  • Your mind makes contracts your body can’t meet.
  • You turn out the lights for economic rather than romantic reasons.
  • You sit in a rocking chair and can’t get it going.
  • Your knees buckle and your belt won’t.
  • After painting the town red, you have to take a long rest before applying the next coat.
  • The best part of the day is over when your alarm clock goes off.
  • Your back goes out more than you do.
  • A fortune teller offers to read your face.
  • Your pace maker makes the garage door go up when you watch a pretty girl go by.
  • You sink your teeth into a steak, and they stay there.
  • You get your exercise acting as a pallbearer for your friends who exercised.
  • The little grey-haired lady you help across the street is your wife.

Of course growing older is never just a laughing matter- it’s also a matter of great challenge in our homes and in our society. Five statistics make the case:

  1. Every 20 seconds an American becomes 65 years of age.
  2. There are more people over age 65 in America today than the total population of the nation of Canada; and by the early years of the 21st century, one-half of our population will be over 65.
  3. Today there are 30,000 Americans who are more than 100 years of age, and it is estimated that by the year 2000 that number will jump to 200,000.
  4. The fastest growing age group in our society is the 85-100 group; and the second fastest growing is the age-group 65-85.
  5. One out of every three working men and women in our country today are actively involved in the support of the elderly, and that rate is rising rapidly.

Clearly then, if we are going to improve the quality of living and the quality of loving in our homes, we must come to grips with the realities of growing older. To help us in that regard, I would like to speak to the rest of us a word about those who are older—I shall pinpoint some obstacles in growing old. Then I would like to speak to those who are older a word from the rest of us- I shall pinpoint some opportunities in growing old. Let’s dive in…

First, a word to the rest of us about those who are older. We create obstacles for those who are growing older.

George Burns said: “When I was young, I was taught to respect those who were older. Now I don’t know anyone older than me, so I don’t have to respect anyone anymore. However, I notice that nobody respects me either.” With his pointed wit, he was reminding us that in our society we tend to disparage those who are older.

We disparage them socially. We make the wrong-headed assumption that once someone reaches a certain age, that person can no longer make a viable, valuable contribution to society. Advertisers reinforce this false assumption. Most ads state or imply that you have to think young, look young, feel young, and act young because youth is all that matters. Even ads directed at those who are older tell us how to get rid of wrinkles, restore our hair or tone up our bodies. The only time you see an older person in a TV commercial is when he says: “Help, I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.” The motto of our society seems to be: “Live a long life and die young.” It’s a matter of our attitude. If a teenager forgets something, we think nothing about it; but if an older person forgets something, we say: “It’s because of their age.” If a 30-year-old man has a spot on his tie, we never give it a thought; but if an older man has a spot on his tie, we say: “He must be deteriorating.” When an older person has an automobile accident—and they are generally among the safest drivers—but if they have an accident they run a far greater risk of losing their license than a younger person.

We disparage them medically. How many times will a doctor say to an older person: “You can begin to expect this kind of thing when you reach your age.” Now doctors know that 85% of the illnesses we associate with age are present in only 15% of our older people. But they forget that, and thus frequently, when a young person comes to them with a set of symptoms they prescribe a medication—but when an older person comes with the same symptoms, they say: “I’m sorry, but that’s just part of growing older.” I ask you, shouldn’t geriatrics be a major required field of study for all physicians in this day and age? We have got to quit looking at older people and immediately begin thinking of a walker or wheelchair, basket or casket!

We disparage them spiritually. Not a week goes by that I don’t receive at least one phone call from a pulpit committee somewhere seeking a new pastor for their church. When they ask me for suggestions, almost invariably, they will say: “We are looking for somebody young who can draw young people.” Now that implies that older people cannot reach young people. Since when? Furthermore, why are they interested only in pursuing young people and not also older persons who are not yet in the fold of Christ?

We need to recall the words of Paul to Timothy: “Treat older men as your fathers…and older women as your mothers.” Let me speak tenderly to those of us who are younger. There may come a time when you have to watch the person who gave you life lose control of their body or their mind. It’s one of the most painful things you will ever experience. In that moment, draw interest on the investment you have made in Jesus Christ. As you hold your mother or your father or an older friend or relative, let Jesus hold you as you hold them. One of the ways we honor our Christ is by honoring those who are older. It is high time we remove some of the obstacles to growing older in our society.

Now a word to those who are older from the rest of us. God gives opportunities to those who are growing older.

Those of you 65 and older, remember Abraham and remember Moses. Romans 4 says: “Abraham’s body was weakened, already as good as dead, for he was about a hundred years old, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God.” Deuteronomy 34 says: “Moses was 120 years old when he died but his eye was not dim nor was his personal force abated.” That was true of them because their focus was upon God. Here then is a word of encouragement for those who are older:

Focus on your God-given promise.

If you focus on how bad life is around you, if you focus on the negatives, if you focus on how far short other people fall from your expectations, then you will be a grumpy, crotchety, resentful, embittered person who not only will grow old, but will get old. However, if you focus on what God is doing in your life, then no matter how challenging are your circumstances, no matter how old you are chronologically, you will be young.

For many years Frances Weaver focused on “the bad” around her. Why shouldn’t she? After her children had grown, she and her husband planned to travel and really enjoy life. Then her husband dropped dead of a heart attack at age 55 and she was left alone. Every afternoon about three or four o’clock she threw a pity party for herself. She was angry at God, at life, and at the people around her. After three years of pity parties, one day another widow invited her to go down to a nearby field and fly a kite. She thought it was a stupid thing to do—two older ladies out flying a kite, but she went anyway. She said later: “While I was flying that kite, I sensed God whispering to me, ‘Frances, you’re only 58. You’ve got good years left. Your life can soar like that kite!'” Well, Frances took that to heart and decided to go back to school. She enrolled in college at age 58 and graduated at age 62. When she was a senior, one of her professors told her that she had a talent for writing and should pursue it. She asked: “What do I write about? I wouldn’t even know where to start.” He said: “Frances, open your eyes. Focus on the good around you.” So she did. One day later while she was cleaning the house, her four-year old granddaughter said: “What are you doing?” Frances replied: “I’m cleaning the house to get ready for the girls.” The little girl said: “What girls?” Frances said: “My friends are coming over. You know the girls, you’ve seen them before.” The little girl brightened up and said: “Oh, you mean the girls with the grandmother faces.” There it was. The first book Frances Weaver wrote was a best-seller, The Girls With the Grandmother Faces. Frances Weaver is approaching her mid-seventies, still going strong and writing up a storm.

Older people, get with it! Michelangelo was 80 when he designed the dome for St. Peter’s in Rome. Churchill became Prime Minister of England at 65; Golda Meir was elected Prime Minister of Israel when she was 71; Ronald Reagan was inaugurated as President of the United States when he was 68. Sir Francis Chichester sailed around the world in a sailboat by himself at age 64. John Wesley was preaching regularly when he was 88. Norman Vincent Peale was still in the pulpit when he was 93. Colonel Sanders started Kentucky Fried Chicken after he retired; and Orville Redenbacker did the same for his popcorn company. Edmond Delano rode a bicycle to his class reunion—3700 miles from California to Massachusetts, and he was 75 years old! George Selback shot his first hole-in-one in golf at the Indian River Course in Michigan when he was 96. Grandma Moses was 80 before she sold her first painting; Ben Franklin was the same age when he wrote the Constitution. Pablo Casals practiced the cello for five or six hours a day when he was 91—and when asked why, replied: “At last I think I’m making some progress!” Eubie Blake, the great jazz pianist and composer was giving a concert when he was 92, and suddenly he stopped playing, turned to the audience, and said: “You know, if I had known I was going to live this long, I would have taken better care of myself!”

I want our older people to be like Don Quixote. He was older. He had obstacles, weaknesses, and infirmities in his life, but he refused to surrender to them. He never yielded to his limits. He set out on great adventures, and he did things that were outrageous. He jousted with windmills, and he rescued damsels in distress and he brought hope to people who were without hope. In his last years he lived life at a higher key and with a greater joy than he had ever known before. The greatest romance of his life, with the beautiful Dulcinea, was a part of those older years. It was all because he had a deep and abiding faith in God. It was all because even as he grew older he kept dreaming impossible dreams and reaching for unreachable stars. So older people, make this the motto of your life: “Live a long life and die young at heart!”

So…

We can look at the challenge of growing older philosophically, like Jack Benny, who said: “Age is a matter of mind—if you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.”

We can look at it sarcastically, like Bob Hope, who said: “You can tell you’re old when the candles cost more than the cake!”

We can look at it shrewdly like Agatha Christie, the great mystery writer who said: “I married an archaeologist because the older I get, the more interested in me he becomes!”

We can look at it responsibly like the 105-year old woman in Indiana who said just recently: “I am now ready to die, for I have successfully gotten all of my children into nursing homes!”

But above all, we must look at it Biblically, like Paul, who said to Timothy that in the family of Jesus Christ, older men and women ought to be treated with the same respect and loving concern we would show our fathers and our mothers.

That, my beloved, is the Word of our Lord.

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