You may have heard the saying, “Growing old is not for sissies.” As a senior citizen, I can verify the truth of that statement. We all know aging will happen (unless the Lord calls us home early), but it is amazing how quickly it arrives. And when it does, it comes with both challenges and blessings. As we enter the season of senior living, we all have a choice to make. Are we going to focus on the challenges, complain, and be miserable, or are we going to focus on the blessings and celebrate the gift of long life and growing older. Join me as we reflect on two major challenges, three blessings, and how to respond to them.
Loss is a major challenge seniors face. Parents, spouses, family members, friends, and colleagues pass away with increasing frequency. In addition to losses through deaths, seniors also deal with the loss of personal physical abilities and wellness as bodies and minds slow down and wear out. Bodies ache, and minds wander. We lose the identity and fulfillment we had in our profession. Eventually we can lose the ability to drive cars or live by ourselves. So much loss brings great grief. The challenge is to deal with the grief in a healthy way that is not consuming. This challenge can be overcome if we have the courage to openly and honestly grieve in the presence of God who understands and helps carry the grief. While the pain is real and intense, God’s grace is there to strengthen, empower, and provide hope. He opens the door to fresh starts, new friendships, and the hope of eternity. In his presence, we discover that his grace is more than enough – it’s more than we can ask or imagine.
These losses are the cause of another challenge: the need to constantly adjust to a new reality. Instead of a couple, we now are a widow or widower. Instead of a homeowner, we now rent an apartment in a retirement home. Instead of being able to care for ourselves, we rely on others to care for us. Instead of a busy work schedule, our days are open and sometimes empty. Meanwhile, our children’s lives grow too full and busy to spend the time with us we hoped for. Health issues and physical limitations change the dreams we had for how we would spend retirement. These new realities can be hard adjustments, and losses can fill our hearts with disappointment at best and bitterness at worst. But if we are willing to let go of what we thought we would have, God will use our present circumstances to present new opportunities for ministry and purpose. Ask him to open your eyes to new ideas and he will turn disappointment into hope, fulfillment, and even joy in our new reality.
While the challenges are difficult and need to be addressed in God’s power (and sometimes with the help of a professional counselor), seniors can find hope in the many blessings that come with age. One of the gifts of grace I appreciate most is that now that I am older, I can look back at my life and see the constant faithfulness and the amazing grace God has lavished on me. When we look at our pasts through the lens of God’s grace, we see his abiding presence, healing hand, and empowering Spirit in each situation. We come to KNOW his promises are true. He IS faithful. He DOES have a plan to prosper us and not to harm us, to give us hope and a future. As we track our faith journey, we see his presence every step of the way.
We can celebrate how God's love has transformed us and made us more into the image of Jesus Christ. Of course, we realize we still have a long way to go, but as we get closer to the end of our lives, we begin to look forward to the day when he calls us home and we will be totally transformed. These reflections humble us and fill our lives with deep gratitude for being called to be his child. It has the potential to instill a renewed passion to live faithfully to the very end.
Another blessing is the opportunity to discover new ways to serve in God’s kingdom. Since our time is not taken up with work, we are free to explore how God can use our gifts and how we can invest in people and other ministries. We can use those empty hours each day to come alongside a younger person, be a mentor, a friend. If we are immobile, we can develop a powerful prayer ministry by praying through the church directory. When we ask God to show us what ministries need our skills, he opens doors to make the best investments we can make – volunteering to be an agent of grace. We also have time to invest in ourselves and try new things: take classes, start a new hobby, celebrate life. Senior living can be a new adventure.
One more blessing is the gift of becoming more comfortable with who God made us to be. As we grow in God’s grace and develop a closer relationship with him, we also come to know ourselves better. Gratitude for the spiritual gifts, talents, and personalities he has given us instills in us a desire to be more selfless and generous with who we are so that God is glorified, and others are blessed.
Senior living is a gift of God’s grace. It does have its challenges and they are difficult, but it also has the potential to be filled with so many blessings. May God grant us the grace to embrace the blessings and help us deal with the challenges.
Rev. Dr. Steven Koster
Rev. Deb Koster