Tomorrow, I’ll turn sixty-five years old, that makes me an official senior citizen. As I reflect on turning sixty-five, the first thought that enters my mind is Ecclesiastes chapter three, verse one: “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” Over and again I’ve found this to be a truth in my life. As the years and decades go by, I think there were certain things that one could and could not do unique to each year and each decade. For example, I could not read Luther’s Works at age one or during the first decade of my life. Nor can I run as fast and far today at age sixty-five as I could when I was twenty-five. The way that God orders and structures life affirms this truth.
Of course one can reflect on the aging process in a number of ways. There is the physical factor: The mind and body both age. Even though we don’t like to admit it, there are ‘senior moments’ of forgetfulness: for example, the ease with which we once remembered the names of other people now requires more intentional effort and can be rather frustrating and embarrassing at times. The body develops more aches and pains, and some parts don’t function as well as they did even five or ten years ago. At this age we are more aware of our mortality, as many of us have lost close friends or relatives around the same age as ourselves.
There is the socio-economic factor: By this age, one may look forward to spending more time with friends, neighbours and family; enjoying travelling and hobbies; and contributing to the well being of the community perhaps by volunteering for one or more organisations. From an economic standpoint, many will retire at sixty-five; whereas a growing number of people in our society realize, for various reasons, that they’re not ready to retire at sixty-five and work one or more years longer. There is no ‘magic formula’ to help folks when is the best time to retire. Some will have to retire due to illnesses. Others may have to work longer than they wish because of their financial situation. Yet others may wish to work longer but their workplace does not give them that choice.
There is the spiritual factor: In our society personal identity and meaning is closely linked with work—we are who we are because of what we do. We are more often seen as ‘human doings’ than ‘human beings.’ From a faith perspective, the opposite is true. We are created in God’s image—that’s our true identity, and that is what gives life meaning. Moreover in relationship with God, it is what God through Jesus has done for us rather than what we have done for God that ultimately matters. We are justified by God’s grace through faith, which is a gift from God—not by anything that we do, even though what we do may be viewed as quite significant by worldly standards. As one grows older, hopefully one becomes more conscious and appreciative of one’s need of God’s grace.
The French writer, Jules Renard, said: “It is not how old you are, but how you are old.” My hope and prayer is that I may grow old gracefully, not be a burden on others, and make some contributions—however small—to the well being of the church and society.