What did you first think of when you read the title to this article? Did you think of growing old gracefully as looking younger than your chronological years? That is how I always thought until recently.
I would imagine that most people would like to grow old gracefully if this means looking young or youthful wouldn't you say? That was what my late grandmother, Vada Overall, use to say when we would discuss the topic of aging. She said she wanted to grow old gracefully but my grandmother and I never really discussed what growing old gracefully meant on a philosophical level. Our thoughts on that topic were about as shallow as a puddle of water after a rainy day. We only looked at the obvious surface meaning of that term which meant looking younger than our years.
What does growing old or aging gracefully mean to you?
Sometime last year I recall watching the Actor's Studio featuring an interview with the late actor Paul Newman and toward the end of the show Mr. Newman responded to a question regarding playing certain characters as he was getting older by quoting the late actress Bette Davis who was reported to have said: "Growing old ain't for sissies." Whether the quote is accurate or not I'm not sure but the word "sissie" can be defined as "cowardly, weakly or unmanly." Maybe Bette Davis who suffered from breast cancer was terrified by the prospect of death and so was contemplating this inevitable struggle and survival against the ravages of disease and death.
On one level aging or growing old gracefully means looking younger than our chronological years. This is probably what most people think of when hearing this phrase "growing old gracefully." Certainly this is one dimension and we all have a real age and a chronological age. Some people at 50 look much younger and can pass for 45 or 40 while some people in their early twenties could pass for their late twenties or even 30 and above. I would guess that most people look their age even though they like to flatter themselves that they look younger.
Most people do not wish to be told they look older than they do unless they are in their teens. During our teenage years we like to look older and more mature or at least that was true when I was growing up. People could then buy things like cigerettes or alcohol or perhaps get into a movie theater without meeting the proper age requirement.
When it comes to the rest of us, that is, those who are way past our teens I think it is safe to say we wish to look younger and not older than our years. It gives us a certain feeling of satisfaction thinking we somehow took better care of ourselves than our neighbors or relatives.
Celebrities are held forth as the paragon of beauty in various worldly magazines. Little mention is made of their facelifts or cosmetic surgeries or botox to keep themselves as wrinkle free and as young looking as possible. Ofcourse this could stem from pride and if so we must kill that deadly sin within ourselves and remember what the apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 4:7:
"For who maketh thee to differ from another? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive? now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?"
Perhaps you've been blessed by good genes. Your parents looked youthful during their later years and so you followed in their footsteps. There's no reason to be proud about this. You inherited your youthful looks so thank God for that and don't be proud about it.
If you have the money to doctor up your outward man but neglect your soul then you are locked into one dimensional thinking that will result in losing your soul in order to gain the praises of men. Mark 8:36 says "What shall it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul?"
My grandmother died at 81 in 2000 the exact same age as my grandfather when he died although they were 8 years apart. My grandmother use to take a walk with her dog Blue around the neighborhood but she could never get my grandfather to join her in an evening stroll around the block. He preferred to watch TV or read his newspaper in his recyliner instead of joining his wife for a walk. I suppose my grandparents looked their age or perhaps slightly younger. There is another aspect to growing old gracefully that might not come readily to mind and I wish to explore that just a bit so that we will think about this matter in a different light.
What good is it to add years to life if we do not also add life to years? In fact, unless people learn to enjoy life and to grow old gracefully, the extra years may be an additional burden. Imagine being an old bitter man or woman who though rich materially speaking may be full of anger, hate, covetousness or a wanton drunkard. This is sad and not a desireable thing is it?
Jesus said that He came that we might have life and have it more abundantly. The abundant life is a life that is immortal and lived out in the joy of the Lord who is our strength (Neh. 8:10). No matter how poor our physical health is if our heart is pure and right with God then we are born again and living or growing old gracefully in a real sense of the word. Gracefully here, as I define it, means full of saving grace that gets us to heaven when we leave this world upon physical death. It is efficacious grace. In one sense of the word every true believer in Jesus Christ is growing old gracefully because it takes the grace of God to be and live like Jesus. This should bring comfort to all who know the Lord regardless of how old they look relative to other people their age.
Below are some quotes from some famous people about aging which I thought were interesting.
Amos Bronson Alcott, who was the father of Louisa May Alcott (who wrote “Little Women”), said, “To keep the heart unwrinkled, to be hopeful, kindly, cheerful, reverent that is to triumph over old age.” What did Amos who was a Unitarian in his theology mean by an unwrinkled heart?
Let's think about this idea of an "unwrinkled heart" for a minute. What does this idea mean to you? To me it means having a good heart like God. King David, we are told, was a man after God's own heart. The Lord loved David and David loved the Lord and so we can surmise that David grew old gracefully. His life was full of God's grace which enabled him to rule with wisdom over the children of Israel. He wasn't without sin but the Lord forgave David of his sin and he died as a righteous man. I would say he grew old gracefully as any child of God necessarily does.
Here is another quote by a puritan preacher Thomas Watson.
"The right manner of growth is to grow less in one's own eyes."
I like this. In other words if you want to grow old the right way then grow old by becoming small in your own eyes. Think more of Jesus and how you can serve Him and please Him and help others rather than how you can please yourself.
Imagine living out your life loving the Lord, hating sin and all manner of wickedness and learning to be like Jesus who was pure in heart and above all people meek. Jesus was merciful and kind. He was thoughtful and considerate. Jesus describes those who grow old gracefully as people with characters fit for the Kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:3-11)
Here it would appear that to grow old gracefully would be to live our lives in humility and lowliness of mind. We are told that our Lord Jesus was meek and lowly in heart and He was and is our example. If we are to grow old gracefully we must empty ourselves of all self-confidence, self-importance and self-righteousness. To grow old gracefully is to grow old in the Kingdom of God.
Regarding poverty of spirit and to which I liken growing old gracefully: A. W. Pink has well said: "It is the opposite of that haughty, self-assertive, and self-sufficient disposition which the world so much admires and praises It is the very reverse of that independent and defiant attitude which refuses to bow to God, which determines to brave things out, which says with Pharoah, "Who is the Lord that I should obey His voice?" It is the result of the Spirit's work within and that all my works are as filthy rags."
If we are growing old and just looking young but have no grace in our hearts then we are to be pitied of all people. Let us grow old gracefully by the power of the Holy Spirit and live by the faith of the son of God and then we shall have learned what growing old in the Kingdom really means regardless of how we compare to others in the flesh. Man looks on the outward appearance but God looks on the heart. May God see our hearts as unwrinkled, pure and without guile so that we may be found worthy to enter that inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for those who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 1 Peter 1:4-5
Carlton Pruitt ministers the gospel to the Los Angeles area. Formerly a Hollywood actor (SAG member)and junk removal expert he now spends most of his time studying the scriptures, writing articles, hymns and poems and doing street preaching.
See his videos on http://www.youtube.com Type LAStreetPreacher in the search bar. CONTACT at Carlton2061@gmail.