My mother, who is in a nursing home, recently received two letters from elderly friends who both live in sunny Florida, the retirement capital of the nation.
“I have come to the conclusion that The Golden Years is a big myth,” writes Vera.
Genevieve pens, “Bah, humbug…there couldn’t be any better description of our advancing years.”
Wait a minute, ladies. What are you saying? Haven’t you heard of The Golden Years? You know, that time of life when advanced age is your friend and your latter years are filled to overflowing with leisure and pleasure, idyllic existence and relaxation?
These are your best years, girls! The retirement industry says that old age is a lot like youth. So why the bah, humbug? The brochures promise you a Garden of Eden: “The life you’ve waited your whole life for is waiting for you. Let the fun begin because it’s your time to shine! Enjoy the best years of your life!”
What’s wrong with this picture? My mother and Vera have both broken their hips, and Genevieve is nearly blind. Have The Golden Years cruelly passed these three dear women by or is this concept just a big myth? Where did the catch phrase The Golden Years come from, anyway?
An Internet search revealed that financial service providers and retirement community builders were the two chief industries that started selling idealized notions of a physically vigorous and healthy old age. In other words, The Golden Years propaganda began for economic reasons (surprise!) as a marketing tool that was launched half a century or so ago to lighten the wallets of retiring and aging Americans. More specifically, it was the Del Webb Company, developers of leisured retirement Sun City Centers in Arizona and Florida that gave us the phrase The Golden Years.
More recently, Hollywood actress Suzanne Somers has pitched this idealogy. She describes the second half of life as “The Sexy Years” and has written a best-selling book on the subject. She maintains that senior citizens can be strong and healthy, “right up to the end.” And Sylvester Stallone has a new magazine out called Sly. The biggest headline on the cover says this: "Be Your Best at 40,50 & FOREVER!"
Granted, good medical care, sound nutrition, smart dressing, regular exercise, a little surgical ‘nip and tuck’ as well as some cosmetic dentistry can go a long way to minimize and stave off the outward physical effects of aging. (Even noted pastor and teacher Chuck Swindoll says, “If the barn needs painting, then paint it!”) I’ll even acknowledge the argument that there are probably plenty of folks reading this who insist that they are actually living The Golden Years. But the Sun City Center and AARP brochures don’t have an aluminum cane to lean on when placed next to God’s description of old age.
According to God, old age is harsh and Ecclesiastes 12:1-8 describes what life will be like for most of us if a catastrophic accident doesn’t take our life first: “Don’t let the excitement of being young cause you to forget about your Creator. Honor him in your youth before the evil years come…when you’ll no longer enjoy living. It will be too late then to try to remember him, when the sun and light and moon and stars are dim to your old eyes, and there is no silver lining left among your clouds. For there will come a time when your limbs will tremble with age, and your strong legs will become weak, and your teeth will be too few to do their work, and there will be blindness, too. Then let your lips be tightly closed while eating, when your teeth are gone! And you will waken at dawn with the first note of the birds; but you yourself will be deaf and tuneless, with quavering voice. You will be afraid of heights and of falling…a white-haired, withered old man, dragging himself along: without sexual desire, standing at death’s door, and nearing his everlasting home as the mourners go along the streets. Yes, remember your Creator now while you are young, before the silver cord of life snaps, and the gold bowl is broken, and the pitcher is broken at the fountain, and the wheel is broken at the cistern; and the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.” (The Living Bible)
The glossy marketing and advertising brochures from the Sun Belt want to convince you that you’ll enjoy a prolonged adolescence with limitless choices as you age. John 21:18, however, suggests that life will have changed dramatically by the time you are up in years. Jesus tells Peter, referring to Peter’s latter years and death, that the young make their own decisions and control their own lives but when you are old others make decisions for you and dictate your life.
Another worldview peddled to seniors is that the best years of life are ahead. Sales literature depicts physically vigorous seniors dancing, golfing, shopping and recreating. The models in all the ads are fully engaged and interested in life in all of its fascinating and myriad aspects. But the world has it backwards. Ecclesiastes 12:1 describes old age as the difficult days and evil years (NKJ). “The glory of young men is their strength.” (Proverbs 20:29) It’s youth, not the aged, that’s filled with excitement, anticipation, pleasure and enthusiasm. When young, bodies are strong, teeth are even, posture is straight, eyesight is keen, hearing is sharp, sleep is sound. Young people aren’t preoccupied with managing their arthritis or cancer or heart disease.
But perhaps the most tragic and devastating lie told to senior citizens is that old age is the time to focus on self. "I like just sauntering about, reading a few books, frittering the day away without guilt," writes a retired person in the AARP Bulletin. And with adequate financial resources seniors should even consider leaving families, friends, children, grandkids and great grandkids to self indulge for 25 or so years. To that idea, God warns and reminds you of the sowing and reaping principle found throughout all of Scripture. “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life.” (Galatians 6:7)
Sow seeds of emphasis on the physical flesh, sow seeds of focusing on yourself, sow seeds of indifference to God and His spiritual truth, and you will surely reap a harvest of spiritual erosion and bankruptcy in old age. The dangers of spiritual decline in old age are also mentioned in 1 Kings 11:4 and Ecclesiastes 4:13.
Proverbs 24:30-34 also speaks volumes about the devastating consequences of neglect and sloth in our lives and putting the emphasis on the wrong priorities: “I went by the field of the (spiritually) slothful, and by the vineyard of the man devoid of understanding; and there it was, all overgrown with thorns; its surface was covered with nettles; its stone wall was broken down. When I saw it, I considered it well; I looked on it and received instruction: a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest; so your poverty (spiritual) will come like a prowler, and your want like an armed man.” That same AARP writer above further writes, "I want, when people ask me what I'm doing these days, to be able to answer, 'Nothing. Nothing at all.'"
If you wait until old age to begin to focus on God, your spiritual life will probably be beyond repair. Just as the physical life becomes more of a struggle as we age, the same holds true in the spiritual. It will be a severe challenge to begin to cultivate a spiritual life in your latter years. In fact, it will require much more effort to focus on spiritual things because you’ll likely be preoccupied with managing your growing health problems and concerns, in addition to dealing with the possible ensuing bitterness and anger towards God because of your declining health.
If God-honoring disciplines and habit patterns have not been in place since youth and maintained through the middle years, if the Lord has not been your Shepherd when you are 20 and healthy, then why would you expect yourself to call on your Creator to visit the geriatric ward when you’re 90 and sickly? And here’s a sobering fact: 50% of people who live beyond the age of 85 suffer from Alzheimer's disease. Is the Lord even on their radar screens? Yes, some aged do come to Christ in their latter years, but the sad statistics reveal that these people are the exception and not the rule.
Sow seeds of drawing near to your Creator early in life and you will reap a harvest of contentment and godliness in old age.