Being somewhat precocious and a natural born worrier I entered my mid-life crisis shortly after I turned 30. The trauma that birthday brought was quite unexpected. Ten years have now passed. I "celebrated," a bit more apprehensively, my fortieth birth day a few weeks ago. That, and an editorial due for MINISTRY'S January issue, occasioned some reflections on the passing of time and on aging.
I suppose that even for the Christian, the fear of death lies at the roots of the fear of aging. (Scripture calls death an enemy and says it loses its sting only at the resurrection. ) But even aside from death, aging holds its anxieties. I don't look forward to the inevitable physical and mental deterioration.
That, however, has not yet become a problem. What bothers me now is the narrowing of my world--the realization that my options for the future are steadily dwindling, that my time is not unlimited, that some of the optimism and hopes of my youth are unrealistic and will not be satisfied. There's so much I'd like to do, to experience. But the older I grow, the more unlikely it becomes that I'll be able to fit it all in.
My musings led to curiosity as to what Solomon, the "wisest man who ever lived," might have to say about aging. I read through the book of Ecclesiastes, and at first found it rather depressing. The Teacher doesn't offer much hope. "'Meaningless! Meaningless! . . . Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.' What does a man gain from all his labor at which he toils under the sun? Generations come and generations go, but the earth remains forever" (chap. 1:2-4).* "It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of every man; the living should take this to heart" (chap. 7:2). "Enjoy life with your wife, whom you love, all the days of this meaningless life that God has given you under the sun--all your meaningless days. . . . The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise. . . . No man knows when his hour will come" (chap. 9:9- 12).
But Solomon's reputation was not ill-founded. In a theme that recurs throughout his book, he suggests three secrets of a contented life: Enjoy present blessings, find satisfaction in your work, and don't worry about or even reflect too intensely upon the future. (See chaps. 9:1, 10; 2:24; 3:12, 13; and 5:20.)
Solomon summarizes his conclusion as to how to live a full life in the familiar words "Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man" (chap. 12:13), and in the next verse adds a reminder of the judgment we must all face. (Probably not coincidentally, Heaven's final appeal to men bears a striking resemblance to Solomon's summary of man's duty. Compare Rev. 14:7 with Eccl. 12:13, 14.)
Jesus in His sermon on the mount gives similar advice to that of the Old Testament sage. Noting that worry is futile because it cannot add a single hour to our lives, Jesus directs us to invest our energies first in God's kingdom and His righteousness. And Jesus counsels us not to worry about the future, but to live one day at a time. (See Matt. 6:27, 33, 34.)
So what have I learned about being happy though aging? With no guarantees as to consistent practice of these ideals, I'll try to maintain a clear conscience, keep myself involved in something interesting and meaningful at all times, allow myself to enjoy the good things God's world still does offer, learn to be content with my circumstances (see Phil. 4:10-13), and look beyond old age and death to the Christian hope.
Anyone have a copy of Life Begins at Forty they'd be willing to lend for a few weeks? --D.C.J.
All the Scripture quotations in this editorial are from The New International Version.