By Dr. Joe Raphael. Originally Published On: April 29th, 2021 (Irvine Christian Counseling)
The natural progression of time means we inevitably grow older if the Lord in His grace gives us many years of life. Depending on your goals, how you’ve been socialized, and the messages that we receive about getting older, it may be a welcome development to grow older.
While some cultures celebrate old age, cherishing the elderly and the life wisdom they’ve accumulated, others seem to look at aging as something to avoid and push off for as long as possible. Aging, however, is an inevitable process that is part of living in this world under the sun. What does it look like to age successfully?
What is Successful Aging?
There are different ways to think about what success looks like when it comes to aging. Depending on how we define “success,” it has an impact on what people will strive toward in their own lives as well as the programs a given society will put in place to support its senior citizens. Some expectations may be unrealistic, and so unhelpful. So, a lot is riding on what we think aging should look like in its ideal form.
There are at least two ways of defining “successful aging.” One older theory says that successful aging looks like having high physical, social, and psychological function in old age without the impedance of major diseases or disability. In other words, according to this theory, “success” in terms of aging has three main components:
• the absence or avoidance of disease and risk factors for disease.
• maintenance of physical and cognitive functioning.
• active engagement with life, including maintaining autonomy and social support.
Occasionally, some videos of ninety-something year-olds doing amazing things like lift weights or dancing, go viral on social media, shocking younger people who struggle to accomplish similar feats. Those octogenarians and nonagenarians would likely be the exemplars of this theory.
They are in good physical condition, don’t have any obvious physical ailments, and seem to be living their best lives even at this stage. Aging well thus looks like being able to do in your eighties what you could when you were much younger.
This picture of aging sounds great, but it certainly feels like a remarkably high bar. For many people, when they are in their forties they already aren’t as limber and spry as they were in their teens, even if they’ve led an active and healthy life. This first theory of successful aging doesn’t seem to apply to everyone.
To employ a term used by some authors, the older adults who experience excellent physical fitness unmarked by cognitive or other declines are “lucky agers.” Those who possess these great physical, mental, and social capacities aren’t representative of most elderly people.
Perhaps successful aging should be defined in another way that captures a more representative and realistic perspective on the aging process. While drawing on some of the good points of the first theory, perhaps there’s another way.
According to this second school of thought, perhaps successful aging looks more like having the capacity and tools for coping well with impending or existing challenges such as:
Loss: For example, the death of a spouse, relatives, and friends in the same age bracket. Loss can also encompass older children moving further away and losing regular contact with them and the grandchildren.
Illness: Chronic conditions that set in with old age, or simply not being able to recover as quickly from ailments
Diminishing person-environment fit: For example, when the house becomes too large when the kids move out or a spouse dies. This also occurs when a house has steep stairs that are harder (and more dangerous) to navigate, or a house that needs substantial maintenance requiring physical stamina.
To adjust to these changes that life inevitably brings, one needs the flexibility to be able to change tack if needed to try new things. Sometimes people get stuck in one way of doing things, and so when circumstances shift, they can’t cope with the new situation.
For those who can cope and find ways to adapt, they can still find satisfaction, a sense of meaning, and the ability to participate in meaningful and treasured activities even in those new circumstances. “Aging well” thus looks more like being able to handle the typical vicissitudes of life that come with getting older while retaining meaning to life than it does doing life as a younger person would.
Strategies to age successfully
These two theories about aging well can provide us with guidelines to age successfully. One wants to be able to adapt to situations as they arise, but beyond corrective actions, we can also be proactive and head off potential stressors and challenges before they arise.
Some of these strategies can thus be implemented while younger to enter later life better prepared, but some of these strategies can be implemented later in life to address issues that diminish adaptability and overall satisfaction with life.
On the one hand, while being free of disease or in peak physical and cognitive condition isn’t the norm for most older people, there are steps one can take to be healthy. Certainly, being healthy is better than not, and if any steps to mitigate the effects of old age can be taken, surely one should take those steps.
And so, implementing appropriate calorie and nutrient intake and physical exercise as directed by a physician will lead to greater overall satisfaction and greater enjoyment of simple things like playing hide and go seek or giving piggy-back rides to the grandkids. For instance, eating certain foods such as Omega-3 rich foods has benefits for heart health and blood pressure.
Additionally, having social support such as friends and family around helps in coping with the various losses that attend getting older. In many non-Western cultures, the elderly are taken care of within the family, and so they don’t feel disconnected from their embedded network of care.
Getting cognitive stimulation through reading, writing, and playing games like chess is also important. Reducing stress through exercise is good for your overall health (including your heart health) and giving you the capacity for other stressors that may come your way.
Knowing your limits allows you the flexibility of changing your routines when they aren’t working anymore. If your home environment is no longer conducive to your safety, for example, being open to interdependence by communicating your needs to your family and enrolling in an “aging in place” program or joining an assisted care facility allows you to continue living life, but with the support you need.
Appreciating your milestones and aging gracefully as you accept the changes to your mind and body enables one to face the reality of aging head-on. Our perspective on getting older can make the process more painful than it needs to be. Proverbs 17:6 says, “Children’s children are a crown to the aged, and parents are the pride of their children”, and this is true of physical and spiritual children.
In another passage, Proverbs 20:29 says, “The glory of young men is their strength, gray hair the splendor of the old”. Instead of trying to turn the clock back, having gray hair and grandchildren are splendors and milestones to celebrate. Welcoming the changes aging brings plays a large part in whether a person is positioned to cope with some of those changes.
You still have a purpose, and as a pastor named John Piper wrote, “don’t waste your retirement.” Our society is tied so closely to this idea of the 9-to-5 job being the crux of our purpose.
But if our purpose as humans is to enjoy God and bring glory to Him in everything we do, including those 9-to-5 jobs, even when those jobs (whether in corporate spaces or at home) end, that just opens up other avenues to continue enjoying and glorifying God.
As Psalm 92:12-15 says, “The righteous…will flourish in the courts of our God. They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green, proclaiming, ‘The Lord is upright; he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him’.” This work of proclaiming God’s goodness never ends; godly wisdom can continue to be shared throughout the years, and always needs to be proclaimed to the next generation.
It’s not just individuals that need to shift their view of aging to have a healthy outlook on that process. The society also needs to adjust its perspective on the aging process and provide better support structures and policies that create space for older adults to remain socially connected and physically active.
By Jon Austin May 1, 2023
SHUT DOWN THE BUS TOURS: WHAT OLDER CHURCH MEMBERS SHOULD REALLY BE DOING
Carey Nieuwhof is a bestselling author, speaker, former attorney, and he hosts one of today’s most influential leadership podcasts. His podcast, blog, and online content for leaders are accessed over 1.5 million times each month. He speaks to leaders around the world about leadership, change, and personal growth. Carey and his wife, Toni, live north of Toronto
So how do you engage older church attendees… say people over age 50?
The question’s been around a long time. And—as most church leaders could tell you—it’s a bit of a loaded question.
It’s also a question I’m hearing again and again, particularly from churches that are doing a great job reaching young families. Some leaders want to know how to keep older members engaged, especially when a church is doing a great job reaching young families.
As someone who turned 50 last year and whose kids have moved out of the house and into university and life, I can tell you I’ve thought about this question both personally and from my vantage point as a church leader.
The default in many churches is simple: provide programming for over-50 adults that caters to their needs: potluck lunches, Bible studies and social gatherings for their demographic, and, of course, bus trips.
The purpose of this post is to ask one simple question.
As in really—this is as good as it gets for people moving into their prime and then into their senior years?
I don’t think so. I don’t think so at all.
If I have to spend the next thirty years taking bus trips, I want the first bus trip to be straight to heaven. There’s a much better way for 50+ adults to spend their time, influence and energy.
Let me explain.
Here are four reasons it’s time to kill the bus trip mentality far too many churches adopt for their over-50 attenders.
1. LIFE ISN’T ABOUT SERVING YOU
What I struggle with most about the North American dream of how to spend life in your older years is this: it’s all about serving yourself, not others.
I’m not saying you can’t take a vacation or enjoy the life God has given you, but a thirty-year vacation? Seriously? How many rounds of golf can you play? How many beaches can you lie on? How many 4:30 buffets can you eat?
Too many churches have played into the trap of trying to cater to the needs of perfectly capable over-50 adults in their church, as though they were a demographic to be appeased, and not mobilized.
Over-50 adults are not a demographic to be appeased; they’re a demographic to be mobilized.
When church leaders cater to appeasing needs, they miss the mission potential of a generation.
You aren’t the mission. The mission is the mission.
You can fill your life with activity, or you can fill your life with purpose. It’s your choice. I’m choosing purpose. You aren’t the mission. The mission is the mission.
2. THE NEXT GENERATION WANTS AND NEEDS THE OLDER GENERATION
Perhaps one of the greatest surprises to Gen Xers (that’s me), Boomers and Elders is that Millennials want to spend time with people older than themselves.
When I was 25, I didn’t want to spend time with anyone over 30. My goodness, has that changed. And I’m grateful for that.
In my work and in my leadership world, I’m surrounded by young team members. Almost everyone on my team is 15 to 30 years younger than me. And I love it. I learn and grow, and so do they.
I’m a big fan (and practitioner) of the Orange Strategy, which not only combines the influence of church leaders and families, but leverages the faith and wisdom of one generation to build into the next.
Biblical community is more nuanced and powerful than hipsters ministering to hipsters and seniors ministering to seniors. It’s about pairing up the generations to learn from each other, serve side by side and build into each other.
In our church, every generation serves alongside other generations. It keeps older adults young and helps make the young wise.
Serving together intergenerationally keeps older adults young and helps make the young wise. It does more than though. Serving together creates significance. I love the way Reggie Joiner puts it: people will not believe they are significant until you give them something significant to do.
By giving senior adults something significant to do—like being a small group leader for 5th-grade boys, 12th-grade girls, young married couples or single 20 somethings—they realize they have a contribution to make to the next generation.
Conversely, when a high school student serves at the food bank alongside a 60-year-old retired banker, they often do something more than serve food—they build a relationship, influencing one another and growing together in life and faith.
Kara Powell, in her research, found that having generations serve together in a way that builds relationships between those really helps teens and young adults find or keep their faith.
People won’t believe they are significant until you give them something significant to do.
3. NOT MOBILIZING OLDER ADULTS SQUANDERS RESOURCES
If church leaders simply pander to the consumer mindset that characterizes an older lifestyle (cruises, relaxation and rest), they deny a powerful reality that could be leveraged for the mission.
First, some workers actually don’t hit their peak earning years until their 50s and 60s. Church leaders should challenge people in that category to increase their standard of giving, not just their standard of living.
As you soon discover by talking to many successful business people, there’s an emptiness that comes with success and money. The reality is that the emptiness they feel in your soul is actually filled by giving, not getting.
Church leaders who are able to help people see that this is what they’re missing will be able to leverage resources to fund the next generation.
Increase your standard of giving before you increase your standard of living.
It’s more than money, though.
While foolishness plagues both old and young alike (some people don’t grow wiser in their senior years; they just grow older, there are decades of accumulated wisdom that get wasted if it’s not leveraged for the sake of others.
There can be a significant wisdom that’s lost if years get spent only in business, at the lake house, eating potluck lunches and taking trips.
As I already mentioned, Millennials love being around older adults and are wide open to insights, questions and conversations about faith and life. Leverage that dynamic, and you will see powerful transformation happen, not just in the life of younger people, but in the lives of older adults as well.
Fulfillment is found in giving, not getting.
The older I get, the more I prioritize being around young people. In my case, it’s mostly to ask questions, learn, and enjoy the relationship and insights. Being around the young keeps you young.
Ultimate fulfillment is found in giving, not getting.
4. SACRIFICE KILLS ENTITLEMENT
Given the current decline in church attendance and engagement in North America and the West, passing the faith onto the next generation has never been more urgent.
In fact, I believe the greatest thing this generation can do is sacrifice to bring faith to the next generation.
This is not the time for older adults to sit back, relax and enjoy the flight given the fact that the flight is potentially headed for a crash landing.
What if this one generation actually just sacrificed for the sake of another? What if they gave up their preferences in music, style and taste so that others could come to know Christ?
What if they changed their methods and preferences to preserve the mission?
Leveraging time, wisdom, insight, relationship, money and influence—essentially, your life— for the sake of the young is the greatest legacy you can leave.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
I realize this is a counter-cultural argument, but I think it’s an important one.
No generation in history has had more resources than the current generation over 50. Leveraging them for the sake of the next generation is perhaps the best thing we can do with them.
What are you learning about this?
Scroll down and leave a comment!