July is a pretty big month for me. I’m turning 29! I’m sure that sounds young to many people, but it’s tough knowing that I’m nearing the last year of my 20’s. The thought of being 30 shouldn’t scare me as much as it does, but I guess I’m slowly realizing that time isn’t slowing down and there’s no possibility of a re-do on past years.
Here’s the truth: I’m getting old.
It’s still a few decades until I actually become a senior, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t thought about what life will look like when I get there. I know enough seniors to understand (in theory) some of the joys and challenges that come with age.
Nowadays, I see a lot of folks who are retiring into lives that seem to be even more busy than when they were working. Perhaps it’s because they finally have time to focus on things that they’re truly passionate about, or they have the energy to be available for their children and grandchildren, or they put their hearts into volunteering. Whatever the case, people who are retired are often no less busy than anyone else.
Someone told me that one of the hardest things about getting old is having to say goodbye to close friends and family members simply because they pass away. I can’t quite imagine what it would be like to lose most of the people who are closest to me, but by hearing from those who have, I know it’s a difficult and lonely road. It’s a blessing to live long, but at some point, it may start to feel like a curse.
So it’s got me thinking, what do I want to be like when I grow old? How do I want to be a steward of my time, money, and talents when life changes in ways I can’t even predict now? What does it mean to be a follower of Jesus when I’m 80 or 90 years old?
I could just think abstractly about this and come up with an image of the kind of person I want to be when I’m older. But I think I’ve already met that person. I’ve met him in the people I know who have already lived a long life and set an example for me. Let me introduce you to a few of them.
Growing up, there was a couple in my church who, for whatever reason, took a special interest in young people. These were the kind of people I looked up to because of their friendliness towards others. And they didn’t just say “Hi” at church. They actually wanted to know who we were and what we were thinking. They really wanted to know where the young people were at.
Even at my age, I have realized that younger generations have a different culture. I’m not even 29 yet, but I know I’m not “in” anymore. That gap is only going to get larger the older I get. And that’s okay. I don’t need to be relevant, but I do want to be receptive. I want young people know that they are important and cared for, exactly like I was made to feel as a young person.
In the church I now serve, there are so many amazing, kind seniors. Not only do they give their time freely to help out in the church, but they care for each other in a way that reminds me of true Christian community. There are a few people in our church who have a difficult time getting out, and without hesitation, other seniors are right there to help. From the way they talk about each other, I know there is a deep appreciation for the love that they show.
I don’t think people ever grow out of needing community. I don’t think Jesus put a time limit on it. I know that sometimes getting older can be isolating; I hope and pray that’s not what my experience will be. I want to be the kind of person who isn’t afraid to share life with the people around me. I want to be available and help where I can, for the sake of my neighbours, whoever they may be.
Lastly, I was inspired by two ladies I met at our nation-wide gathering of Mennonite Church Canada last week. These two ladies sat beside me during the leadership day and I couldn’t believe how amazing they were. It was very clear to me that they were both strong leaders in their congregation, which makes me believe they have always been on the forefront of female leadership in their church.
Even though they were in their 70s and 80s, the passion they had for the flourishing of their church was astounding. They knew that their church needed to change in order to be a place that resembles Jesus in their context. And they were so excited about how our guest speaker seemed to be speaking directly to them. They were eating up all the new ways they could carry out mission work in their community.
I think what impressed me the most was that these two ladies were not finished. That’s the kind of attitude I want to have when I’m older. For much of our world, retirement is the beginning of the end, a time when we have earned enough to focus on ourselves. But just because we finish working for income, doesn’t mean we’re called to sit around on a beach for the rest of our lives.
God’s work of reconciliation and hope never stops, and no matter how old we are, followers of Jesus are never finished. I really hope I have the kind of passion and vision when I reach my 80s as these two ladies showed me. I want to be the kind of person who’s open to the leading of the Spirit in whatever way God calls me. I want to always reach people with God’s love, and the older I get, the more I see how much the world needs it.
So, that’s the kind of old I want to be. I’m so grateful for the wisdom, encouragement, love, support, and mentoring of older people in my life. They are truly role models who remind me that growing old can be an amazing adventure. I hope that you have people around you in your life who are older than you. Don’t take the time you have with them for granted. God willing, we will reach their age one day too.