Claire L. Eva, Assistant Director, General Conference Stewardship

Summary: For the Christian, aging, instead of being the way to darkness, may be a journey toward the light. For as His child, I continue to walk with Him as long as life lasts.

Illusion of immortality

A young preschool teacher looked out to her lively class of three and four-year-olds and asked, “How old is the oldest person you know?” An exuberant boy waved his hand in the air and shouted out, “Thirty!”

Age, is a matter of perspective! But we cannot deny reality; growing old has its challenges. Developmentalists tell us that old age is the most difficult stage of life. For as we age, we experience many adjustments. There is the adjustment to retirement and the loss of power, the probable adjustment to limited income, declining health, the loss of family and friends and loneliness.

While some cultures hold the aged in high esteem, others tend to isolate them. Theologian Henri Nouwen implies that our need to push the elderly aside is, in part, due to the illusion that we are immortal. And when we come to terms with our own aging, our mortality, it is then that we can become present with the aged.

Smiling at the urgencies

From the perspective of the one who is growing older, though, “perhaps it is detachment, a gentle ‘letting-go,’ that allows the elderly to break through the illusions of immortality and smile at all the urgencies and emergencies of their past life. When everything is put in its proper place, there is time to greet the true reasons for living” (Henri Nouwen, Aging, p. 77).

What are the true reasons for living? Now that is a question! For the Christian, aging, instead of being the way to darkness, may be a journey toward the light. For as His child, I continue to walk with Him as long as life lasts. And walking with Christ is an adventure, no matter what your age! But it is in retirement that you can step back and enjoy the “being” as much as the “doing.” Retirement can be a time of freedom to live and serve as a steward and partner with God, as you have never served before.

“Some believe that life ends at sixty-five. Others believe that is when it begins, and nothing will hold them back. So Michelangelo worked on St. Peter’s Church at age seventy-one and began the Rondanini Pietà when he was nearly ninety. Verdi finished Falstaff at the age of eighty. Marc Chagall finished two murals for the Metropolitan Opera House in New York at the age of seventy-seven.… Thomas Edison patented his last invention when he was eighty-one. And at the same age Benjamin Franklin completed the compromise for the adoption of the Constitution of the United States…. And at one-hundred, Grandma Moses illustrated “’Twas the Night before Christmas” (Graying Gracefully, p. 16).

With my face to the future

More often than not, though their physical strength is diminishing, we see those who are aging with an increasing spiritual vitality. “Somehow they have discovered and taught us that there is a glory in the morning and the evening, too, has a splendor of its own. It was Sir William Mulock, Chief Justice of Canada, who said on his ninetieth birthday, ‘I am still at work with my face to the future. The shadows of evening lengthen … but the morning is in my heart. The testimony I bear is this, the best of life is further on, hidden from our eyes beyond the hills of Time’” (Ibid, p. 18).

In his poem “Rabbi Ben Ezra,” Robert Browning writes:

Grow old along with me!

The best is yet to be,

The last of life, for which the first was made …

Youth shows but half; trust God; see all, nor be afraid!

Seniors God chose

There are many scriptural accounts that tell how God filled the lives of the elderly and gave them meaning and purpose. Look at Moses. His call to lead the children of Israel from captivity to the Promised Land came while he was in his eighties. And despite the fact that his personal weakness kept him from completing that task, God blessed him with a glorious entrance into the light of His kingdom (Dt 34).

Abraham was one-hundred, and Sarah not much younger, when Isaac, the son of promise was born. And God chose Zachariah and Elizabeth, who were well along in years, to be the parents of the prophet sent to prepare the way of the Lord—John the Baptist (Lk 1). Simeon, righteous and devout, had received a promise from the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he embraced the Light of the world—the Lord’s Christ. And octogenarian prophetess, Anna, who never left her mission of serving in the temple, was there to give witness to the Redeemer (Lk 2).

Mind and soul

Personally, it is difficult to believe that I have lived six decades and in the next few years will reach that “magical” age of retirement. But preparation for retirement needs to begin long before we reach the threshold of this entry to another phase of life. Not only financial preparation, but the preparation of mind and soul.

When thinking of the years to come—and people are living much longer post-retirement these days—I am reminded of the words of Jesus, “What does it profit a man [or woman] if he should gain the whole world and lose his own soul?” I am convinced these words come from the Holy Spirit to prepare me as I look forward to the blessing of serving Christ during this time. For as long as life lasts, we have His love to share.

Always a ministry

No matter what your situation as a senior steward—whether living in abundance or little, whether you possess physical health or struggle with frailty—there is a ministry for you.

When my husband Will pastored for a few months before we were married and went to seminary, I had the opportunity to visit a Scottish couple he was studying with in Cleveland, Ohio, those forty years ago. Before we left, the wife led us up the winding mahogany staircase to a bedroom where her elderly mother, nearly ninety years old, lay. I don’t remember the words she spoke, but I can remember her sweetness and her lovely smile. Even though she was in the last stages of life, she ministered to me that day, and all these years later, I have never forgotten it.

The evening indeed has a splendor of its own. Though the shadows lengthen, it can still be morning in your heart. For we walk toward the Light and the best is yet to come.

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January–March, 2006

Senior Stewards