HOW do you feel when the thought of aging comes up? It fills many with concern, anxiety, and even dread. This is because aging is usually associated with negatives, such as diminished looks, a frail body, memory loss, and chronic diseases.
However, the fact is that people differ greatly in the way they age. Some enjoy relatively good health, physically and mentally, in their later years. Advances in medicine have enabled others to treat or control chronic illnesses. As a result, in some lands more and more people are living longer and healthier lives.
Nevertheless, whether confronted with age-related problems or not, most people wish to be able to age gracefully. How can this be done? In part, doing so depends on our attitude and our willingness and ability to adapt to this new phase in life. To help in these areas, let us consider some simple and practical Bible principles.
BE MODEST: “Wisdom is with the modest ones.” (Proverbs 11:2) In this context, “the modest ones” can refer to elderly ones who recognize and come to terms with the limitations of their age, not trying to deny or ignore them. Charles, 93, in Brazil, is realistic when he says: “If you live long, you will have to age. There is no way to turn back the clock.”
Being modest, however, in no way means adopting the defeatist attitude “I am old, and there is nothing more for me.” Such an attitude can sap one of enthusiasm. “If you become discouraged in the day of distress, your strength will be meager,” says Proverbs 24:10. Instead, a modest person shows wisdom, making the best of a situation.
Corrado, 77, in Italy, wisely says: “When you drive uphill, you just change gears and avoid stalling the engine.” Yes, adjustments need to be made when someone grows older. Corrado and his wife have developed a balanced approach to domestic chores, following a moderately relaxed schedule to avoid feeling completely drained of energy at the end of the day. Marian, 81, in Brazil, also has a down-to-earth approach to aging. “I have learned to pace myself,” she says. “I take short breaks between tasks when necessary. I sit down or lie down to read or listen to music. I have learned to recognize and respect my limits.”
BE BALANCED: “Women should adorn themselves in appropriate dress, with modesty and soundness of mind.” (1 Timothy 2:9) The expression “appropriate dress” denotes balance and good taste. Barbara, 74, in Canada, says: “I try to look neat and clean. I don’t want to look dowdy with that ‘I’m old; I don’t care what I look like’ attitude.” Fern, 91, in Brazil, says: “I buy some new clothes once in a while to boost my spirits.” And what can be said about older men? “I try my best to look smart, wearing clean and fresh clothes,” says Antônio, 73, in Brazil. Regarding personal hygiene, he adds: “I shower and shave daily.”
On the other hand, it is important to avoid becoming concerned about your personal appearance to the point of failing to exercise “soundness of mind.” Bok-im, 69, in South Korea, has a balanced view about clothes. She says: “I am quite aware that it is not appropriate for me to wear some of the clothes that I wore when I was young.”
BE POSITIVE: “All the days of the afflicted one are bad, but the one with a cheerful heart has a continual feast.” (Proverbs 15:15) As you age, you may experience negative feelings when you remember your youthful vigor and the many things you were once able to do. This is understandable. However, make an effort not to be overcome by those negative feelings. Dwelling on the past can make your days gloomy and discourage you from doing what you are still able to do. Joseph, 79, in Canada, thinks positively: “I try to enjoy doing the things I can do and not cry over the things that I used to do but can’t do now.”
Reading and learning can also make you feel more positive, broadening your horizons. Thus, to the extent possible, be alert for opportunities to read and learn new things. Ernesto, 74, in the Philippines, goes to the library and checks out interesting books to read. He says, “I still enjoy the thrill of adventure, the joy of traveling beyond the confines of home through the written word.” Lennart, 75, in Sweden, even took on the daunting task of learning a new language.
BE GENEROUS: “Practice giving, and people will give to you.” (Luke 6:38) Make it a practice to share some of your time and resources with others. This will give you a feeling of accomplishment and happiness. Hosa, 85, in Brazil, makes it a point to help others despite her physical limitations. She says: “I call friends who are sick or discouraged and write letters to them. Sometimes I send them little gifts. I also like to cook a meal or make a dessert for sick ones.”
Generosity begets generosity. “When you show love to others, they respond by giving you their love and affection,” says Jan, 66, in Sweden. Yes, a generous person creates an atmosphere of warmth and appreciation that others find enjoyable.
BE FRIENDLY: “Whoever isolates himself pursues his own selfish desires; he rejects all practical wisdom.” (Proverbs 18:1) While there are times when you may want to be alone, avoid becoming isolated and withdrawn. Innocent, 72, in Nigeria, enjoys the company of friends. “I joyfully associate with people of all ages.” Börje, 85, in Sweden, says: “I strive to be around young people. Their vitality makes me feel young again—at least on the inside.” Take the initiative to invite friends over occasionally. Han-sik, 72, in South Korea, says: “My wife and I like to invite friends of all ages—elderly ones and teenagers—for a get-together or dinner.”
Friendly people are communicative. But since communication is a two-way street, you need to make it a point to be good company. Show personal interest in others. Helena, 71, in Mozambique, says: “I am friendly and treat others with dignity. I listen to what they have to say in order to find out what they think and what they like.” José, 73, in Brazil, says: “People enjoy being around good listeners—those who show empathy and interest in others, who give a word of commendation at the right time, and who have a sense of humor.”
When expressing your thoughts, take care to ‘season your words with salt.’ (Colossians 4:6) Be thoughtful and encouraging.
BE THANKFUL: “Show yourselves thankful.” (Colossians 3:15) When receiving help, show appreciation for the attention. Expressions of thankfulness help to cultivate good relationships. “My husband and I recently moved from a house to an apartment. We had dozens of friends helping us. We could not thank them enough. We sent personalized thank-you cards and have had some of them over for a meal since then,” says Marie-Paule, 74, in Canada. Jae-won, 76, in South Korea, appreciates the rides she gets to the Kingdom Hall. She says: “I am so grateful for all this help that I make a point of offering some money for the gas. I sometimes prepare small gifts with thank-you notes.”
Above all, be thankful for life itself. “A live dog is better off than a dead lion,” wise King Solomon reminded us. (Ecclesiastes 9:4) Yes, with the right attitude coupled with willingness to adapt, it is possible to age gracefully.