3 Things I’m  Learning the Hard Way About Aging

by | Feb 19, 2016 | Christian Living in the Trenches

Not everything we learn is fun or fascinating.  Take lessons about growing older as an example.  I didn’t register for the course on aging, but at 66, I daily take my front-row seat in the classroom.  I don’t know if this will be on the test, but what follows are three takeaways I’ve gleaned, and adjustments I’ve made in response.

1.     One’s physical capacity wanes with age.
This conclusion is so obvious you’re tempted to think, “Duh!”  But many of us act like we don’t believe this fact.

I regularly exercise, eat lots of protein, take so many supplements I carry around a small pill box, yet I tire quicker than I did a decade ago.  Whether the culprit is low testosterone, the side effects of essential prescriptions, or inability to sleep well,   fatigue envelops me more often and I don’t accomplish as much.  Some days I feel like the old codger who told a friend, “These days, when I don’t ‘feel like myself,’ it’s an improvement!”
Over-commitment in recent years exacerbated this problem, compounding the fatigue.  Now I’m saying “No” more often to noncompulsory ministry opportunities, and asking God for wisdom to direct my limited energy where the greatest gain for Him is possible. And I moved a couch into my CIU office so I can turn the lights out and rest a few minutes after lunch each day.

2.     God will exist after I die.
This is a spinoff from the first lesson.  Despite the kindergarten-level truth of this point, for years I acted as if He would expire simultaneously with my body.

The result?  Inconsistent obedience of the Sabbath principle, seldom going a day without justifying my existence through some form of productivity for the Lord.  Only recently have I viewed this as a theological problem:  assuming God  isn’t capable of  getting things done without me, and basing my significance on my work for Him, rather than Christ’s work for me on the cross.  Too often I’ve worshipped the Lord’s work, rather than pausing long enough to worship Him in unhurried and unhindered fashion.  “Doing for God” eclipsed “being.”

A couple years  ago I conversed with Robertson McQuilkin, then 86 years old.  He’s a former missionary, author, and CIU president. He had just decided to halt all public ministry.  In effect, he told me, “I can’t handle public ministry any more.  Now I’m just enjoying  being with God daily rather than  putting so much time and energy into working for Him.” ((Yet while in full-time ministry, Robertson maintained a habit of starting each day with an hour alone in God’s presence.)

That’s how I want to finish.   Contrary to how I’ve lived much of my life, productivity isn’t the primary indicator of spirituality.  Now I ask my accountability partner to probe concerning my quiet times with the Lord.  Before I accept any discretionary speaking engagement, I ask for my wife’s input on the decision.

3.     Retirement from Ministry Isn’t An Option.
Am I contradicting my first two insights?  Not on your life!

Yes, declining physical energy prompts greater selectivity regarding ministries, channeling limited energy into those tasks with the most “Kingdom potential.”  Yes, I must choose more rest and private time with the Lord so my identity in Christ doesn’t depend on productivity.  Yet no Christian—the professional minister or the ministering professional—has the option of putting the brakes on service because “I’ve already paid my dues.”

When I formally retire from my vocational ministry position, and until my mind or body makes ministry impossible, I will continue to serve Christ.  In “Getting Old to the Glory of God,” a chapter in Stand, John Piper  instilled this lesson:

       Getting old to the glory of God means resolutely resisting the typical American dream of    retirement…It makes us zealous in our few remaining years here to spend ourselves in the sacrifices of love, not in the accumulation of comforts…Millions of Christian men and women are finishing their formal careers in the 50s and 60s and many will have up to 20 years before their physical and mental powers fail. How will we live them to show that Christ is our highest Treasure?  Lord, spare me the curse of month after month of leisure, and play and hobbies and putzing around the garage and rearranging furniture and golfing and fishing and watching television.

I’ll take more naps.  I’ll spend more time with my grandson. I’ll take my wife on more dates, and eat out with friends more often.  But if I’m called to teach and write, that calling isn’t muted by formal retirement.  The discipline of study, the energy-depletion of Bible teaching, and the hard work of word carpentry will remain.

Hopefully, I haven’t reached mid-semester yet in this course on aging, so I know there’s much more to learn. What are you learning as you age?

  “Lord, teach us to number our days, that we may present to Thee a heart of wisdom” (Ps. 90:12).

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