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The Apostle Paul in Old Age

My Granddaddy turned 81 last week.

Last year, when he turned 80, I remember saying to him, “Eighty! That is a good number!” He kind of shrugged and shuffled his feet. With a disgusted look, he muttered something like, “That sounds old to me.” It discouraged me to hear him be so very unenthusiastic the fact of life and so disrespectful of old age.

This year, I brought him a couple of birthday cards that came in the mail. With a smile, I said, “Eighty-one! That’s a good number!” He said nothing. After he finished his meal, while he was opening the envelopes, he got this little quiet beaming look on his face. “Eighty-one–that’s a good number, ain’t it?” He seemed so proud of himself for being that old–and it was the highlight of my day. It rejoiced my heart.

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I have noticed a few things about ageing in my years living with older people:

First, let them do everything that they can–encourage them to do things they can do, even if they are feeling lazy. Laziness affects older people’s health much sooner than it does younger people’s.

Second, treat them with as much dignity as possible–even if you know what they’ll answer, ask them anyways. Treat their opinions with respect, even if they are wrong or confused.

Third, be gentle, yet firm. Don’t trample on their emotions or their habits, as much as is possible. Generally, older people’s minds are not as agile as younger people’s minds–so don’t disrespect them by playing logic games and tying their arguments up in knots–even if they try to do that to you (as is the habit of many witty old men :-) ).

Fourth, sometimes they need help, but don’t want to ask for it–or simply don’t know they need it. Do what you can without asking–unless it upsets them (though sometimes something is truly necessary–in such cases the upset will have to be dealt with later…).

Fifth, very interestingly, most people are not really old until they are octogenarians. Some people are old by 75–and others aren’t old until 85–but 80 really is a good number. It was fascinating to discover this. People really begin to slow down and lose capacities once they hit eighty. Of course, there are milestones before then, but eighty is a big one. Up until then, they are not really old. They may be getting old, but people usually aren’t really old until they have lived their fourscore years.

Sixth, listen to them–they have decades of experience beyond yours and memories that you can learn from. Maybe they vaunt of things that you would be ashamed of; listen and learn. Maybe they criticize you all the time–maybe they are right more than you want to admit. Maybe they have good and encouraging things to say to you; heed them. Maybe they pray for you and speak wisely; be very thankful–you have a very great blessing. Do not despise it.

These things I speak to remind myself, as much as anyone!

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Scripture repeatedly bids us to rise up before the grey head and to honor the old man and the old woman (Leviticus 19:32; I Timothy 5:1-3; Proverbs 20:20; et al). One of my favorite verses on the subject of older people is this verse: Grandchildren are the crown of the aged, and the glory of children is their fathers (Proverbs 17:6). How very true this is!

I have come to the conlucion that old age is not a fate worse than death, contrary to either grandparent’s estimations or popular conceptions. Old age can be a great blessing from God, if accepted as a blessing and not as a curse. It is not even inherent to old age to be racked with torturous pains, though that sometimes happens–just as it can and does in youth. Being old is a season in life that can be among the most glorious in a person’s career under the sun. Let it not be despised.

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