We’ve all heard that growing old is not for sissies, and it’s true—health, loss, change, and many other hardships can be found in the season of life over fifty. I was intrigued by Billy Graham’s thoughts in his book Nearing Home. He addressed the difficulties of getting older and confessed that aging had caught him off guard.
This comes as no surprise–change can happen so rapidly that it’s hard to keep up, and like it or not, we find ourselves embarked on the road of transition. Let me share a glimpse of inner turmoil that accompanied my personal aging awareness. I was visiting a neighbor’s home when a 6 year old boy came up to me and said, “your teeth are yellow, they are going turn brown, and you better get to the dentist before they start to hurt.” Then he turned and walked away without a care in the world. He didn’t mean to be rude, children are just naturally honest. Sure, it stung a bit to hear, but not because there was any malice, but because it was reality staring me in the face—literally. It is the aging process, the natural breakdown of the body and beauty—and I’m a fairly young grandma. In that moment I was reminded that if I didn’t find my value in something bigger and better than youthfulness, I was in trouble.
I contrast this to an encounter I had with my 5 year grandson a few days later. My husband and I decided to stop over at my daughter’s house one evening after dinner to surprise our grandkids. Of course we were greeted with squeals of joy. But as soon as the door opened I noticed my grandson Auggie scurrying to his room without a word. I sat on the couch chatting with my granddaughters when a few moments later Auggie emerged. He walked straight towards me with a big smile on his face and his hands tucked behind his back. And then without any warning he threw fists full of confetti over my head in delight and celebration.
He had been waiting for just the right moment to toss these brightly colored flecks. A few days earlier he had been at an engagement party with his parents. His mom (my daughter) told me that after the confetti poppers were shot in the air, Auggie began picking up the pieces off he ground one by one. He kept them tightly clenched in his hands until he got home. He proceeded to put them in a pile on the end of his bed under his stuffed animals. There they remained until the perfect moment. I marveled that I, his Gammy, was that perfect moment!
The contrast between the response of these two children to my presence was remarkable. To me the first represented a superficial reaction to the breakdown of life and aging, while the second defied it. The later looked at the heart behind wrinkles and yellow teeth. I might even be so bold to say that, even seeing agedness, loved even more because it’s a part of who the person is in the cycle of life. After all, being a grandma requires aging…there is no getting around it. And let’s face it, grandmas are one of the most loved and adored people on the planet.
But, I have to be honest and tell you that I was caught off guard when the first boy made his comment. That’s because older people do eventually lose a sense of their appearance. They don’t realize their teeth are yellow, or that hair is growing out of their ears. They are unaware when their clothes are stained or torn. This is a normal part of the aging process. Had I arrived at this season? Was it my turn?
My grandson’s unexpected celebration put my fears at ease. Not only had I not quite reached that stage, but it wouldn’t matter anyway—not to him. And it got me thinking about aging gracefully and what that looks like. So rather than elaborate on how to look younger I’d like to propose that aging with grace has more to do with celebrating the accumulation of years that has shaped the inward person and the relationships connected to it. Here are two thoughts that are my pillars to aging gracefully.
1. Don’t allow aging to cause you to take on shame. There is nothing shameful about the aging process. That’s exactly what happened in my encounter with the first child in my story, I was momentarily racked with shame, as if it was distasteful to be older. It made me feel like I needed to try harder to be and look younger. And that is a tough gig because it’s literally impossible to go backward. Plus, being over fifty is a very special season. In many cultures the older you are the more respect is given. For instance, the Native Americans and Chinese highly regard their elders and consider them as wise contributors to society. Although we may experience this through our grandchildren’s eyes, for the most part in the Western culture youthfulness is worshipped and aging dreaded. That’s why coming to the place of being at ease with aging is crucial, for our own hearts. Don’t look in the mirror and grieve because you don’t look twenty. Look in the mirror and embrace your maturity as unique to you. If you have laugh lines consider it a badge of honor of enjoying life. Let maturity and flare shine through your style rather than the relentless effort to look younger. Allow yourself the freedom to age. Stop expecting so much from yourself in terms of slowing down the aging process.
2. Value the season of aging as unique. If we don’t find value in the mature years how will others around us? If all we do is pine for the years gone by, we are not fully living in the present. It’s starts in our own heart. We might be surprised how many people recorded in the bible were older when doing amazing things: Moses, Sarah, Abraham just to name a few. It’s during this season of life that we begin to see the value of time differently. We recognize life is short, and the simple things are important. Wisdom and life experience flows effortlessly during this time.
Proverbs 16:20 says, “A gray head is a crown of glory.” God celebrates aging! Much like my grandson Auggie, God highly values who we are on the inside–and the outside is a direct extension of that. He has made us, after all, and has safely brought us into this season. It’s time to step out of the shame and stand confidently under the confetti! Embracing this unique time of life will change dread into grace. If you are older–own it, make it special, and celebrate it!