Never Alone

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It’s easy to argue that there has never been a better time to be old. 

Senior adults, in general, are the beneficiaries of more opportunities, better healthcare, greater disposable income, and longer life than any generation in history.

During the heyday of the Roman Empire, average life expectancy was 28. Today, across the world, it’s approaching 75. 

This sunny picture, nevertheless, is crisscrossed by shadows. 

If you yearn for societal respect, this is far from the best time to be old.  As Atul Gawande notes in his 2014 bestseller Being Mortal, people in previous generations used to lie to census takers about their age. They claimed to be older than they actually were. These days, people hope and pray they are misidentified as younger. 

A century ago, if you needed to understand something about the world, you would turn to an old-timer. Today we get our answers from Google. And if your computer is acting up, just ask your grandchild to make things right. 

Gawande believes there’s an even greater crisis when it comes to aging.

Instead of being a time for celebration, reflection, and anticipation, growing old has largely become one medical intervention after another. He writes, “We in the medical world have proved alarmingly unprepared for it.”

At the time of his writing, fewer than 300 new gerontologists – physicians specializing in senior medical care – were entering the work force every year, not nearly enough to replace retiring doctors and meet the overwhelming challenges of America’s rapidly aging demographic. 

What do we actually know about aging? 

It’s not easy

“We just fall apart,” says Felix Silverstone, the senior geriatrician at the Parker Jewish Institute in New York. “Old age is a continuous series of losses.” Philip Roth is even more pointed in his novel Everyman: “Old age is not a battle.  Old age is a massacre.”

Gawande points out that it’s all too easy to address men and women in their eighth and ninth decades of life and focus on a single question: “How can I help you live a few more weeks or months or years?”

But that’s not the question most older adults really care about.

The real question is how to make life worth living, even when we’re feeble and frail and less able to fend for ourselves. Where can we find companionship in the face of loneliness? How can we experience meaning in the midst of weakness? Who can impart to us an enduring sense of dignity? 

Gawande says it well: “Our most cruel failure in how we treat the sick and aged is the failure to recognize that they have priorities beyond merely being safe and living longer; that the chance to shape one’s story is essential to sustaining meaning in life; that we have the opportunity to refashion our institutions, our culture, and our conversations in ways that transform the possibilities for the last chapters of everyone’s lives.”

What do we learn in Scripture about growing old?

We get the very same answer: It’s not easy

But we also learn that aging does not signify the end of life. It’s the journey we take on the way to an experience of life that will never come to an end.

Take a few moments to assess everything you have today. Here’s the sobering truth: It’s all going to slip through your fingers. Sooner or later you’re going to have to let go of your job, your house, your pets, and your favorite possessions. One by one, you’ll part company with everyone you love – your parents, your friends, your spouse, your kids. Your body will progressively let you down – that includes your hearing, your eyesight, your memory, and even your desire to get up at the start of a new day. 

It’s all going to slip through your fingers, and there’s nothing you can do about it.

But that’s OK.

You can never slip through God’s fingers. He will never let you go.

As Jesus said to that beleaguered, wretched, remorseful, yet hopeful thief dying not far from him on Calvary, “Truly I tell you, today you shall be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:33).

Every word is a marvel.  Truly: “You can trust me.” Today: “You won’t have to wait long.” Paradise: “You can’t even imagine what you’re about to experience.” And best of all, with me: “I’m with you now, and I’ll be with you then; you’ve never been alone, even on those days you had no idea.” 

Old age can feel like a never-ending series of losses.

But it can also be a time of never-ending reminders that we’re not walking this path by ourselves.

The Creator who’s got the whole world in his hands has got you, too.