I leaned back on our living room sofa, and gazed through the skylight. The leaves on the top-most branches of a majestic white birch fluttered in the breeze. But wait! Something was wrong. Some of the branches were dying. Our beautiful birch has a disease called, birch die-back.
I feel more and more like that aging birch. A decade and a half ago doctors found blocked arteries that were inoperable. That stopped all hiking. As the years went by, sleeping through a whole night became a memory. Then came more frequent visits to the dentist and the optometrist. Now arthritic knees has rendered my daily walk painful or non-existent.
Don’t misunderstand me. I know my distress cannot compare to those who endure debilitating diseases. I view those who bear chronic disability or terminal cancer with cheerfulness as true heroes. I’m in awe of them.
But to be honest, this whole aging business is challenging. I always expected to burn out rather than rust out. Obviously, I need perspective, especially when I see young people, even people in their forties and fifties, in vibrant health. Running. Hiking. Cycling. Canoeing. Playing hockey. Traveling the world. It’s not fair.
I think that’s envy talking. And envy clouds reality, stifles joy, shrivels thankfulness, and throttles praise. Proverbs 14:30 warns us that; “Envy rots the bones.” I sure don’t need any more deterioration in that area. Envy corrodes the heart and distorts all motivation. Envy led Cain to kill his brother, Joseph’s brothers to sell him into slavery, and the priests and Pharisees to betray Christ. “For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice”(James 3:16).
How should I handle envy? Just stop moaning and face the facts? Okay, but a little help please. Fortunately God has promised help. “Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you….I will carry you.” (Isaiah 46:4).
How will He sustain us? By His Spirit who lives within us. As we live in dependence on the Spirit, He will replace envy and all the dark machinations of the sinful nature with the loving fruit of the Spirit. (See Gal. 5:19-26.) “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy”(1 Cor. 13:4). Do I love young people? Do I love those who can do what I can’t do? Can I give thanks to God for all I was able to do when I was young and all that others are now able to do?
As we yield to the Spirit, he will help us, on the one hand, to face reality without losing hope. We live in a fallen world among dying people. As the writer of Ecclesiastes reminds us, there will come a time; “when strong men stoop [arthritis], when the grinders cease because they are few, [loss of teeth], and those looking through the windows grow dim; [poor eyesight], when…the sounds of grinding [of a mill] fades [hearing weakens] …and desire no longer is stirred [libido dwindles]”(Eccl. 12:3,4,5).
Even as the Spirit enables us to face the facts, He counters morbidity by giving us a vision of eternity. Although, “all men are like grass…the grass withers and the flowers fall;” yet of believers in Jesus it is said, “You have been born again, not of perishable seed but imperishable”(1 Peter 1:24, 23). Our soul will pass through the vale untouched by mortality. Jesus will welcome us to our eternal home where “there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain” (Rev. 21:4). This heavenly vision, through the Spirit, will counter our natural tendency to become grouchy, and sad. And in the process, we may be able to encourage the younger generation to cherish their health and the opportunities for service it provides. “Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say, I find no pleasure in them”(Eccl.12:1).
I’ll intersperse future blogs about bear sightings and growing where we’re planted with several more meditations on aging.