I’m celebrating a Jubilee year—50 years of ministry and 70 years of life!
To me, both of these are remarkable milestones—and such gifts from God. The longer I live, the more I see that God’s plan for each of us lasts for the entirety of life on earth—from birth to death.
The psalmist gives us this assurance: “But the godly will flourish like palm trees and grow strong like the cedars of Lebanon. For they are transplanted to the Lord’s own house. They flourish in the courts of our God. Even in old age they will still produce fruit; they will remain vital and green. They will declare, ‘The LORD is just! He is my rock!’” (Psalm 92:12–15). I may not always feel fresh and green, but I am grateful for a long and fruitful life. And I am grateful for so much more; God has been generous over my 70 years.
Many people’s first thoughts when talking about a long-lived life, though, are not on the gifts of aging. They’re often thoughts on loss or betrayal: loss of many hopes and dreams and relationships and betrayal by our bodies. When I asked my friend Debbie (57) for her thoughts on the “gifts of aging,” she didn’t reflect on the positive, but the negative. “Answers to your question easily came to my mind regarding what is horrible about aging,” she says. “Hot flashes, weight gain, lack of stamina, lack of sleep, losing normal words in the middle of a sentence—and the list could go on!”
But there are gifts of aging—and they are many and valuable, imparting much joy. Here are a few of the best gifts of age from my life and from a few of my friends.
We all agreed: Grandchildren are amazing gifts.
I am the typical grandmother who has pictures of her grandchildren on her phone, ready to whip out and show off at a moment’s notice. I love reading to them, choosing gifts for them, telling stories with them, and watching them develop into little people.
A special gift of this season of my life is friendship with my adult children. Today my daughter Debbie called, just to chat, as she and baby Grace headed to the grocery store. Last night I FaceTimed with my daughter Michelle and grandboy JB.
Surely one of the best gifts is abundant time with my husband. Leisurely dinners afford us long conversations about family, ministry, what the Lord is saying to us, opportunities before us. We often travel and speak together—such a privilege—so we brainstorm together for upcoming writing and speaking commitments. My husband never fails to encourage me.
Since my broader family is fairly scattered, my three sisters and I made a commitment when our mother died to get together for a week every other year. We recently delighted in a week at the beach in Florida—relaxing, comfortable, fun.
Learning to choose to say “Thank you, Lord” in every circumstance is one of the greatest gifts I have gained, though it has taken many years to live it fairly consistently.
It’s easy to give thanks for all the amazing blessings over the years. But for those hard times—a miscarriage, loss of a loved one, a child’s dangerous choices—heart and mind are challenged to utter a simple “thank you.”
Although my friend Debbie had expressed her grief over the loss of her youth, the decaying of the body, and the lack of energy, she did discover a gift of age: gratitude. “I am thankful,” she says, “that the events God has chosen for me to walk through in this life can benefit others he allows me to mentor or ‘do life’ with, that my aches and pains make me more sympathetic and empathetic to those around me, that this frail body will be exchanged for a new one, and that each day I get out of bed on this earth brings me closer to the day I’ll be in heaven with him.”
I couldn’t open the jar. Again.
The handrail on the stairs has become my essential friend.
It’s harder and harder to hear conversation in a crowd.
Age clarifies that we are weak and decaying, and it helps us accept a reality we fight most of our lives: We need help (and that is not necessarily a bad thing). We want independence, but we need to be totally dependent on God. Jesus tells us in John 15:5 that “apart from me you can do nothing.”
Martha (63) gets it: “A sweet and fruitful dependency upon God for grace and usefulness sustains me when roles change, incomes diminish, health challenges, and relocation or downsizing unsettles.”
Almost every job application states, “Experience required.” Life is a great teacher—for family, work, relationships, trusting God. By the time you are my age, experience has been acquired.
When I began my ministry responsibilities as a magazine writer and copy editor 50 years ago, I thought I knew what I was doing. The art director and I were basically the team, busy planning, writing, and designing the quarterly campus magazine with approval from the editor-in-chief. It was pretty heady stuff.
But I had so much to learn. My boss, Bill Bright, was gentle in addressing my overconfidence. He helped me improve my work, but mainly I learned from watching his life.
Being single into my early 30s, almost 40 years of marriage, the challenges of parenting—all have provided experience for wise decisions in these latter years and for passing on wisdom to others.
Roberta (59) summed it up when she shared with me, “A great gift of age is discernment. When we get older, God gives us deeper insight and better judgment than in our youth, and I appreciate that.”
When I was young, I thought I knew so much. Yes, I might have been a little afraid of the future, but looking back I realize I should have been really scared.
Today’s world is truly frightening—especially when I think of the future for my grandchildren. For all the world’s knowledge and technology, life still feels out of our control, which hopefully drives us to God.
My friends offer some perspective:
“[One gift of aging is] living enough years to be able to look over our shoulders and see all that God has done . . and realize he does have things under control. Our hope is built on nothing less.” —Patti (61)
“When I was younger, I wanted to do everything, try everything, get involved in everything. But now that I am older I prefer to do what I truly enjoy, feel gifted in, that God has truly given me a heart for.” —Jerusha (55)
“As I walk with God in my late 60s, I continue to seek his perspective on the brevity of life, the reality of death, the ‘can’t take it with you’ mentality. My need for the support of the body of Christ, and for trust in his sovereignty in the midst of a world gone crazy are things that are being rooted deeper into my heart.” —Kathy (68)
Sometimes when I see a friend I haven’t seen in a while, I am startled to notice that she is more beautiful now than in all the years I have known her.
No, the tight, flawless skin of youth is no longer there. Hair is thinner and the waistline is thicker. But there is a beauty that comes with years of living and loving, of becoming and accepting yourself, of receiving and reflecting the joy of the Lord.
My friend Beth (66) wrote this amazing poem when her granddaughter, looking at a picture of Beth at 16, said, “You were beautiful then, Grandma.”
Beth’s response, in part:
“I am more beautiful now than I ever was,
With my soul worn down, smooth and resilient,
Like the soft blue jeans you always wear,
Like supple leather pounded with rubber mallets
From worries I could not stop
And storms I couldn’t control . . . .
This is the fullness of time, my dear.
I am there
And I am beautiful.”
So I celebrate and I reflect. I am grateful God led me to discover the gifts he put in me, opened up doors of opportunity for me to use those gifts in personal growth, in loving relationships, in serving him to help build his kingdom.
And surely the greatest gift is the incomprehensible privilege of knowing, loving, and walking with God. I never get over it!
Judy Douglass writes, speaks, and encourages. She champions women around the world and partners with her husband, Steve, to lead Campus Crusade for Christ globally. She writes at JudyDouglass.com. Her most recent book is Letters to My Children: Secrets of Success.