We’ve recently started using the term Actively Aging in the Retirement Reformation community. At a basic level, we all know that that means, “Get off the couch and do something, anything.” Upon further reflection, there is a lot more to it. I’m beginning to understand that “a lot more” will help each respond to the various challenges we all face. Not that we all face the same challenges as we age, but we all face challenges as we age.
A basic acceptance is that when challenges hit us, how we respond is critical. I’m sure you’ve heard the story of the two brothers whom each wanted a horse. One day, the first boy was taken to a horse stall that had not been mucked out. His negative response was over the top. I’m not going to clean up this mess; it is disgusting. His brother was brought to the same stall and in the same condition. He could barely contain his excitement, proclaiming, “ With all this manure, there must be a horse around here somewhere!” You get the point.
My research shows that there are at least three kinds of aging:
1. Biological: Yes, the knees hurt, cancers show up, and getting out of bed is accompanied by groans.
2. Psychological: We are growing to understand that subjective feelings of loneliness have dramatic impacts as we age. How we function, live, and make decisions are tied directly to the “loneliness” issue. Certainly, attitude makes a difference.
3. Social: The funnel of life keeps narrowing as we grow older. Friends die or move away; children are scattered, and parents die or are impacted by declining mental clarity. Traveling becomes challenging rather than exciting.
I did some further research and learned that a policy framework to address aging issues was created some time ago. The “Active Aging” concept was adopted by the “United Nations Madrid II International Plan of Action on Aging.” Who knew? Here is how they framed it: “the process of optimizing opportunities for health, participation, and security, in order to enhance the quality of life and wellbeing as people age.”
Searching for the fountain of youth is as old as humanity. I’m not sure about the folks surrounding the Biblical person, Methuselah. He was around for 969 years. Not sure how he was thinking about aging. Since then, aging has remained a universal reality and a common theme of conversation.
When people I meet ask me, “When are you going to retire?” It makes me feel old. When they realize my age and compliment me on my activity level, I’m energized. How about you? I believe you are actively aging when you are willing to be transparent about your age and focus your conversation on “What’s next” rather than “What’s lost.” How our world is changing and the speed of that change is remarkable. Embracing the change, actively engaging to understand it, and then looking to the benefits makes a much more energizing day than the alternative perspective: “It’s all downhill, and then we die.”
One of the beautiful realities of being a Christ follower is that even during the most challenging of times and at any age, in any of those three areas outlined above, there is always the assurance of two things:
1. There is an eternity waiting where the most significant challenge may be to learn more from the saints who have gone before us. I can’t wait to talk to Joseph, Peter, and James……yes, Paul too. Oh, I can’t forget my ancestors who have gone before me. And to spend it with Jesus.
2. I have the fruits of God’s spirit within me to provide a lens of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, and self-control. Even in the worst of times, I can walk with the Spirit.
The Retirement Reformation community will continue to explore aging issues and challenge us to respond actively. While God numbers our days, and there is no single “explanation” why people age differently, we can impact our length of life planning horizon. If we are intentional about dealing with our health, mental state, social relationship, and the life-giving element neglected the most, our spiritual journey and relationship with God. When you are on a healthy spiritual journey of discovery and application, you will be calmer, less tense, able to deal with the inevitable challenges of daily living, and optimistic about what’s ahead instead of regretting what is left behind.
When we dig into retirement issues, we learn that most people approaching retirement are pretty clear about what they are retiring from and less clear about what they are retiring to. The answer from so many to the “What’s next” query is some version of NOTHING. And they are dedicated to doing it well, regardless of form. After a few years of actively pursuing nothing, the realization hits that sometimes doing nothing has value; it has little meaning. When we actively engage in something in our lives that gives meaning, aging is slowed, health is promoted, and our attitude is positive. When we stay stuck in nothing for too long, we become grumpy, sick, and no fun to be around.
Actively aging is an essential key to a longer, more meaningful life. And being active in our relationship with God assures an eternity of joyful activity and modeling for our Grandchildren the beautiful benefits of the Fruit of God’s spirit in us today.