Understanding Your Feelings About Aging

How we feel about old age matters and is important.

It is not only understanding what growing older means and how it plays out in your family and personal life but is also indicative of what you think about old age. When we understand how we feel and think about aging, it will impact what we do, our relationships, and even our health.

“My grandmother is really old. She just broke her hip and now I’m afraid she is going to die.” How many times have you heard someone make a similar statement? My wife Judy and I often share a warning about a slippery spot on the sidewalk or in the parking lot of a store or church. “Be careful, you don’t want to fall, break your hip, and die!” Those kinds of observations are becoming the accepted norm, the way we think, and then the way we act.

That having been said, Judy recently did slip on the ice going to the mailbox and broke her wrist. Fortunately, the operation was successful, she is healing quickly and is not fearful of an immediate passing. There is much anecdotal and more sophisticated research suggesting that most of us think of old age as a time of decline. Not only the decline of our hips but the rest of the body too. It is both decline and disability that seem to be most closely associated with aging.

When we add mental decline and disability to the physical decline and disability, we are fast approaching many of our views of old age. Most of us will accept the fact that as we think, so we are.

The reality of our mental and physical health is impacted first by how we think about the issues and then what we do about it.

I found a 2014 Gallup poll of over 85,000 adults that identifies four key ingredients to a thriving old age. Here they are:

  1. Social: Having supportive relationships and love in your life

  2. Financial: Managing your economic life to reduce stress and increase security

  3. Community: Liking where you live, feeling safe, and having pride in your community

  4. Physical: Having good health and enough energy to get things done daily

A couple of observations about the results:

  1. With those realities in place, you will feel pretty good about getting older. Without them, the prospects are bleak.

  2. Christians have a leg up on the rest of society. We have a supporting relationship with our God as well as fellow believers. When we follow Biblical principles of Stewardship, our economic life will be stress free. Because we are called to serve others and that call always has a time, place, and a specific group of people, the odds are we are engaged with our community. And finally, we are admonished to consider our bodies as a “temple” to serve our God and others in our path.

  3. Each of those ingredients will play out a little differently during each of the three stages of retirement: early old age (the Active Application stage), middle old age (the Insightful Stewardship stage of mentoring and speaking with wisdom), or the old age (the stage of Reflective Sharing). Regardless of which stage you or a loved one are in, those four ingredients listed above will impact your thriving score.

So, what are some steps you can take to change your thinking about aging?

  1. Discern the difference between myth and fact

  2. Recognize the difference between what is true and stereotypes

  3. Replace negative stereotypes or perceptions with positive ones

  4. Understand, embrace, and engage with the aging process

It makes sense that exercising our mind and our body will make it stronger. When we are stronger we have access to wider and deeper life choices. With an abundance of choices, we are more likely to be enthused about life. And when we are enthusiastic about life, we can and will represent Jesus to a challenging world.

Consider how you think about aging. Add the positives of more time, more experience, more insight, and more courage to your thought process. God wants us to thrive and has provided the tools for just that. They are available to you. They are available to all.

Joanna Gaines, in the Magnolia Story says:

“I always thought that the ‘thriving’ would come when everything was perfect and what I learned is that it’s actually down in the mess that things get good.”

Another way of thinking about it is: You will find meaning and purpose listening to God’s call on your life and following it. It may be messy, but it will bring love, joy, patience, kindness, gentleness and self-control. Thriving doesn’t get better than that.

Bruce Bruinsma