Think

Growing old, ageing well

Nov 2014    

Kwa Kiem Kiok is a local preacher at Trinity Methodist Church, and teaches missions-related subjects at East Asia School of Theology. She and her husband, a Trinity Annual Conference pastor, enjoy walking in the outdoors.

We can always greet each day with child-like joy in the gifts it brings and maintain a youthful curiosity about life and the world.

‘Ageing’ is seen as a problem today, with dire warnings to take critical measures in order to sustain our economy in an ageing population. The quest for eternal youth is embedded in human culture, seen in the story of Shangri-La in James Hilton’s Lost Horizon; and the search for the elixir of eternal youth in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. The cosmetic industry makes billions from ‘age-defying’ lotions, serums and creams, stoking our human desire to keep grey hair and wrinkles at bay.

In church, we focus much time, resources and energy on the children and youth ministries, but the seniors are left to fend for themselves. While the resources and stability that seniors give the church are appreciated, little effort is made to think holistically and theologically about what it means to grow old; neither is there much discussion on how we can age well.

Scripture, however, has no such bias. Rather, it celebrates and honours old people. While it is true that Jesus died relatively young, many within the wider faith community were old and respected. Abraham and Moses were in their 80s when they were specifically called to their ministries. Anna, the daughter of Penuel, was a holy and righteous woman, who was privileged in her old age to see and bless the baby Jesus (Luke 2:36-38). While Daniel in the lion’s den has often been depicted as a young boy, he was probably in reality an old man by then if we follow the story of his career.

In Scripture, “old” is sometimes used to refer to times in the past when God was faithful or when Israel sinned (Deut 32:7, Isa 63:11); or to the sinful nature to be put away (1 Cor 5:7, 8). But God’s people will be blessed to bless others, dream and serve the Lord, regardless of age (Jer 31:13, Joel 2:28). Old people are not irrelevant to the community – they will continue to bear fruit (Psa 92:14).

Therefore, ageing is not a process to be avoided or delayed, but a blessing to be accepted graciously and gracefully. As a church, we should make deliberate efforts to include the elderly in our families and community, and invite their opinions and input in making decisions.

Let us live honestly, and embrace the limitations in our age: a toddler cannot run up the stairs and an old person may have to walk with a stick. Also, we should look and behave in age-appropriate ways, and expect others to do the same. However, we can always greet each day with child-like joy in the gifts it brings and maintain a youthful curiosity about life and the world.

Secondly, let us honour the elderly, and not view them in economic terms. Many seniors in our midst have much wisdom to impart. They may not be savvy about phone apps, but they know about finding grace in the midst of suffering. They have experienced the faithfulness of the Lord. They can share how to love, care and support one another in God’s family. These are conversations we must have so that all of us can live fully and well, and eventually, die gracefully and with dignity. Let’s honour the seniors and retirees, let them continue to have presence and a voice in our church community.

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