Book Club Channel
Rich in Years: Read an Excerpt
Leslie Underwood, a single sixty-five-year-old woman in my church, has been blind since her youth. Rather than rebelling against the added difficulties of aging, she discovered a better way.
Old age is a blessing to me. God's grace and wisdom have led me to a more peaceful life. And I'm realizing that old age can be a gift given to the young. Did you ever notice how very young children are attracted to the elderly? Isn't that part of God's plan?
When I die, I hope it will be seen as a gift to those who are so fearful and perplexed about the end of their own lives. I used to think of death as a dark and mysterious valley of transition to be avoided. But since becoming a Christian about fifteen years ago, eternity became real, and much of my fear of death has gone. I wait for the Lord's promises and can truthfully ask, "Death, where is thy sting?"
I do still have regrets about the past. Mine was not an easy life; I was raised in a chaotic environment with alcohol, violence, parental absences, and neglect. But I was able to move beyond myself by becoming a social worker and helping people whom others didn't want. For some of them, their fear of death was more real and immediate than mine. Now I live with other Christians, and the fear and distrust is slowly melting away, replaced by acceptance and love, which leads to spiritual peace.
I often wonder how to help an older person accept and embrace God's will. It is so important to help others rather than think only of ourselves. If we miss these opportunities, turning in on ourselves and losing sight of others, we easily lose perspective and become bitter or angry. Most of all, we need to learn how to forgive the hurts done by others. When we forgive, we become free and begin to see countless opportunities to contribute.
Retiring from one's job can provide time to make these contributions. Unfortunately, many approach retirement either as a time to fulfill their dreams, for their own pleasure, or as a time to dread, with empty, lonely hours. It is without a doubt a drastic change; for instance, learning to get along with one's spouse again after years of being out of the house for much of the day. We may miss the responsibilities and authority we had at work. Or we may simply miss being busy. But if we find something to live for, a cause or purpose that needs dedication and work, then we'll always have a reason to get up in the morning! In the last years, I have found fulfillment in speaking to high school and college students about forgiveness and reconciliation as part of a program called Breaking the Cycle.
One need not be physically fit to serve. Well into his eighties, Peter Cavanna, who was fluent in several languages, would go once a week to visit prisoners in the local jail. When the inmates moved to other prisons, he would keep in touch with them by mail. Eventually he corresponded with nearly forty men, in both Spanish and English. Peter's correspondence with inmates not only encouraged them, which they often expressed, but also fulfilled him in his last years. He would often tell those around him how his pen pals were doing.
Everyone can find some sort of fulfillment. It is so important to give thanks each day for some small thing of beauty, whether a sunrise, a birdsong, or a child's smile. There might be a plant on the window sill or a bird feeder on the back porch that needs tending. Never miss the chance to offer a smile or a kind word to someone else, a friend or a stranger, or your spouse. If we are still able to read—now that we finally have time!—we may catch up on the classics of literature. Or just listen to great classical music. I have always loved the works of composers like Bach and Handel.