Don’t be Grumpy and Old: 3 Ways Christians Can Prepare for Happiness

A good friend of mine has a father who is sinking into dementia. As his mind slips away, so are his “brakes.”  The graceful restraints of social morays concerning foul language, anger, and human interaction are gone. He’s a handful, battling nurses, cussing out family members, and berating visitors. His final days are stress on everyone around him.

It makes me wonder, what will I be like when I’m old?

Frustration, Fear, Loneliness

I saw my father angry one time in his life – yes, just once. He was irritated with the cannula hanging from his nostrils and his hand became entangled in the tubing in a fishing line-like mess. I reached over to help and he pulled away in frustration. “Damn thing,” he grumbled.

He was angry because he was helpless, his body broken but his mind still functioning. And it works the other way too, as the body is intact but the mind drifts. I’m 52, and the decline in function of both body and mind is frustrating – even frightening.

The elderly are often filled with anxiety. The pages of the calendar remind them that the days are marching forward. Their friends are dying or losing contact, one by one. Their family members are involved in their own lives. No one wants to be alone. And they are scared.

But the truth is that  older people are generally the happiest. An article in Psychology Today says that  people over 60 were the happiest age group, with happiness starting to rise after age 50. In fact, another  survey reported people  in their 70s being as happy and mentally healthy as 20-year-olds.

happy and old

Choose Your Rut Carefully

Dr. Mary A. Languirand, PhD is a clinical psychologist who wrote, ““An irritable person may become cantankerous, an impatient person demanding and impossible to please. Age and illness can intensify longstanding personality traits in some unpleasant ways. Unfortunately, the person taking care of the elderly parents is oftent the target of this bad behavior.”

There’s an anecdotal story told by Ray Stedman about the Al-Can highway that ran through  northern British Columbia and the Yukon to Alaska. Well into the 1960s it was all gravel, and a challenge only a bold driver with a tough truck would want to face. While crossing the final border into Alaska, and a sign read, “Choose your rut carefully—you’ll be in it for the next 200 miles.”

What’s my path?

So this goes to my question? Are elderly Christians happier because they have an entire lifetime of choosing better paths? Do decades of positive thinking, prayerful living, and good words pay off when you are old?

Or does mental illness, dementia and other mind and body robbing illness actually operate independently of the spirit? Can I be a grumpy old man?

Rutted Road

I want to be gentle grandfather who smiles. I want to give words of praise and to be generous with whatever good deeds I have left. I want to reflect God’s glory, right up to the end.

I propose that elderly Christians should tilt the happiness scales even farther. And if we begin preparing our minds and hearts right now, we’ll stay cheerful even as our bodies age. We need to remember these truths.

1. Our bodies are temporal. We are promised new bodies in a new heaven. “The old will pass away.” The pains of today are not forever.

2. Our fears are unfounded. The fears that many older people have about death and dying are lessened. As Christians, we are told to not fear death, even embracing it. “We are confident,I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.”

3. Our future is set. Some elderly are faced with uncertain days. Nursing homes, loss of friends and family, and catastrophic medical and financial conditions. But Christians who age are admonished to not be concerned. do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?

Daily Choices

Every choice I make today takes me deeper into the dark future of despair, fear and insecurity…or into the bright and glorious of a life in the light.

I’m choosing my rut carefully. I’ll be in it a long time.

Enjoy this! I hope I’m happy and old…

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  • Oh, I needed this, David. Because my mother died of Alzheimer’s, I fear it myself quite often. :( I wonder if I’ll be mean if I get it, if I’ll bring up my ex-husband’s name from my youth instead of my precious 22+ years and counting husband’s name. But I have to trust the future-me to God just like I have to trust the now-me to him. Thanks for sharing these 3 truths. They’re helpful to me!

  • As my father aged, loss of hearing combined with dimentia to make it nearly impossible for him to keep up with conversation. He compensated by interjecting frequent bursts of thankfulness, “Well, praise the Lord!” “Thank you, Jesus!”

    I hope I am able to become more thankful for God’s blessings as life progresses!

  • This made me think of a Story People by Brian Andreas.

    “The day he first told me he was starting to disappear I didn’t believe him & so he stopped & held his hand up to the sun & it was like thin paper in the light & finally I said you seem very calm for a man who is disappearing & he said it was a relief after all those years of trying to keep the pieces of his life in one place. Later on, I went to see him again & as I was leaving, he put a package in my hand. This is the last piece of my life, he said, take good care of it & then he smiled & was gone & the room filled with the sound of the wind & when I opened the package there was nothing there & I thought there must be some mistake or maybe I dropped it & I got down on my hands & knees & looked until the light began to fade & then slowly I felt the pieces of my life fall away gently & suddenly I understood what he meant & I lay there for a long time crying & laughing at the same time.” I am privileged to live near my 91 year old Grandmother. Every day she seems closer to God and less of this world. It is a bit like she is disappearing slowly. I understand her grumpiness and frustrations better knowing she is daily working through a process of letting go of this life and looking forward to eternity. One of my favorite verses in my own deep pain and suffering and brushes with mortality has been, “A day is like a thousand years and a thousand years is like a day.” For believers, this life is just a day. When I’m hurting and complaining or others are this comforts me. Thank you for this.

  • Life with Warren has been a great education on this score. A risk that any introspective type runs when living in a situation like ours is comparing ourselves to the elderly soul in question, mentally trying to match up to their good points while avoiding any of the ruts; the reality is we are not the same as Warren in many dimensions. He only cusses when he is in extreme pain, and most of the time is quite lucid. He is by nature a generous, grandfatherly type who can’t see and can’t hear (both are his biggest issues), and he is loving. Easily embarrassed by the ever-increasingly intrusive personal care that is required as his ability to control elimination, he often wants to “tip” me for personal service, which I laugh off most times.

    I’m not at all worried about becoming like Warren – indeed, there are lessons here I’m learning on how to do the elderly dance. Not that I want to do it at all, mind you, but if I must live into my 90’s, I would rather do it more in his manner than in the manner of others I’ve been witness to in life.

    Great post, David!

  • Every time I visit my mother I am excited, and grieved when I have to leave. She is held captive in a decaying body that needs help in most things. Her mind is sharp at times but mostly she is depressed because of this aging process. She is so ready to head home and can’t understand why God leaves her here and takes little children. She is not happy I am afraid because she has lost all independence in her life. Now if I could send her to a retirement or nursing home such as that one on the film clip…that was great by the way. Since I had 35 years without the Lord I am hoping my mind does not dwell on those years that contain lots of unhappy memories. I pray I draw from the years after salvation that have been the happiest in my older age. Great post brother…now where is this place?

    • I think that longing for something somewhere else will intensify. “We don’t belong here”

  • When my 95-year old grandmother was in the hospital after a stroke, the nurses commented how sweet she was. They echoed the comments here about choosing your rut. The personality really comes out, particularly in hospital situations – and you can tell what someone is *really* like.

  • I think about this quite often myself. While I see myself growing more patient, relatively speaking, it ain’t all that. I too want to be the wise and kind elderly person that is a joy to be around, not the grouchy and rude ones that the trait of selfish destroys their personality. Good list. I’ll be looking for a smooth rut.

  • I do think choices we make now can have a tremendous impact on the kind of old age we live. But not all of it is in our control. We’ve lived with dementia in one form or another with all four of our parents. My FIL became ever more anxious, after an anxiety-filled life. My father became even more quiet than he had been. My mother is still socially able and kind and gracious to everyone, even though she has no clue who they are or how they’re connected to her. My MIL, on the other hand, the sweetest, quietest, kindest woman you can imagine – became sullen and combative. A huge surprise to all of us. And she made good choices for herself for over 90 years. At the end, she simply wasn’t herself.

    • You said your MIL “wasn’t herself” and that’s really true. Its so hard when the spirit is willing and the flesh (mind) is weak

  • working as a nurse I saw all types of people- happy, sad, dejected, hopeful, joyous, angry, etc- all these in both the Christian and the non-Christian.

    I really don’t know why some age more gracefully (not in physical appearance but in demeanor).

    My dad died of brain cancer, he lost his vision, speech, and mobility. There were a few days were he was scared and caring for him was difficult, but most days he still shone the light and love of God.

    We are all human. Fears will come at us and sometimes overwhelm us, but God is bigger.

    When I start wondering how my mom will be as she ages or how I will be as I get older I remember that “…sufficient for the day is it’s own trouble” (Matt 6:34)

    • I don’t think its certain how we will be and your experience shows that. And yes we are human in the end but ultimately we are God’s

  • I hope I’m happy and old too. It’s definitely been a journey watching my dad grow old. His life changed completely after a stroke 2 1/2 years ago. I think God is really using this new situation to work on his heart.

    • To see those around us age and change I just want to prepare for that inevitability

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