“‘How’ We Grow Old is More Important than How ‘Old’ We Grow”

“‘How’ We Grow Old is More Important than How ‘Old’ We Grow” December 4, 2013

Rising above the issues that seniors face in their later years: A review of “Rich in Years” by Johann Christoph Arnold.

By Galen Dalrymple


“Rich in Years” is a book that is written by a senior for seniors to help them find meaning and purpose in their later years.  The book examines many of the issues that seniors face and offers suggestions on how to not just live with – but when possible – to rise above those issues in productive and fulfilling ways.

There is a fear among those advancing in years that they will be forgotten – not just while living, but after they have passed from this earth.  No one wants to be forgotten – to have your life simply disappear without leaving a legacy behind. In this day and age when medical and scientific advances contribute to longer life spans, we have “a false sense of immortality.”  Rather than being interested in longer lives, Arnold suggests we need to realize that God’s purpose for us isn’t to live longer but to live a life with “deepened meaning.”

Still, the process of aging is challenging, even though we may possess greater health at a more advanced age than did our ancestors.  But lurking in the back of our mind is the sound of the clock and its incessant ticking that tells us all that we’ve ever known is coming to an end.

So what does Arnold suggest?  He suggests that it matters greatly where we focus our attention.  If we focus on failures and stew over our regrets, we will become miserable, despicable creatures.  Instead, if we focus on gratitude for the life we have lived; our later years will be much more pleasant. Arnold refers to Meister Eckhart who suggested that as our years advance and slip rapidly by, there should be only one phrase left in our vocabulary: “Thank you.”

A key emphasis of Arnold is that we need to invest our later years in those who are younger.  We need to form friendships with younger persons for a variety of reasons: 1) if we only have friends among our own age group, eventually they will all pass on and we will be left alone and lonely; 2) the passing of the years impart wisdom that needs to be shared with rising generations; 3) sharing life lessons with our loved ones who are younger may spare them great pain and anguish.  It is precisely this type of sharing that has the power to impart meaning to life – and as a nice by-product, it helps one leave a legacy by which one will be remembered.

Looking at what we can give, rather than what we have lost and can no longer give, lifts us and encourages us to rise up in the morning with purpose – even long after the weariness of the body has descended upon us.

While Arnold deals with topics such as aging, coping with changes, loneliness, purpose, faith, dementia, finding peace and dying, the thrust of the book is to stay involved, to engage life fully even as the shadows grow long and day is nearly over.  Perseverance, persistence, patience – these are all called for as we near the end of life’s journey.  It is not a time to faint or grow weary, but to finish well with all the strength and determination we can muster.  While our bodies may have grown frail and weary, our souls are being renewed each day and we can, at the same moment as we are physically weaker, we can be spiritually stronger than ever.

“‘How’ we grow old is more important than how ‘old’ we grow.”  Focus on quality, not quantity.  Focus on people, not things.  Focus on the positive not the negative.  Realize that the act of dying is “the final, hardest test of courage” and realize that God’s strength will be perfected in our weakness.

We who are believers still fear death for the simple reason that it was not meant to be our destiny – it is, if I may say, our mortal enemy.  While the years of our old age may be marked with pains, loneliness and depression, we can take courage and hope and inspiration from knowing that we aren’t just facing mortality “we are nearing immortality.”  And that is something worth celebrating!


Galen Dalrymple works for Medical Ambassadors International as the Field Curriculum Coordinator and lives in Northern California with his wife, Laurel, and yellow lab, Lucy. His passions are his family, photography, travel, and doing what he can to alleviate suffering and injustice as a call from Jesus. 



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