I love working with and ministering to older adults. I enjoy visiting with them and learning from their vast storehouse of wisdom and experiences. Since most churches are comprised of “seasoned members,” it is a privilege to see how a congregation can renew and revive through the faith and resilience of these mature adults. While I cannot fully relate to them as a “middle aged person,” the health concern which I have experienced over the last month has provided me with an even deeper, more profound respect for these cherished children of Christ.
Since my 20s, I’ve been dealing with neck issues. As a recipient of generational arthritis, it has systematically brought instability to my bones and spinal cord. After years of intermittent pain and stints in rehab, I decided in January to have cervical spine surgery in early April. This included several fusions, decompressions, and a rod in the back of my neck. The initial things I gleaned about this surgery was that there would be a lot of pain, I would have to wear a hard neck brace/collar and I would spend several weeks resting and recuperating. But that was the tip of the iceberg.
When I came home, I quickly realized that I would need assistance eating (weak arms), bathing, and even standing and sitting down. As a guy in his mid-50s, this was foreign to me. Being independent and self-reliant is just how I rolled until this present operation. I realize that my body is healing, getting stronger, and I will be better for it. But this stop on the carousel of life has offered me a small glimpse on aging, and what others deal with daily.
Since 1963, the month of May has been designated as “Older Americans Month.” It is vitally important that as a nation we recognize the lives, contributions, and service of mature adults. Reality is revealing to us that the United States is aging at a rapid rate. By 2060, almost 100 million people, around 25% of the population will be 65 years of age or better. (The fastest-growing group are those 85 and better). By 2030, there will be a higher percentage of older adults than younger children. While we might live in a culture that emphasizes the energy and excitement of youthfulness, we cannot ignore the presence and vitality of aging. Seasoned adults come in all shapes and sizes. While some may be enduring frailty and sickness, others are still working and recreating. While some may have to care for a spouse or grandchildren, others are out in the community serving. While some may be experiencing isolation and loneliness, others are building relationships and spending time with friends and family.
It is way too dangerous to “pigeonhole” or generalize the aging into a specific category, or to make assumptions based upon an individual’s age. When I was a young seminary student in my early twenties, I was assigned to a church in Northeastern Philadelphia. When I arrived at the congregation, the pastor asked me to work with the weekly older adults group. And were my eyes ever opened. I never expected to see such a life-giving activity. Here was the thing. While I witnessed 90-year-olds joyfully dancing, I would go back to the seminary residence hall and encounter 20-somethings laying around barely able to get out of bed. It does make you think.
Aging is not a dreaded disease but is a part of God’s plan of life. The Prophet Isaiah in the Old Testament of the Bible said these words, “Listen to me, O house of Jacob, all the remnant of the house of Israel, who have been borne by me from before your birth, carried from the womb; even to your old age I am he, and to gray hairs I will carry you. I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save.”
In my aging journey, especially with the struggle of major surgery, I have even greater reverence for the mature adults in my midst. In our daily aging, may we celebrate those who continue to live, serve, and touch the lives of others. Let us focus on aging being a gift from Jesus, that our hearts may be open and full to God’s blessings all around us.