Godly Women Blog

Aging With Grace

Many of us have six or more decades of life experience. As we grow older, will we merely keep aging, or will we age with grace?

Fifty-five and a half years ago, one week after my 13th birthday, I entered the Northern Building in downtown Akron, Ohio, with my mother and brothers to attend our first Sabbath service with what was then the Radio Church of God. 

Fifty-five and a half years ago.

That’s a long time!

This past December marked the 50th anniversary of my baptism. What a journey—living some of my highest highs (graciously God-given) and some of my lowest lows (gracelessly Janel-driven). 

Fifty years baptized!

That’s a long time.

My hair is gray, my body is oxidizing, and my “use by” date reads “better hurry!”

Many of us are in the same season, with at least six decades of life’s inspiring highs and debilitating lows.

Speaking of . . .

Fifteen years ago, a voice disorder, spasmodic dysphonia, changed my life. The simplest task—talking—is now awkward and difficult. My vocal cords spasm instead of vibrating when air passes over them. Listeners struggle to understand me.

Determined to continue substitute teaching, I interacted with students, some of whom were themselves grappling with disabilities. Those students thanked me for being a role model. They have no idea how humbling and gratifying their encouraging words were!

In addition to spasmodic dysphonia, like many of you, I have arthritis. Opening jars is now a community event, and I don’t know how much longer I’ll be knitting or playing piano, activities I’ve enjoyed since my early childhood.  

At the 2018 Feast in Victoria, I chatted with Richard Pinelli, frightened about my approaching full hip-replacement surgery. He commiserated, having recently been through heart surgery. With his encouragement, and the prayers and encouragement of others, I had the surgery eight days after that Feast. Eight months later, I walked countless miles on the 2019 FI educational tour of Israel with my husband, Doug.

Only a month after we stood on the Mount of Olives, we learned of Richard Pinelli’s death.

{image_2}Some of you reading this blog post have lost mates. Your life changed overnight. Some have cared for—or are even now caring for—aging or dying parents. Some carry the emptiness of infertility, miscarriages or stillbirths to this day. Some have raised special-needs children. Others have had their hearts shattered by a child’s premature death.

Our faith has been tested, but God graciously promises to complete His work in us (Philippians 1:6).

Grace

Foundation Institute instructor David Johnson has frequently defined the biblical concept of “grace” in his classes as “a gift given from the goodness of the giver without regard to the worthiness of the recipient.” Additionally, Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary’s primary definition of the English word grace includes “an act or an exhibition of such favor.”

As we pass through the coming years, will we merely age, or will we age with grace?

Where have we been?

Think of our shared life highlight reel:

The Cold War, bomb drills, the space race, the Beatles, the Cuban missile crisis, Silent Spring, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the Vietnam War, The Feminine Mystique, race riots, the Six-Day War, the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, the Kent State shootings, Watergate, the Munich Olympics massacre, Roe v. Wade, an oil crisis, the Yom Kippur War, President Nixon’s resignation, Jim Jones, the Camp David Accords, the eruption of Mount St. Helens, John Lennon’s murder, the “Miracle on Ice,” the Iran embassy hostages, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Hubble telescope, Operation Desert Storm, the European Union, Waco and the Branch Davidians, the Rwanda genocide, Dolly the cloned sheep, the impeachment of President Bill Clinton, the bombing of the World Trade Center, Princess Diana’s death, the euro, Sept. 11, the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, Hurricane Katrina, recession, the election of President Barak Obama, the Arab Spring, the Fukushima tsunami, the Boston Marathon bombing, the rise of ISIS, the legalization of same-sex marriage, #MeToo, Brexit, COVID-19, President Donald Trump’s two impeachments, the U.S. Capitol riot, and a deeply divided democracy.

What a list! (And it only scratches the surface.) Of course, amid all those events we had many experiences in God’s Church—some good, some not so good.

In my teens, I studied the old Ambassador College Bible Correspondence Course with my mom. We talked about current events in prophecy.

Having a dad not called into the truth presented challenges and adversity. Mine was an uneasy home atmosphere. His forbidding my attendance at the Feast of Tabernacles and the church summer camp in Minnesota hit me right in my teenage angst. Positive outcomes were on the horizon; they just took a while to develop.

In a farewell speech after my husband and I retired from directing Camp Heritage, I shared my story of not being able to attend camp with the teens. Later this may have seemed prescient, since COVID-19 forced virtual COGWA preteen and teen camps this past year. Though disappointing, striving against such adversity holds the potential for the positive outcomes of developing tenacity and patience.  

I’m an observer of body language, tone of speech, gestures and behaviors and have been since childhood. I listened to adults, watched news programs and matched behaviors to what I was learning in Scripture. As we studied church booklets, sermon notes and the correspondence course together, my mom was among the guides who helped me connect the dots of critical thinking. Proverbs and spiritual principles became alive with practical application. This exercise taught me what graciousness, gratitude, kindness and wisdom looked and sounded like. Conversely, it did the same for pride, self-praise, anger and vanity.

Such a learning curve in those early years: the Sabbath, holy days, for certain! But my “first love” was the revealed understanding that God would grant me eternal life in His family. What a gracious promise!

Two weeks after turning 18, I left home for Ambassador College and just a few weeks later joyfully celebrated my first (in-attendance) Feast of Tabernacles in spectacular Squaw Valley. At AC, I met and came to know, love and respect the man I would marry. His grit and loyalty to “the Way” were remarkable.

Together we entered the ministry, left our U.S. families and worked with brethren in Canada. We continued to people watch. We brought new lives into the world. We pondered our path through tumultuous church times in the 1970s. We watched men set themselves up as leaders, noting body language, gestures and tone. My husband comforted me at my mother’s untimely and unexpected death. We puzzled through the “receivership.” We comforted family and congregations through Mr. Herbert Armstrong’s death. After 16 years of watching our country through foreign eyes, we returned to the United States. I comforted my husband upon his father’s death. We writhed through the demise of our beloved Worldwide Church of God and the subsequent establishment of other branches of the Church of God.

Christ didn’t return. Our children grew up.

So. Much. Life. Happened.

And it happened so quickly.

Fifty-five and a half years later as we look back, we ask, did we just age, or did we age with God’s grace?

Where are we now?

A short while ago in pre-COVID times, a circle of gray-headed friends chatted over snacks after services. A few feet away stood a group of teenagers, and I worried that our conversation, filled with health complaints, gave the impression that God was negligent in helping us in our trials. Young people are far more encouraged and motivated to follow those who say they represent God if they see Him in us (Matthew 7:16-20). We have a responsibility to them to age gracefully, despite the severity of our trials.

Called to change

Our culture has many old-age stereotypes. Some are unflattering and unbecoming for practicing Christians.

God assures us that we can bear fruit and be fresh and flourishing even into our old age (Psalm 92:14). But how?

Christ considered it important to preach repentance from the start of His ministry (Mark 1:15). We can infer that this call to action has no expiration date in a Christian’s shelf life. There is no rite of passage excusing our culpability as we age. Change is, in fact, our life goal (Matthew 5:48).  

We’ve been called to change our thoughts, words and actions. We’ve been given decades to mature and develop better discernment (Hebrews 5:14). Consider how we can make positive changes as we age:

  • We can catch insensitive remarks on parenting, racism, troubling moral trends or complex political issues before we insist upon “fixing” them with comments like, “That’s how things were back in my day.”
  • We can stop ourselves before denigrating anyone younger than we are by calling him or her “just a baby.”
  • We can determine to battle personality traits that have barnacled themselves to us. All of us introverts, extroverts, quick-tempered and slow-starting individuals recognize that struggling against adversity is what eventually brings all thoughts into captivity to the obedience of Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5).
  • We can try to guide the younger generation to “connect the dots”—just as spiritual guides helped us in our youth—to embrace and hold onto that first love.
  • We can earnestly pray for wisdom and understanding, with grit and loyalty, daily seeking His righteousness (Matthew 6:33).
  • We can know that because our citizenship is in heaven, we are only interested observers, not invested participants in our country’s politics. After all those years of significant events we’ve been through, we’ve proven that no part of Satan’s government or social causes is salvageable or eligible for reform. We’ve banked our whole lives on that. Or have we?
  • We can acknowledge God’s grace daily, giving Him mounds of gratitude in all things.

Where are we going?

We know our future!

Physically and emotionally, there are some concrete ways we can live our sunset years to their fullest.

Spiritually, being the age that we are demands that we recognize our journey’s destination, “the city . . . whose builder and maker is God” (Hebrews 11:10). We have been called to change our clothes and to put on the wedding garments (Matthew 22:11). We, of all age demographics, are closer to this longed-for event than others.

Our pasts are not insignificant.

Our future is glorious.

Our gray heads can be fruitful, flourishing and found in righteousness.

Are we merely aging, or are we aging with grace?

For more insight into this topic, read our article on "Growing Old Gracefully." 

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