After I was married but before I had children, I worked for some years at a fabric shop. We had a variety of customers of all ages, but some of the ones that stood out to me were the older ladies. Some were very sweet. I remember one, after I had spent a great deal of time helping her (to choose some buttons, if I remember correctly), saying, “You’ve been so kind – here, let me buy you a cocoa” while she put some change on the counter. I don’t remember what I did in response: I remember thinking I probably shouldn’t take her money, but I didn’t want to offend her, either. On the other hand, other older ladies were…cantankerous, to put it nicely. Really, all customers could fit into either of these categories, but somehow they seemed sharper and more focused in old age.
I remember thinking at some point that I hoped when I became an old lady, I’d be one of the nicer ones. Then, of course, it dawned on me that I was in the process of becoming the kind of older lady I would be, and I needed to start working on that now.
Now I am in my “middle years,” but with “old age” looming some time in the future (when exactly it starts keeps getting pushed back further and further 🙂 ), I’ve started to think in a more concentrated manner about becoming the right kind of older lady. So I thought I’d preach to myself a little bit in preparation. You’re welcome to read along. Keep in mind I am preaching to myself, not older ladies – that’s not my place.
Avoiding the wrong kind of old age:
Having a know-it-all attitude. Years and experience can provide more wisdom, but we should never get to the place where we can’t humbly receive what someone else has to say.
“The way we always did it” syndrome. Every new generation brings with it new vocabulary, new technology, new methods. Older people can help younger ones discern between new methods and old truth and try to keep the latter from sliding into oblivion, but we shouldn’t insist that everything be done the way we always did it (or gripe when it isn’t).
Being busybodies. Many years ago, an older lady in our church at the time told one young mom of seven that she was having too many children too close together, and another young married lady, who with her husband wanted to wait until he was out of school before starting a family, that she needed to get busy and start having children. You can imagine that both women were hurt and offended. I am sure that was not the older woman’s intent and that she thought she was helping others with the benefit of her accumulated wisdom, but she overstepped. Before sharing advice, we really need to seek the Lord about whether it is really needed and how and when it should be shared.
Being quick to judge.
Impatience. You would think a person would increase in patience over the years, but I have not found that to be the case for myself. This is one area I know I especially need to work on.
Forgetting what it is like to be young, to have small children. etc.
Being caught up in our physical issues. I have mixed emotions about this one. One does start having more physical issues the older one gets, and we shouldn’t expect older people to try to cover that up: we need to listen and empathize. We know how we feel now when we’re ill or hurting for a few days or weeks: imagine if that was the norm and not the occasional occurrence. On the other hand, if I expand my horizons a little bit, it will probably help my own outlook as well as give me something else to talk about.
Developing into the right kind of old age.
Keep in the Word of God. If you’ve read it through several times during your life, you may feel like you’ve got it all down. But we always have room to learn and grow spiritually: we always need fresh communion with our heavenly Father.
Take an interest in others. One serious problem for older people in our churches, as they wane in energy or start having physical problems and can’t attend as often, is that we tend to forget them or hope they’re doing ok but neglect taking the time to make contact, especially if they don’t have e-mail or aren’t on Facebook where we can do so easily. As we age we may get to a place where we can’t contact others, but until then, as much as possible we can take the initiative to make a phone call or send a note, and we can ask about them rather than just talking about ourselves.
Look for ways to serve others. You may not be able to head VBS or organize a banquet or serve in the ways you used to, but you can look for ways you can serve in your present capacity.
Don’t stop learning and growing.
Come to terms with a failing body. I don’t mean that we stop taking care of ourselves, but we do need to realize that our physical bodies come with a limited shelf life. Years ago I heard a radio preacher say that one reason God lets our bodies start failing us as we get older is to make us more willing to give them up when the time comes. Each aging problem is a reminder that I won’t live on this earth forever, and I need to be prepared for eternity.
Don’t be bitter. People have failed you and will continue to. “Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.” (Ephesians 4:31-32).
Seek God’s will and wisdom in sharing advice. The Bible does say one thing older women are supposed to do is teach the younger (Titus 2:3-5), but it’s not always easy to know how to go about it. Dispensing unwanted advice right and left is not usually received well, especially, as I said above, when it is done with harshness and impatience and a superior attitude. Pray much and be sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s leading in speaking to others.
Remember God has a purpose for your being here. I’ve heard older women wonder why they are still here when many of their loved ones have passed on and they can’t do much any more. Perhaps God wants you to minister in prayer for others or to be a godly example in your circumstances: perhaps He want to bless and grow others as they care for you.
Throughout my life, from my teens until now, God has placed older women at the stage just ahead of where I am whose example I can learn from. From single college girls to young wives to young parents to parents of older kids and then teens, and now facing the almost empty nest years and “middle age,” I’ve had godly examples to look to. I was inspired by one older lady where we used to live who was put into a frustrating situation of having to retire earlier than expected from a job she loved. She could have become bitter at the situation, but she came to terms with it and went on to find other ways to serve. I watched her make a point to welcome new people at church and invite them to sit with her, have other women two or three at a time over to her house for lunch, and visit with a couple of ladies in assisted living a few times a month. A couple of older ladies in our church now are consistently cheerful and take an active interest in others. One writes notes to my mother-in-law and gets together regularly with another older lady (neither of them drives, but the daughter of one takes them to a restaurant and then picks them up when they’re done).
My own mother-in-law has been a great example to me. I used to say I wanted to live until I was 100: after seeing what she has gone through in the last several years, I’ve amended that to “I want to live until I’m 100 if I can live in my own home, go to the bathroom by myself, and take care of myself.” I hope that will be the case, but God may allow something different in my life as He has in hers. So often when we’re changing her or positioning her or giving her a shower, I think, “You know, I would hate this – I would hate having other people have to handle me and take care of my most intimate needs and not be able to do anything for myself.” She probably would have felt the same way: everyone wants to be able to take care of themselves. But now that she is in this situation, she doesn’t complain (except maybe when our hands are too cold or when we have to wash a contracted hand that hurts) and is usually upbeat and cheerful. She thanks us for the least little thing we do for her. I remind myself that God gives grace for what we need when we need it: I don’t have the grace for old age now, but whatever situation God puts me in at that time, He will provide the grace then for it.
The Bible does have specific instruction for older women:
The aged women likewise, that they be in behaviour as becometh holiness, not false accusers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things; That they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, To be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed. Titus 2:3-5
A godly example of an older lady is found in I Timothy 3:9b-10:
…having been the wife of one man. Well reported of for good works; if she have brought up children, if she have lodged strangers, if she have washed the saints’ feet, if she have relieved the afflicted, if she have diligently followed every good work.
Some of the older women in the Bible that stand out to me are Elisabeth, Mary’s cousin; Anna, who served God in the temple and told others about the coming Messiah; Lois, Timothy’s grandmother, whose “unfeigned faith,” along with that of his mother Eunice, surely influenced him.
And there is specific encouragement for that time of life:
Cast me not off in the time of old age; forsake me not when my strength faileth. Psalm 71:9
Those that be planted in the house of the Lord shall flourish in the courts of our God. They shall still bring forth fruit in old age; they shall be fat and flourishing; To shew that the Lord is upright: he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him. Psalm 92:13-15
And even to your old age I am he; and even to hoar hairs will I carry you: I have made, and I will bear; even I will carry, and will deliver you. Isaiah 46:4
Can you think of any other truths we need to keep in mind for our old age? Have you had any godly examples of older ladies in your life?