In Aging with Grace: Flourishing in an Anti-Aging Culture, Sharon Betters and Susan Hunt “want readers to ask, ‘What if aging, though challenging, is not a season of purposelessness, but rather an opportunity to discover our true identity in a way we couldn’t in the first half of life? What if we purposefully prepare for the afternoon of life while we are in the first half of life?'” (p. 18, Kindle version). The book is helpful for those already in their later years as well as those wanting to prepare for them adequately.
Susan writes, “The world tells us aging is our enemy, and we should fight it; the Bible says it’s our friend: ‘Wisdom is with the aged, and understanding in length of days'” (Job 12: 12)” (p. 27).
God promises the righteous “still bear fruit in old age; they are ever full of sap and green” (Psalm 92:14). Susan acknowledges that, with the physical problems that often accompany getting older, we don’t always feel fruitful, full of sap, and green. But “this promise of growth does not mock my physical reality; it transcends it” (p. 28).
The gospel imperative to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 3: 18) does not have an age limit. The same grace that gives us new life in Christ empowers that life to develop, mature, and flourish. We never finish growing. There is always more grace to experience and more to know of Christ’s love. This growth is gradual. We don’t produce it, but as we trust and obey God’s word, we can anticipate it (p. 28).
Susan and Sharon alternate chapters. Some chapters delve into the Bible’s teaching about getting older, particularly Psalm 92 and 71. The chapters in-between take a closer look at some of the older women in the Bible: Anna, The “matriarchs of the exile,” Elizabeth, and Naomi.
Anna was the older widow who came up when Mary and Joseph brought baby Jesus to the temple in Luke 2. At first the elderly Simeon rejoiced that he had lived to see “the Lord’s Christ” and prophesied about Him. Part of that prophesy was to Mary, that “a sword will pierce through your own soul also” (Luke 2:35). I hadn’t thought about it this way before, and the Bible doesn’t specifically say that Anna spoke to Mary, but Sharon proposes that Anna’s coming right at that moment helped comfort Mary.
Simeon told Mary the hard reality that a sword would pierce her soul. Can you sense Mary holding her baby boy a little tighter, her throat constricting and tears welling up? This young mother needed a tangible touch of God’s tender love. At this intense moment we meet eighty-four-year-old Anna. God providentially met Mary’s need through an old woman who hoped in God. At exactly the right moment, Anna shows up (p. 48).
The exile Sharon refers to occurred after Israel had repeatedly rejected God and turned to idols. God had sent prophets and sometimes delivered his people into the hands of their enemies. But even if they repented for a while, they eventually turned away from God again. So God allowed Nebuchadnezzar to remove them from their land and take most of them to Babylon for 70 years. God tells the people as a whole in Jeremiah 29 to settle down, plant, build, marry, and pray for the land of their exile. The older people would have realized they would die in exile and never see their country again. Again, I don’t think the Bible specifically mentions the older women in this scenario, but Sharon posits what they might have done.
Though the elderly women might not be able to physically build houses, their status in the family gave them a key opportunity to influence the attitudes and stability of their households. They could be life-givers or life-takers. They could choose to joyfully embrace God’s call to cultivate a godly, peaceful community or they could choose bitterness, whining, and complaining, and so can we (p. 84).
A few of the other quotes that stood out to me:
There are many things we can no longer do as we age, but age does not keep us from fulfilling our purpose to glorify and enjoy God. An ever-growing knowledge of God’s undeserved love—his grace—changes our motivation: “The love of Christ controls us” (2 Cor. 5: 14)” (p. 39).
Repenting women who find rest in Jesus become life-giving women who flourish as gatherers. When our heart is Christ’s home, we can become homey places for troubled hearts to find refuge,” (p. 70).
The world equates flourishing with activity and productivity. A biblical perspective does not mean we do more; it means we become more like Christ. We mature in faith, hope, and love” (p. 98).
As counterintuitive as it sounds, flourishing is a slow and progressive death that brings abundant life. Our new heart has new desires. Even as our physical bodies grow old, God causes our new desires to flourish as they are fertilized by his word and Spirit, and we die to self-centered desires, dreams, and demands (p. 99).
As life slows down, we can become controlling and critical, or we can reflect on God’s sovereign love that chose and planted us in his house. The more we live in the light of the reality of his presence, the more we flourish as his Spirit fills us with sap to nurture and encourage others to flourish (p. 105).
One joy of aging is a stillness of soul that helps us see the small moments as sacred moments when we can reflect God’s glory to someone else (p. 145).
The plot of dirt where we die [to self] is also the place where we flourish (p. 146).
To me, flourishing means gratefully accepting the past and present trials God gives me, and looking for opportunities to use what I have learned to help others. . . Whatever situations we find ourselves in as we age, there are nuggets of gold in our past that we can pass on to others. God never wastes a trial, a grief, or a wilderness wandering. We flourish when we give to others the lessons God has taught us (p. 151).
Naomi did not know her ordinary little family would become an extraordinary link to the coming Messiah. In fact, she died without knowing how her seemingly insignificant life fit into God’s magnificent eternal tapestry (p. 154).
At the end of each chapter, the authors include testimonies from older women in various circumstances who share how they found God’s grace to flourish.
I very much enjoyed this book and it’s encouragement that we can keep growing and flourishing at any age. I’m pretty sure I’ll be reading it again in years to come to keep reminding me of its truths.
Updated to add: I forgot to mention that I’ve been reading this book in conjunction with InstaEncouragements. They’ve been going through the book and summarizing chapters each Tuesday the last few weeks. The comments have been enlightening as well. This book was on my to-read list anyway, and when I saw they were going through it, I jumped in. Reading with a group helps reinforce what I learn plus draws out things I missed. So, if you read this book, you might want to check out those posts as well.