Recently I have been thinking about what it means to grow old. Why? Maybe it’s because I am now 50. Or maybe it was brought on by the death of my father two years ago. But I suspect it’s all the World War 2 documentaries I have been watching. Often these documentaries will feature folks who were involved in the war.
These survivors would be interviewed and you see them as they are today, in their 80s. Then you see pictures of the same people when they were in the war, young men and women in their teens or early twenties, confident, slim, and strong, with their lives before them. They have grown old. They remind me of my own journey.
Most of us will have the experience of growing old. But how does one grow old well? I remember a piece of wisdom I received in my late twenties when I was a student in Regent College. “To best prepare for the next chapter of life, you live the present chapter to the full.”
As I look back on my life to date, this principle seems to hold true. For one thing the present chapter of your life is really the only real chapter. We can’t turn the clock back though we can and should learn from our past. And we can’t live in the future though we can plan for it. We can only live in the present.
A second reason why living life to the fullest in the present chapter of life is the best preparation for the next is the fact that we become what we have been becoming. How we live today shapes what we will be like tomorrow.
But how does one live life to the full? I suspect that this is another way of asking what it means to be truly human.
I believe this question is answered in Luke 10: 25 – 37 To be truly human is:
1. To be in right relationship with God 2. To be in right relationship with neighbour. 3. To be committed to a life of service.
These three dimensions of life were present from the word go, right there in the Garden of Eden. There, we see Adam and Eve in right relationship with God, in right relationship with each other, and serving God’s creation as His vice regents. Worship, community and service.
If, at every chapter of life, we give ourselves to nurture these three dimensions, our lives will be full and we will be well placed to make the transition to the next phase of life.
Indeed, in our final transition, we go to a heaven where worship, community and service can be pursued without the hindrance of sin and its effects. Genesis 1 and 2 and Revelation 21 and 22 teaches us what it means to be truly human.
The irony of course is that in our active years, most of us neglect nurturing our relationship with God and our relationship with significant others. We may give ourselves to some degree of service. But most of our lives are filled with frenzied activity.
We tell/fool ourselves that there will be time enough to pursue our walk with God and our relationships with others when we are more secure financially or when we retire.
But the nature of work in a global economy means it is getting harder and harder to define what financial security is. And when we retire, if we get to live that long and can afford to do so, we may find that we have forgotten how to relate with God and with others, if there are any significant others still left in our network. Any transition to heaven will be much more traumatic than it should be.
I am grateful therefore for the many models and mentors in my life, folks like Roger and Janice Capps, David Guneratnam, James Houston, etc. who show me how to live in the later chapters of life. They show me that indeed you become what you have always been becoming.
I knew them earlier in their lives. I know them now. There is still the same inner vitality, the same sense of mission and purpose, the same inner joy, so much so that you often miss the physical clues that they are moving on in life.
I recall a Malaysian Regent Alumni gathering last year. We hosted Dr. Houston. (He is in his seventies.) And there he was fresh off the plane and ready to go. Here was a man serious about his God, serious about his friends, and still giving of himself to bless others. Here was a man alive. I recalled thinking here is a man who shows me how to grow old.
The truth is that we are all growing old. We start to grow old the day we were born. Therefore, at whatever stage of life we are in, we need to ask ourselves: How are we defining our lives? What are we pursuing? What sort of life are we building? Critical questions at any age if indeed we become what we have always been becoming.
Your brother, Soo-Inn Tan