The third third of life, 60–90 and beyond, is a time of loss. It is a time when we bid goodbye to many things.
We bid goodbye to a younger body. Our energy levels are not the same. We may need multifocal spectacles or go for cataract operations. Our hearing begins to go. Grey hair is one real giveaway of our ageing. Aches and pains begin to appear in various parts of the body and you can actually hear your bones creaking when you get up in the morning.
We bid goodbye to official positions. While people are working longer these days, most of us will retire from our jobs at some point. Many of us are so defined by our jobs. Who are we when we are no longer a CEO, lecturer, pastor, teacher, etc.?
We bid goodbye to a sharp memory. Suddenly, words we know do not come to mind when we need them. We may remember them some time later when we no longer need them. (What will we do without Google?) We forget the names of people, even friends and relatives who are very dear to us.
We bid goodbye to people. People who are dear to us begin to pass away. First, we lose people who are older than us. Then we lose folks who are our peers. Then we lose folks who are younger than us. Or we begin to lose them even before they pass away if they go down the road of Alzheimer’s.
We bid goodbye to our lives in this world. We die.
We bid goodbye to many things as we enter the later years of life. It’s a time of loss.
Last Saturday I began a seminar on ageing by reminding folks of the experience of loss at the later stages of life. But as I was preparing for the seminar, it hit me afresh that the losses we are experiencing at this stage of life are to prepare us for what comes next. I realised that we don’t talk enough about what awaits the follower of Christ after this life. And while it is right and useful to talk about the losses we experience in the last third of our lives, it would be very wrong not to balance this with clear teaching about what awaits in the next chapter of our journeys with Christ.
What are the things that make life meaningful? Three things at the least: love, purpose and a relationship with God. And the Bible is clear that we will have all three in the life to come, but free from sin and the effects of sin.
1. Love. In the new heavens and the new earth, we will be part of the new humanity, an inclusive group that celebrates the diversity of humankind.
“You are worthy to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
because you were slain,
and with your blood you purchased for God
persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.”
(Revelation 5:9b, NIV)
2. Purpose. In the new heavens and the new earth, we continue to be God’s representatives to oversee His new creation.
“You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God,
and they will reign on the earth.”
(Revelation 5:10, NIV)
3. Relationship with God. In the new heavens and the new earth, in the New Jerusalem, God will dwell among His people.
“The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will
serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.
There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the
light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for
ever and ever.” (Revelation 22:3b–5, NIV)
Therefore, in as much as we should face up to the losses we experience in the later years of our lives, we must also meditate on and be clear about what comes next. When we are clear about that, we will gain a healthy perspective to deal with our losses.
The apostle Paul was very clear as to what awaited him after this life, so much so that he preferred to go back to the Lord but understood that if there was work to be done, he would stay.
“I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have
sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body,
whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If
I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what
shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart
and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you
that I remain in the body.” (Philippians 1:20–24, NIV)
“To die is gain,” is not something we hear often today. Nor, “I desire to depart and be with Christ.” Paul is not thinking here of suicide. He knows it is not his call as to when he is to die. He just wants to glorify God by his life and by his death. But he loves his Lord so much and is so confident about what awaits him that he knows that to die will be gain. I think we have lost this element in modern Christianity, or maybe in the Christianity that is experienced in the middle-/upper-middle-class congregations I am associated with. Life on earth is pretty good. We don’t feel the need to meditate on what is next. And so we are unprepared for the losses we experience in our later years.
Maybe these losses can be a mercy. Maybe the Lord can use them to pry open hands that cling so tightly to this life that we do not think of the life to come with confidence and expectancy. As Paul reminds us,
“What no eye has seen,
what no ear has heard,
and what no human mind has conceived”—
the things God has prepared for those who love him—
(1 Corinthians 2:9, NIV)
You better believe it.