By Elton D. Higgs
Since I have chosen to allude to my age in the overall title of my weekly articles, I suppose it would be appropriate for me to say a few words about the way I have come to regard my “twilight years.” Although I don’t completely share the sanguinity about aging expressed by Browning’s character, I do see some advantages to being old, in spite of the minimal inconveniences attached to this stage of life (reduced energy, less supple joints, erratic memory, and other less mentionable difficulties). However, I acknowledge that by the grace of God and through no merit of my own, I have not had to struggle with the chronic illness and economic insecurity that often bedevil people my age. It is with that qualifier to my credibility that I presume to share with you some of the advantages I see in having completed almost 79 years on this earth.
Grow old along with me!
The best is yet to be,
The last of life, for which the first was made:
Our times are in His hand
Who saith “A whole I planned,
Youth shows but half; trust God: see all, nor be afraid!”
(Robert Browning, “Rabbi Ben Ezra,” lines 1-6)
The first advantage to the elder years is that I have a wider perspective from which to evaluate both my experiences and those of others. When I was young, I was much more absorbed in what was happening to me, and I judged events to be good or bad by how they made me feel, not how they affected others. What was it to me if I received the Dean’s Award and others saw it as evidence of favoritism? In my imperceptiveness, their anger was a total surprise to me. Later on, in the midst of my career, what if my losing out on an appointment as dean meant that the person who got the job was thereby launched on a highly successful administrative career? Any ability to celebrate his success was obscured by my feelings of rejection. As I matured, the real value of such successes and failures diminished, and I was able to understand that I not only had to look beyond myself, but also had to view events over a period of time to evaluate accurately what was happening to me and those around me. The same widened perspective also eventually made me less prone to snap judgments about people’s character.
Second, in my latter years I am better able to appreciate the value of long-term relationships. I am able to have a much deeper kind of intimacy with my wife of 56 years than I had any conception of when we were young. And long-term friendships become special treasures. We have lost touch with most of the friends we had in our younger days, but with those we are still close to we share a richness of mutual understanding that comes only with long and growing acquaintance. Moreover, in those rare instances when it is possible to establish new significant friendships, I have learned to cut through superficialities to the meat of getting to know each other and discussing things that really matter.
Third, I have learned in my early winter years not to be too concerned with what people think of me, which in turn frees me to state my convictions clearly and directly, though I now see more clearly the need to do so gently and with patience. But in the latter part of my life, I have also discovered the need of attentiveness to the words of others. Truly listening to others leads not only to being listened to more intently oneself, but to finding out how interesting and complex other people’s lives are if you encourage them to tell you how they came to be who they are.
Fourth, through long experience in struggling to see God’s will being worked out in my life and those of others, I have been privileged to compile a record of God’s faithful provision that convinces me to the core of my soul that He is always at work, sometimes especially when we’re not able to see it, or when in His wisdom He doesn’t let us see it. Many times my wife and I have looked back and realized that God’s perfect timing required that His resolution to a problem be delayed until other circumstances were in place. In the buying of our present home, for example, we looked for months until our agent informed us of a house that had just gone on the market, and it turned out to be the perfectly suitable and pleasant home that we still live in.
Finally, old age brings with it a sharp understanding of the fact that this world is not our home, and a willingness to hold it loosely now and to let it go gladly when the time comes. This, too, has a freeing effect, not only liberating us from the fear of death, but enabling us to embrace with eagerness the transition that brings us into the presence of our Savior.
Psalm 92:12-15 declares that the righteous “flourish like the palm tree and grow like a cedar in Lebanon. They are planted in the house of the Lord; they flourish in the courts of our God. They still bear fruit in old age; they are ever full of sap and green.” Because of the borrowed righteousness from our Lord Jesus, one of the richest benefits of my twilight years has been God’s gifts of renewed possibilities to “bear fruit in old age.” Besides opportunities to serve in a fellowship of Christians that I became associated with only when I was 70, and the recent boon of singing with my daughter in a local choral society after years of absence from singing with a group, the privilege and challenge of writing this column has been a wonderful stimulus to my creative skills and disciplined thinking that might easily have become inactive. I pray that for those who read these “Twilight Musings,” my “sappiness” will always be reflective of my being planted, by His grace, in “the courts of our God.”
Image: “faded” by G. van Pelt. CC License.