The Indignity of Ageing
You may not be old, but you are ageing and there is nothing you can do to stop it. Ageing really is horrible because it can feel like death in slow-motion. Nobody wants to die, and ageing is us doing exactly what we don’t want to do, slowly.
Ageing robs us of so many things. But, as we age what we really suffer is the plundering of our dignity. Dignity is the enjoyment of worthiness, respect, importance, meaning, significance, and purpose. So it is very relevant to all of us when we talk about ageing since we were created for dignity as being created in the image of God.
No matter where we are in the ageing process, as we age, we slowly feel certain core things about us taken from us. We lose some of our freedoms and independence. We lose our comforts and begin to experience aches and pains. We lose our influence and can lose our enthusiasm. Sometimes it can feel like all we are left with is our memories, and then, sadly, ageing begins to loot even these.
Longing for the Future
The main idea I want for those of us who are feeling ageing in a major way is this:
Let loss of the past cultivate longing for the future.
As we lose more and more; more mobility, more friends, more freedom, we feel our dignity pillaged. We feel the loss of our self. We feel the indignity of ageing. Here is when it becomes very common to become bitter and to respond to the indignity of ageing with a resentful heart; bitter towards God who is in control and resentful of others who are in their prime.
We don’t want that. So for those of us who are further along in the ageing process we can, instead, let these losses fuel our longing for the future. Let it enhance your longing for the eternal. Let it cause a hunger for the resurrection like you never thought possible. When I lose someone close I long for the resurrection. When I have to sit down because my leg hurts too bad to walk I long for the resurrection. When I have to sit out from playing with my kids to ice my ankle I long for the resurrection. I don't have to let these losses fuel bitterness because that life is gone for me, but I can let it cultivate a longing for the future. My resurrected body is going to be fast. I promise. Come challenge me to a race in the kingdom, you’ll see.
There is a story in Phillip Yancy’s book, Where is God When It Hurts? of an elderly woman who asks why God lets us get so old and weak?
"Her body was in decline, her beauty being replaced by thinning hair, wrinkles, and skin discoloration. She could no longer do the things she once could, and she felt herself to be a burden on others. “Robertson, why does God let us get old and weak? Why must I hurt so?" she asked...McQuilkin replied, “I think God has planned the strength and beauty of youth to be physical. But the strength and beauty of age is spiritual. We gradually lose the strength and beauty that is temporary so we’ll be sure to concentrate on the strength and beauty which is forever. It makes us more eager to leave behind the temporary and deteriorating part of us and to be truly home sick for our eternal home. If we stayed young and strong and beautiful, we might never want to leave!"
The loss of beauty, strength, freedom, and influence cultivate a longing for the future. It needs to be said, however, that ageing is not God’s original plan. Growing and developing sure, but ageing seems to be the reversal of these. Ageing is a result of sin and death, which are in opposition to God’s original plan. God planned for us to be eternal. But sin entered the world and death through sin. So now we die, now we are all dying in slow-motion. God is the life giver and sin is the life taker.
Since we are all dying in slow-motion, as death take its toll more and more over the years and we become like the old woman in the story we can let loss of the past cultivate longing for the future—the eternal—the resurrection of the body. A new body that will not die because there will be no dying. If we are longing for the future, the eternal, ageing cannot rob us of our dignity because we are no longer living for things lost, but for things promised to come. Dying in slow-motion can no longer steal our meaning and purpose, if we make our purpose God’s purpose.
2 Cor. 4:16 says, “Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day.”
As we decay let's let these losses of the past cultivate longing for the future.
Dignity to the Ageing
Before I get to the main idea for those of us who are not feeling ageing in a major way yet, I do want to real quickly talk about how we can help those who are older age well. How can we help those older than us age with dignity? The answer I believe is simple: we treat them with the dignity they deserve; we treat them with the dignity they may feel they have already lost. Ask for their wisdom and advice, ask for their stories. But when we do, we must ask genuinely. Get off our phones. Do not jump on Instagram or TikTok halfway through them talking. They will spot a disinterested face.
Of course, depending on how far along our elderly are, they may need us to just be present, to comfort, to run errands, cook meals. But when we do these things we must beware and hyper sensitive to not come across as if we are taking even more freedom from them. Simply communicate with them, left them know you understand it is hard, but you are there for them, you love them, and they will never be a burden to you.
Surrendering the Present
The main idea for those of us not feeling fully the effects of ageing is this:
Learn to surrender the present, in order to position ourselves to persevere in the future.
What can all of us do now to position our self to age well, to persevere in our older years when bitterness and a resentful heart threaten? We can learn to lose things now. Simply put, if we learn how to lose or surrender things now for Jesus we will know how to lose things well when older. We must learn to surrender the present temporary things of this world. We must learn to surrender the selfish desires, empty pursuits, and bad habits that our flesh cherishes now, so when ageing threatens to take the things we cherish, that we feel are core to who we are, we will have already mastered the spiritual art of surrender.
We will age with dignity because we will know what’s truly core to us; Jesus. Not youth, influence, strength, but Jesus, in whom we find our dignity. Our identity isn’t in anything that can be lost, but Jesus in whom we have everything to gain. Learn to surrender now before you are forced to by ageing. The better we cultivate godliness in our own lives presently the better position we will be to persevere through the losses in the future. We will be ready to submit and follow God into our ageing and the loss of a life as we knew, if we learn now to submit and follow Jesus into the loss of our life for His life.
Jesus, in Matthew chapter 10:38-39 says this about being a disciples, “And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it.” When we learn to surrender this life, and with it all our little idols, we the find the joy of His life being made full in us (John 15:12).
We must learn to surrender the present, in order to position ourselves to persevere in the future.
What have we learned?
For those further along and really feeling the blow of ageing physically and emotionally, let loss of the past cultivate longing for the future—the eternal—the resurrection of the body. A new body that is coming for you one day that will not age because we will one day live in a world with no sin and death. If we are longing for the future—the eternal—ageing cannot rob us of our dignity. Dying in slow-motion can no longer steal our meaning and purpose, if we make our purpose God’s purpose.
For those of us younger and not feeling the heavy blows of loss due to ageing yet, we must Learn to surrender the present, in order to position ourselves to persevere in the future. We will not persevere when ageing comes threatening if we haven't mastered the spiritual art of surrender now. We must learn to surrender the worldly desires that John writes are passing away with this world (1 John 2:17). When we learn to surrender our life for the life Jesus has for us, then, and only then, our dignity will be resilient from the threat of a bitter and resentful heart.
Eric Austin holds his Master of Theology degree from Dallas Theological Seminary in Dallas, Texas, USA. After almost seven years as a pastor he stepped out of vocational ministry to support his wife in her recovery of Borderline Disorder (BPD). Eric was born and has lived his life with an extremely rare bone disease, a disease which has profoundly impacted his personal views on suffering. In recent years, as a result of walking alongside his wife’s own suffering, he has learned the emotional and psychological pain that often comes from living with a loved one having a personality disorder. Eric is passionate about teaching the Bible and seeing the grace of God radically alter people into looking more like Jesus through the suffering that has drastically altered their lives. He is the host of The Altered Podcast a podcast in which he attempts to do just this. Eric lives in Stillwater, Oklahoma, USA with his wife Heidi and three children.