Faith and Family: Aging with Grace — Accountability, attitude vital to healthy aging in all stages of lifecomment (0)
March 21, 2013
By Carrie Brown McWhorter
As Margaret looks in the mirror, she doesn’t like what she sees. The reflection reminds her more of her mother than the vibrant middle-aged woman she feels like on the inside.
She scrutinizes the wrinkles that crease the outer corners of her eyes. She pats the skin under her chin. Maybe she should see her sister’s plastic surgeon, just for a consultation. She notices the silver-gray strands near her scalp and tries to remember the last time she colored her hair. Her husband, Dave, has been gray for years, Margaret muses, but it’s just different for women.
She thinks about her pastor’s last sermon, a message on encouragement. The text from 2 Corinthians seemed to speak directly to her. Her outward appearance definitely seems to be wasting away, and she certainly feels hard-pressed — her boss wants to know if she’s considering retirement any time soon.
She’s only 61 — is she ready to leave her job? How will she fill her time? And even if she wanted to retire, are she and Dave financially ready? Sure, there’s Social Security and a little savings left after the kids’ college tuition was paid. There’s even a pension from Dave’s job. But is it enough?
Everyone talks about the high cost of prescriptions, not to mention the price of gas and groceries. What if their parents need help? Or their children? Margaret sighs. She’s always heard she should “grow old gracefully,” but what in the world does that really mean?
Most children cannot wait for their next birthday. They mark the milestones of aging, first on their fingers, later with “Sweet 16” parties and eventually with a 21st birthday celebration — the final passage from childhood into adulthood. From there, the sometimes-celebrated, often-dreaded birthdays usually end in zero — 30, 40, 50 — until some try to forget that another year has gone by.
As long as life continues, however, aging is quite simply the process of getting older.
Though it is easy to focus on the negative aspects of aging, Dwight Wilson, a counselor with Pathways Professional Counseling (a ministry of the Alabama Baptist Children’s Homes & Family Ministries) who serves in the Shoals area of northwest Alabama, believes that the benefits of maturity are often ignored in our youth-obsessed culture.
“The primary benefits of aging are growing in experience, wisdom and faith,” Wilson said.
“We have the opportunity to continue to grow spiritually, and forgiveness may come easier because we’ve learned from past mistakes.”
According to Wilson, there are two primary principles that influence healthy aging at all stages of life: accountability and attitude.
Accountability relates to choices, Wilson said. For example, an individual who hopes to be financially secure in retirement needs to make plans and follow through with those plans to achieve that long-term goal. That’s a choice, Wilson said.
“Throughout life and aging, the results down the road, except for the will of God, are because of the choices we make,” he said. “I can’t do anything without it affecting somebody, so I need to give my best to every effort under the leadership of God.”
A positive attitude makes a big difference in one’s overall health and well-being, too, according to Wilson. He believes that Christians especially should always bear in mind the message of Psalm 139.
“We are fearfully and wonderfully made, which means we’re important and worthwhile,” Wilson said.
“We are not to be prideful about it, but we know that there’s a purpose for us in this world. So no matter what age we are, when God tells us to do something, we need to do it.”
Nancy Robinson, office manager for the Children’s Homes main office in Birmingham, knows the difference a positive attitude can make.
She has watched her mother embrace a full and active life in retirement.
“She goes to lunch with her friends or to the recreation center for exercise. She’s active in her church, she paints, she crochets, and if she doesn’t want to do something, she doesn’t have to,” Robinson said. “She is able to do things now that some people were only able to do in their younger lives and it has been wonderful for her.”
Robinson herself recently turned 65, and she sees her mother as an example of aging with grace. She also knows that not everyone embraces aging well.
She knows there are residents of her mother’s senior adult apartment complex who never leave their homes.
According to Wilson, there are many reasons that adults might isolate themselves as they age.
Fear and resistance to change are two, he said. Still he advises adults of all ages to be intentional in their efforts to stay active and involved.
“It comes back to attitude. For example, if I feel bad on Sunday morning and go back to bed, I’m telling myself to feel bad. But if I say, this is Sunday, God loves me, and I’m going to go to worship, my attitude and my mood are going to improve. I’m going to feel better in a few minutes,” he said.
Robinson sees that kind of spirit in her mother.
Her mother finds ways to stay active, like making blankets for cancer patients and driving people to the doctor.
Robinson believes that such intentional efforts to be involved are possible, even for those with physical limitations.
“Even if it’s making phone calls or writing cards or praying for others, it’s possible to embrace others, to embrace life, when we’re older,” Robinson said.
Tips for aging with grace
Develop a sense of purpose.
As time passes, adults may find that their old activities no longer interest them. Times of transition may offer a good opportunity to try something different, like participating in a missions trip or volunteering.
Healthy relationships make life richer, so don’t wait for a “better” time to spend time with those you love. For example, couples should not ignore their marriage in the years when careers and children tend to dominate life. The transition from career to retirement can be a wonderful experience, made better by the effort put into fostering the relationship even during challenging times.
Open the lines of communication.
A lack of communication can be isolating. Older adults especially need to know they have someone they can depend on, even just to talk. If you are younger, provide a listening ear for an older adult. As you get older, be willing to share your experiences with younger listeners, perhaps as a mentor.
Focus on financial planning sooner rather than later.
For young people, retirement may seem too far off to make concrete plans, and estate planning forces us to think about death. However, one of the most common conflicts in families revolves around issues of inheritance. Sound financial planning can head off conflict down the road. Another good decision — emergency savings, which may alleviate the stress of unexpected expenses.
Cultivate healthy physical and mental habits.
Physical stamina and cognitive abilities may lessen as we age, but there are ways to stay physically and mentally active. Listening to music, solving puzzles or learning a new hobby can enhance a sedentary life, and even a short walk to the mailbox provides some physical benefits. See your doctor regularly and ask about appropriate ways to keep your mind engaged and your body healthy.
To read more articles in this package, click here.