Earlier this year I read the following in our local newspaper, the Vancouver Sun: “Life is supposed to work this way: happy childhood, awkward adolescence, first love, strong marriage, manageable mortgage, well-adjusted children, mature love, glorious grandchildren, good health.”
And then there’s the oft-repeated phrase “Getting there is half the fun,” which implies that our journey toward old age ends up with “the golden years.” After a successful retirement, many of us anticipate travels to unexplored places, seeing loved ones who live a good distance away; spending time with wonderful friends, generously supporting worthwhile causes we’ve always wanted to endorse . . . and the list for those coming years goes on and on.
Yet we know that for many people, life does not end up this way. Is it fun when your body no longer functions the way it used to? Fun when you end up going to your doctor once a month to review your “organ recital”? Fun when you’re dealing daily with unexpected changes? Fun when more and more of your loved ones leave this life? It’s no wonder so many older folks end up as whiners, always moaning and groaning about the negatives and not seeing much that’s positive in their lives.
Surely people in the next generations must sometimes conclude that the final phase of life—growing old—is not much to look forward to.
But does all this mean our faith life too will grow old and stale in the way that we so often experience living? Is it inevitable that the last third of our life will become a time of stagnation, a time when we’re prone to saying, “We’ve never done it that way before”?
We have to be willing to ask ourselves such questions—because the fact is, the final third of our lives can be a dynamic time of huge significance.
We need to dare to recognize that growing older is not the beginning of the end, but is, in fact, the other way around. It is instead the end of the beginning; the transition of the “now” to the glorious reality in Christ when the mortal becomes immortal, according to the promise of 1 Corinthians 15.
Our entry into this world as a baby was declared a miracle, but our departure from this life through death is a greater miracle still. In the light of our sharing in Christ’s resurrection, we should make the very most of faith formation for the rest of our lives.
So as we enter that final third of life, the time is now to ask ourselves some important questions: What legacy will I pass on? What do I really leave behind? How has my faith, which embraces all of life, shaped me to hand off in the best way possible the baton of my full life to those who are up and coming?
This kind of reflection calls for us to be blunt and honest about our faith—which includes the wonder and the glory of our God-with-us, but also times when we’ve endured doubts and questions and uncertainties. The questions of Job in the Old Testament challenge us to recognize and embrace, as part of our faith experience, the power of Christ the Victorious One to ultimately shape our destiny.
In other words, in our final years we must live now, not just in the past—as meaningful and memorable as that past has been. We must live now, not just await the glorious future described for us in the New Testament. We must live in the here and now of Christ’s reality where we can honestly keep our past, present, and future alive in him (Rom. 8:38-39; James 1:12; 1 Peter 1:6-7; 4:12).
So how do we do that? How can this be our reality during our last earthly phase? Do we have to discern and try to learn it on our own?
By no means! As part of the body of Christ, we are in this together. As fellow members of that body, we need each other to stimulate and urge us on, and we must seek to do that for others whenever we possibly can. We need pastors who do not just have “pastor” as a job title but who look after the flock and get to know each person as part of the spiritual make-up of the congregation. We need elders and deacons to exercise faithful care for those who become immobilized and can no longer be regular participants in the life of the congregation.
This taking care of each other needs to be revitalized in our congregations. We need to overcome our present culture’s emphasis on the individual and the self—in order that we may experience once again the corporate body of Christ. We simply and totally need each other.
But does faith formation really continue throughout the finish of our lives? Or is that some kind of wishful thinking? Not at all. There are several things than can enable us to keep growing in faith.
Keep on learning: If you feel yourself getting stale, learn something new. Pick up a new challenge, either by yourself or with others. The time when we want to stop learning is the time when we are dead in more ways than one!
Keep current: The past may have been wonderful, and we may remember with longing the times we felt full of vim and vigor, but the present provides equal stimulus for whatever comes our way.
Keep growing: As long as we live, the heart of our faith beats in a most dynamic way so that we can continue to grow and be challenged by and with all our questions and reflections.
And finally, keep helping and reaching out in whatever way you can—for this world is our neighborhood, and we are responsible for it.
No matter what our age or circumstances, the Holy Spirit stimulates our faith and encourages us. We have a firm and solid foundation on which to build, and with such a foundation we progress both individually and together—for that too is the ongoing inspiration of the Holy Spirit for every day of our existence.
With such a Master plan we are not on some dead-end road but rather on a well-traveled one with a super destination in place.
What good are you in this last major phase of your life? Are you a believer who has become sidelined along the way, and as a result has stopped growing? Or are you the faith-filled person you were and still can be, from start to finish?
- “We need to dare to recognize that growing older is not the beginning of the end, but is, in fact, the other way around.” What does Numan mean by this?
- What difference does our knowing that we share in Christ’s resurrection make for the way we live our lives here and now?
- Numan calls on those who are in “the final third” of life to honestly examine their faith—both the highlights and times of doubt and challenge. What are some of the highlights and challenges of your own faith?
- Numan lists several things that can enable people to keep on growing in faith. What things might you add to that list?
- “We simply and totally need each other,” says Numan. He suggests that we need to revitalize the way we take care of each other in our congregations. How well do the people in your own congregation practice this spiritual discipline? Discuss some ways this could be revitalized.