At a New Wine conference, one year, we took part in a competition for the children on site. They’d come to our stand in the market place and answer a few questions to get little stars on their score cards. Among the questions was, ‘How old must you be to be old?’ The answers were varied and interesting. A six year old said that his brother was quite old – his brother was sixteen. Another said that his Dad was really old – the Dad was 39. A Dad standing behind his three children, aged from 6 to 12, whispered to me over their heads, ‘I hope they don’t pick my age!’
But old age can take people by surprise. Evangelist Billy Graham said he hadn’t been prepared for it, and it was hard. English evangelist John Stott said the same. We don’t even think about being old – we kind of drift into it.
As a rule, our churches don’t prepare us for old age. God designed it to be a time of harvest for us, of enjoying the fruit of the Spirit we’ve allowed to develop in us over the years. Of being a source of experience and wisdom for others, of being loved and respected in our communites. It’s completely opposite to the secular view which says older people ‘have had their innings’ and should move over for the young. I’ve never understood that: it shows that the attributes of the young and those of the old haven’t been recognised or evaluated, and it seems to see people as character-less dominoes in a moving line.
Over the years I’ve interviewed many, many older people. There was 103 year old Ron; once a handsome young man who’d saved up the ship fare so he could follow his girl friend to Canada, where she’d gone to look after an elderly Aunt. He proposed, and they came back to Surrey where they lived in a house he built himself, for most of their married life. They’d been married for 81 years when Babs fell out of bed and broke a hip, and died in hospital.
There was 92 year old Mrs English, a former missionary still translating parts of the Old Testament into Tamil Nadu, and 93 year old Dr Ben Walkey, doing the same! Diane, 94, and Constance, 93, taking Bible Studies in their care homes. Looking through the media recently shows others too. Fauja Singh, 103 years old was the first 100 year old to finish a marathon (In Toronto, in 2011). Among my favourites are the 105 year old Sheila Thomson, whose GP wrote to magistrates asking them not let her keep her driving licence after a ‘bump’ lost Sheila her 71 year no-claims bonus. It would be terrible if she couldn’t drive, she said, adding ‘I would have to give up church and a lot of things, and who would take the old folk?’ And Bernard Jordon, the 89 year old war veteran who ‘absconded’ from his care home to travel by himself to the D-Day reunion services in Dunkirk in June, this year.
Among those I’ve met who were enjoying their lives in old age, there were common themes. It was the same with those who weren’t enjoying their lives – but not the same themes,.
If we would to enjoy a great old age we should be preparing for it now! It’s the title of a seminar I’m taking at New Wine next week and the week after – on July 30th and August 7th. People are living longer and longer, and as long as you keep breathing , you will too! So come along to New Wine in Shepton Mallet and hear how to do it well.