I've done a lot of observing of and being with the elderly in recent times. And what I've noticed is that there's a lot of grief for the one who grows old.
The grief of watching your friends die - it's no source of glory to be the one who outlives your peers and it's very hard to be oh so frail as to be unable to attend their funerals. The loss of one's driver's license. Didn't downsize in time? The grief of losing the family home and so many possessions as circumstances impose the downsizing upon you. The move to a nursing home that reduces one's possessions to the barest minimum. The grief of loss of capacity - mental and physical. The grief of the transformation from independent, functioning, dignified member of society to one totally dependent, like a small child, except knowing of a full life lived independently.
It was never meant to be this way. But even in this world, broken by sin, God shows His love and mercy. Very recently it occurred to me that God has timed the grief of aging perfectly - by putting it at the end. I know that's a perfectly ridiculous statement to make. Stating the obvious somewhat. But let me explain.
When I was pregnant for the first time I spent a lot of those months predictably concerned about what lay at the end. The delivery. And yet, by the time I was eight and a half months pregnant (and it seemed to be 40⁰ every day) I was ready to deliver that baby. God's perfect design. Six, seven and eight months was too short to be ready. Nine months (and then ten days overdue) and I was ready. That's the microcosm.
The big picture is the span of my years filled to the brim with the stuff of life. Learning, living, loving. And coping with suffering as well. I don't live in Eden and Jesus has not yet returned. The world is fallen. And so there is suffering.
Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God, Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.
Suffering and grief help me to grow in faith and hope. I hope that I respond with a little more faith and trust in Him with each new grief. I have a lifetime to practice this. And so it occurred to me that God has placed the end of life, so filled with grief and suffering - and there is no way around it...sickness, aging, dying and death are terrible - so that when the span of my years is drawing to its end and I am faced with grief upon grief, I am ready to face it with grace and hope. I observe that you don't get to be a sweet, wise, godly and prayerful old lady (or gentleman) just by being old. It takes a lifetime of sweetness and growing in wisdom, godliness and prayerfulness to bear the grief of old age with grace. It's not that it's any easier for the sweet ones. They have learned to bear it well - with hope.
God is good, gracious, kind and wise. Putting the end at the end was no accident.
All the days ordained for me
were written in your book
before one of them came to be...
Search me, O God, and know my heart,
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead in the way everlasting.
Psalm 139:16, 23, 24
Here is a beautiful post from Rebecca at Rebecca Writes - the story of her husband who didn't make it to old age because of cancer, but who had clearly used his life to grow in faith and hope, and passed on a precious gift to his family before Jesus took him Home.
And a beautiful post from my friend Steve at his blog about the need to share the hope we have with those who don't have it, especially those who perhaps didn't get the chance (or take the opportunity) in life to learn and hone hope for themselves or for those who did have it but have forgotten, whose need in the sufferings of old age is just as great.