I hit 50 this summer - not at all depressing despite the plethora of sentiments in those age related birthday cards. It may be because 50 is the new 40 or that I am the youngest of four so all my older brothers (and my husband) reached this milestone before me so it doesn't feel a big deal. My children enjoy teasing me about my 'blindness' 'deafness' 'weight gain' and 'memory lapses' all part of healthy family 'banter' and it's true I have gained weight, can read nothing without my glasses, call everyone by the wrong name and lose my glasses frequently. The truth is I like being 50. I am less insecure and more comfortable in my own skin than I ever was in my twenties. I am clearer on the truth of the gospel and have had the joy of knowing the Lord has been there through difficult times as well as good. Getting older as Christian is good despite the fact that physical frailty and decay are inevitable but despite what my children think I'm not old yet.
Two great Christian warriors are. Dick Lucas celebrates his 90th birthday this year and Jim Packer is now 89. Both have continued to serve the Church with relentless zeal through all the years most folk think of as retirement. Many of us have great reason to be grateful for their faithful service and example. Packer's recent book 'Finishing Our Course With Joy' is a mini masterpiece - pointing the way for all believers whatever their age to keep serving, to keep learning, to keep leading and most of all to deepen our love of the Lord as we look forward to being with him. Possibly this should be a birthday present for all Christians over 50. He says:
'as far as our bodily health allows, we should aim to be found running the last lap of the race of our Christian life, as we would say, flat out. The final sprint, so I urge, should be a sprint indeed
I have been reading Packer on ageing because I have been thinking about how to encourage older women in ministry. This is a group of women who we need to train and encourage to take up the mantle that Paul describes in Titus 2:1-5. Older Christians have a vital place in our Church families.
As I was thinking about the way Christians face ageing I came across the sad story of Gill Pharaoh who ended her life in a Swiss clinic because she saw old age as a 'liability':
'She said her experience as a nurse had shown her the reality of elderly life.
“If you work in a nursing home and you have people who are incontinent, who use bad language, who walk around the rooms and just take things, it is very difficult. It is not a job you enjoy,” she said.
“I just felt it was so bleak and so sad. We all did what we could but, for many of those old people, there wasn’t a lot you could do. We do not look at the reality. Generally, it is awful.” '
Old age can be truly difficult and a very tough last lap especially for those who have no hope other than decay and death. It is hard to be dependent on others believing yourself to be nothing more than a liability. Yet the value God places on the elderly is immense. The old have much to offer albeit in a new and different way from in their youth. Even the dependent and mentally frail have great worth and teach us much as we learn to care for them. We need to capture a vision for the value of the elderly, we need to help empower the elderly so they can know the hope of the gospel and the joy of finishing their race. We need to see them as fellow workers with much to give.
I have frequently warned my children that I will enjoy developing eccentricities as I grow older and quoted Jenny Joseph's poem 'Warning':
'When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn't go, and doesn't suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals, and say we've no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I'm tired
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
And run my stick along the public railings
And make up for the sobriety of my youth'
However my real prayer is this :
Since my youth, O God, you have taught me,
and to this day I declare your marvellous deeds.
Even when I am old and grey,
do not forsake me, O God,
till I declare your power to the next generation,
your might to all who are to come.
 J.I.Packer Finishing Our Course With Joy - ageing with hope IVP pp.21-22.
'Healthy retired nurse ends her life because old-age is awful'