Aging Gracefully – Finishing Strong
I’ve been thinking a lot about this. I mean, we are all aging. When I turned forty, I knew I was aging. That seemed really old. It was harder to play full court basketball. I began to ache after I played. My dad still hadn’t retired. So I wasn’t the last generation yet. I was aging but…
We are all trying to be graceful. We want to “mature” – to grow into all that we can be. We are still becoming.
But there comes a point when you’ve “become.” People call me “sir.” The forty year olds don’t ask me to play full court. I can’t do what I used to do. There comes a point where you really know that you are old… or older. It’s as though suddenly you’ve crossed some invisible line and are now officially old.
So what changes and how do we handle it? I sat recently with a group of “empty nesters” and asked them what had changed and what was changing in the near future. The answers were stunning. Aging parents, bodies changing and running down, families that weren’t what you thought they would be, facing the end of meaningful careers, financial futures less certain than we would want, and even marriages that fell short of what we had hoped for… One person said it this way, “My past is bigger than my future.”
Implicit in all of this is an awareness that death is coming. Our bodies begin to break down. We have less energy. Yes, we may know more. Yes, we may have accomplished a lot. Yes, we may have had good friendships and good careers, enjoyed our families, etc. But we can begin to see the end. At some level, it begins to loom.
So how do we age gracefully? In the words of my “Aging Gracefully” mentor Sam Cornwell, how do we “finish strong?” What does that look like? Thus far (and I am still trying to figure this thing out myself) it includes the following:
- Acknowledging the changes and embracing the limitations: I don’t have the energy I used to have. Sometimes I forget things. My metabolism is slowing, and I am losing that bathing suit body. 😉 I have a shortened runway as I build relationships, think about ministry projects, and start new things. I am changing as I get older, and my window (in this world) is getting shorter. Facing my limitations brings more clarity on what is most important.
- Owning my own story and maturity: I can’t do some things I used to do, but there are ways life has grown me. Some things that were work for me are now second nature. I am clearer on what I can do, what my gifts are and what they aren’t. Over 63 years I have learned some things, accumulated some wisdom and have a larger reservoir from which to give. I want to own those, use them and stop trying to be someone else.
- Enjoying what God has given: Lynne and I have worked hard on our marriage, and we get to both enjoy it and continue to grow as husband and wife. We have adult kids and, while they are spread all over the map, we love our relationships, the phone calls, and following the lives they are making. We have long-time friends with rich histories that can be enjoyed as much as built. Barnabas is a fun place to work and gives me a chance to teach and have meaningful conversations – to join in what God is up to. So much now is “good.” Can I end each day as God ended the days of Creation… and see what is “good?”
- But the elephants in the room for me are death and the season just before that. I want the season before, even if it entails some level of suffering, to be seen in light of eternity. I want to be a man God continues to grow in maturity with Him, even if those days are hard. But I’m a little scared I will be more cowardly. And death… I know in my head it isn’t the end but really the beginning. In some ways I have staked my life on that truth. But I want that truth to be more compelling, more hopeful, more of something I look forward to. Honestly, I am not there yet. But I think I am on the journey. I want to “finish strong.”
Palmer Trice is an ordained Presbyterian minister. He is married to Lynne, has three children and has been in Charlotte since 1979. In his spare time, Palmer enjoys golf, tennis, walking and reading.