Aging: Navigating the Joys and Struggles of Longevity
In any generation, there is a sense of understanding fostered through shared experience, having lived through particular challenges associated with that era. When we look closer at family and friend circles, we generate memories over time, through shared experiences, cultural references, and places of familiarity with the siblings, extended family, and even spouses who are dotted throughout our family timeline.When our close peers pass away, we can feel as if we are the last ones standing. In that sense, longevity can feel more like loneliness and more burden than blessing.
Many are living longer, however, which is a blessing for all generations touched by matriarchs and patriarchs. Advancements in health, technology, and medicine have resulted in our lives being enriched and extended by progress. Yet, we don’t live forever. And when mortality begins to seep through the fabric of our lives and remove some of those who have been with us, in decades past, we assess the value of our own existence.
What do we have to offer? What is to become of our lives? Pair that with changes in physical strength, endurance, and flexibility; mental, and emotional states. It can be tempting to devalue our experience and our presence. The emphasis on youth culture and anti-aging almost seems to make us a pariah when we ideally would have been celebrated.
Mirage of the Golden Years
We often refer to the latter season of life as the golden years. The fantasy embedded in that expression conveys a halo of wonder, imagining that our older lives will be grand, full of accomplishment, family, and the accumulation of what our lives have built. Glossy advertisements point to what one might imagine as the “ideal,” but the reality of many seniors does not reflect a well-curated commercial.
Navigating complex health concerns and sometimes a return to work, or a life with no retirement in sight, diminishes the glow of the golden ideal. That can be further impacted by inflation and economic crisis, threatening discouragement and as the future pales opposite the brilliance of our imagination.
As wonderful as life can be, it presents challenges at every stage of our development, not just in later life. Yet, when we arrive in that season, it may appear to be anything but golden. Plainly, there are areas that we want to celebrate and others that we’d rather avoid. Sometimes, the greater challenge is dismantling the ideal that we held concerning what our “golden years” would involve.
The Blessing of Longevity
Long life brings with it the testimonies of having survived what many did not. Older individuals mine the peace and joy of being less encumbered with others’ thoughts and opinions. Many are able to embrace the reflective wisdom of their experience, having outlived the tribulations of yesteryear.
Schedule flexibility frees many from the tethers and demands the rat-race employment experience. For all of their investment, there may be children and grandchildren, who add another dimension of color and vibrancy to their lives.
The Burden of Longevity
Everyone’s story differs, and for as many of the blessings noted above, there are others whose experience looks quite the opposite. In fact, longevity can feel burdensome. Health issues may present impairments to mobility and function. Others may have fractured communication and connection with family, feeling forgotten and abandoned. Financial pressures of maintaining one’s household and independence may feel complicated by rising costs on fixed incomes.
Though many seniors have lived to tell rich stories, they feel the sting of death. Their experience may be characterized by grief, being the “last one standing” in their families and friend circles after having buried spouses, peers, and contemporaries. It can foster a void, causing them to wrestle with loneliness and difficulty connecting with younger generations in ways that they feel understood and relevant.
The issues we encounter as older adults may be exacerbated by changes in health status, lack of mobility, financial resources, and shifts in societal and cultural views toward elders’ value and viability. In our circles, we may experience a loss of role. Spouses may be experiencing health issues or teetering on the edge of life, which threatens our sense of how we might have been spending our latter seasons together, post-retirement if we retire at all.
In other respects, our children who are now adults may be deeply involved with their own growing families of adult children and grandchildren. These fraying connections may prompt us to question our value, as our identity may have shifted due to role changes in our work or former careers, families, friends, and faith circles.
Age-based discrimination can be an identity disruptor, as it often limits our view of the value that elders bring into a space. While technology advancements do require a learning curve, we often dismiss seniors’ abilities to gather the skills needed and the implementation to share those skills in environments, where youth is often preferred. We may not say it, but our values reflect it in hiring practices and the way that we honor or dishonor those who have come before.
As older adults, this presents an additional barrier that can add to the depression that we experience. It generates feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness, in that our skills seem to be antiquated in a modernizing society. Thereby, it minimizes our worth and value in the marketplace, and often in our own minds.
While each of us has lived to tell our stories, we must turn the page. It’s not over! There is more to see, show, and tell. What we glean from scripture can encourage and support our resilience. We must consider our worth to God, in every season of life.
He alone is eternal, and no matter what our age, He is the One who sets our value and calls us beloved and accepted. This may invite a life reset, even at a low place. We have suffered much in what we have lost, yet this does not eclipse God’s power in our latter seasons.
In fact, Scripture highlights the great exploits of faith heroes, whose history-shaping works with God, peaked when they ripened into advanced age. Consider Moses who led Israel out of captivity at 80.
Joshua remained a fierce warrior until the end of his lengthy time on earth. At 85, Caleb still contended for his land and went in and out with the young men among the twelve tribes. Not to mention Abraham, the friend of God, began new chapters of fatherhood into his centenarian years.
New Ages, New Eras
What does God want to invite you into this season of your life? It’s time to ask. Society, culture, or even the celebration or tolerance of others cannot determine our worth. We may have gathered the war stories and spoils, but we can invite God into our vulnerability in the following:
- Renew our minds and perspectives
- Reimagine joy and dependence on His guidance in the “now” season
- Reconnect and rediscover the power of relationships
- Reignite dormant gifts and talents
- Revive meaning and relevance, investing in our spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical wellbeing.
We can foster connections that have been frayed, as long as there is breath within, remedying what has been lost by initiating repair with existing family members. Where the Lord sends a family of the heart, we can seek to foster that with those remaining in our current generation. Many community programs or virtual outlets offer senior-specific opportunities for connection through activities.
We can also invest and seed into the next generation, mentoring younger people with life or career matters. Such exchange allows for generations to relate to one another and cultivates a sense of mutuality and interdependence. This may not only bless us, but also provide anchoring and stability to those needing the transfer of our legacy, experience, and wisdom.
Our Golden Years may look nothing like the glossy magazine inserts or the fleeting advertisements that appear on entertainment devices. However, there is a golden element to drawing the blessing out of what may have been perceived as a burden. Growth, in nurtured purpose, can resuscitate the parts within that have atrophied and faded.
While older age is a blessing, it can feel like a burden when accompanied by feelings that may surface later in life. You are not alone. Talking with a counselor about the blessings and burdens of longevity can help to sift and sort through the aging-related issues that affect many. Whether health, mobility, financial, or relational matters have tarnished your idea and experience of golden years, you have the power to redefine them.
The key to resilience is adapting to whatever presents with intentional joy and gratitude, though it doesn’t look as you’d imagined. Reach out to our team to locate an empathetic and compassionate counselor. We want to support you by embracing your season and experiencing your latter as being greater than all that came before.
“In the Park”, Courtesy of Bruno Martins, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Mom”, Courtesy of Ravi Patel, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Playing with Grandma”, Courtesy of Rod Long, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Light Through A Tree”, Courtesy of Jeremy Bishop, Unsplash.com, CC0 License