Aging Gracefully

Growing old brings many changes which vary for everyone. Therefore, it is certainly not advisable to compare oneself with others. Such comparison raises questions and in most cases is not beneficial. Some people are able to stay in their own homes until they die, others move in with their children, while others reside in long-term care facilities and residences for the elderly. But coming to terms with one’s fate is often not that easy. However, resisting and fighting against it is not the solution either. Those who refuse to accept the inevitable make life more difficult for their families, and not uncommonly, the family peace fractures. Then everything becomes more complicated than we would have wished. 

This article is about the best way to deal with such undesired changes and still live a fulfilled life as a joyful child of God. If we succeed, we can indeed speak of “aging gracefully.” 

Today I draw on the results of my survey of acquaintances on the subject of “Aging Gracefully” and the responses received. In delving into the replies, I quickly noticed one common thread in almost every answer. People who are preparing for aging have one desire: to spend the last years of their lives as grateful people. They set the goal, regardless of circumstances, to simply be grateful, always, and everywhere. This reminds me of 1 Thessalonians 5:18: “In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

It is most pleasant and blessed when people find reasons to give thanks even in their old age. We realize these people live with challenges and limitations that increase day by day. – Can they actually be grateful despite such circumstances? 

I visited an elderly sister. Not a word of complaint was spoken, only words of thanksgiving to God.  After we had prayed and I was about to say goodbye, my gaze fell on a nice plaque on the wall. I read, “There is always, always, ALWAYS something to be thankful for.” Not long ago, I officiated the funeral of this late sister and could show the attendees this framed quote. When it was all over, I inherited the picture. It is in my office as a memory of her but also as a reminder to always find something to be thankful for. 

I think of another sister who truly did not have an easy life. She lived in a small apartment on her meager widow’s income. Illness and frailty made her life difficult. She was lonely, yet a happy and joyful child of God. Despite her loneliness and hardships, she said, “I have so much to be thankful for that sometimes I don’t even get around to making requests.” The psalmist also reminds us, “Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits” (Psalm 103:2). 

Another sister, who lived in a small one-room apartment in a care facility, emphasized each time I visited, “I’m so thankful for my little apartment!” And you could sense her genuine joy. How much goodness God has bestowed on us during the course of our lives. Despite the onset of physical ailments and limitations, there are still reasons to be thankful. 

I want to be thankful that I am a child of God, thankful for the forgiveness of all my sins, thankful for beautiful songs on a CD, thankful for the sunrise, thankful for the bountiful table, thankful for the friendly caregivers, thankful for the heated apartment, thankful for a comfortable bed, thankful for a piece of cake brought by friends, thankful for a phone call, thankful for an encouraging word, thankful for a friendly smile, thankful for the encouraging and energizing Word of God, thankful for the understanding from the Word that God is with me, thankful for the many promises of God, and much more. If you keep your eyes open and focus on the blessings, you will be thankful.  

How do you envision your life in the future? If you don’t approach life with a grateful heart today, you will be even more ungrateful in your old age. I want to practice gratitude toward God, my spouse, my children, the church, and the people who help me. 

But how do we actually know if we are grateful? I am convinced that probably all of us claim to be grateful. But could we be mistaken? I went to visit someone, and it didn’t take me long to realize that I shouldn’t have asked the question, “How are you?” I am thankful I am a patient listener. What followed was a long list of negative comments about everything a person could encounter. From the hard mattress, to the cold air coming through the poorly sealed window, from the unfriendly staff to the unpalatable food…. I’ll spare you the rest of her complaints. As I was preparing to leave and still wanted to read Scripture, she interrupted me by asking if she could recite a psalm she had memorized. That was fine with me. Out of all of the 150 psalms, she chose Psalm 100. Do you know this psalm? The first few verses were fine, but when she came to verse 4, I silently prayed for a lot of grace. I heard her say, “Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise. Be thankful to Him, and bless His name!” After all her complaining and grumbling, it seemed to me somewhat incongruent to hear this verse from her of all people. Let it not be held against her. 

And what about the state of thankfulness in our lives? Will our children and grandchildren be able to remember us as a grateful grandma or grandpa? Does gratitude or grumbling dominate our lives? Please don’t misunderstand; there are situations where you actually need to talk about your circumstances to get help. But it should not be our trademark. 

It should also be noted, and you likely have, that grateful people are happy and content people. You feel comfortable in their presence, and it is pleasant to spend time with them. 

Let’s strive for our lives to be characterized by gratitude not only because we choose to be grateful but because it is God’s will.

Harry Semenjuk

-To be continued-

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