A headline on an Internet site read, "Death, the nation's #1 killer." The point was obvious—death is inevitable! No one can outrun death. It will catch up to all of us eventually. When I was interviewed by Newsweek in 2006 and asked to give a statement about death, I commented that I had been taught all of my life how to die, but no one had ever taught me how to grow old. That statement triggered a lot of interest, and I began thinking about a book on the subject.
I am certainly no expert on the subject of growing old, but now that I am gaining some experience, I have to admit that not all things get better with age. I have a newfound appreciation—and understanding—when I read this passage in Ecclesiastes 12:
Remember now your Creator in the days of your youth, Before the difficult days come, … Remember your Creator before the silver cord is loosed. (vv. 1, 6 NKJV)
When I read this passage as a young preacher, I can assure you I did not relate to it as I do now. What impresses me now is that Solomon, the wisest king ever to rule Israel, intended for the young to read it "in the days of … youth, before the difficult days come" (emphasis added).
When I was young, I could not imagine being old. My mother said, and the doctor confirmed, that I had an unusual amount of energy; and it followed me into young adulthood. When middle age set in, I dealt with physical weariness, but my mind was always in high gear, and it never took long for my physical stamina to return after a grueling schedule. It tires me out to dwell on it now, wondering how I ever kept up with such a jam-packed itinerary. I fought growing old in every way. I faithfully exercised and was careful to pace myself as I began to feel the grasp of Old Man Time. This was not a transition that I welcomed, and I began to dread what I knew would follow.
My wife, Ruth, however, was one of those who could lighten heavy hearts, especially mine. I will never forget when she announced what she wanted engraved on her gravestone, and for those who have so respectfully visited her gravesite at the Billy Graham Library, they have noticed that what she planned for was carried out to the letter.
Long before she became bedridden, she was driving along a highway through a construction site. Carefully following the detours and mile-by-mile cautionary signs, she came to the last one that said, "End of Construction. Thank you for your patience." She arrived home, chuckling and telling the family about the posting. "When I die," she said, "I want that engraved on my stone." She was lighthearted but serious about her request. She even wrote it out so that we wouldn't forget. While we found the humor enlightening, we appreciated the truth she conveyed through those few words. Every human being is under construction from conception to death. Each life is made up of mistakes and learning, waiting and growing, practicing patience and being persistent. At the end of construction—death—we have completed the process.
You formed my inward parts; …
My frame was not hidden from You,
When I was made in secret,
And skillfully wrought. …
The days fashioned for me. (Psalm 139:13, 1516 NKJV)
Death says, "This is the finality of accomplishment." While we cannot add anything more to our experience, believers in Christ have the hope of hearing the Savior say, "Well done, good and faithful servant" (Matthew 25:21 NKJV).
The apostle Paul spoke of the Christian being "rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith" (Colossians 2:7 NKJV). This is part of our ongoing construction in this life. But the Bible assures us that "if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens" (2 Corinthians 5:1 NKJV). When Ruth was separated from her pain-stricken body and earthly construction was complete, she found lasting peace. Her dwelling now is eternal.