Getting older often gets a bad rap in our culture. We color our hair, hide our wrinkles, and lie about our age because in America there is the notion that aging is a bad thing. In contrast, aging is not something that just magically happens to us once we get the letter to join AARP or we start drawing social security. Rather, the moment we are born we begin to age.
How much do you really know about the later years of life? There are many stereotypes that prevail about aging and these attitudes have subtly crept into our churches and they affect our ministries. Be honest with yourself and see if you have bought into any of these myths.
Memory loss is a normal part of the aging process. People are always telling jokes and stories about how they have forgotten something and it is a sign of their age. I sometimes hear people say that it is a "senior moment." The truth is we don't automatically lose our memory as we get older. In fact, only 2-3 percent of older adults in their seventies and 5-10 percent in their eighties suffer from memory loss.
Over 30 percent of the elderly need nursing home care. When people find out that I work in older adult ministry they immediately assume that I minister in a nursing home setting or work with the frail elderly. Often the word "old" brings images to our minds of elderly women with buns in their hair sitting in wheelchairs. If we were to take a snapshot today, only 5 percent of people over the age of 65 would be found in a nursing home. That means there are many older adults who are able to live in their own homes, care for themselves, and be involved in their church and community.
Older adults are incapable of learning new information. As we get older it does take us a little longer to learn new things, but it is certainly possible. It is becoming more and more common for retired adults to go back to college, to enroll in computer classes, or to take up new hobbies. I remember a woman in her seventies who took a nine month intensive overview of the Bible at our church, and when I asked her about the class, she said, "Amy, I'm learning so much, there is so much in this Book that I never knew!"
Most older adults are unable to adapt to change. I found an anonymous essay that starts out, "For all those born before 1945. We were born before television, before penicillin, before polio shots, frozen foods, Xerox, plastic, contact lenses, Frisbees, and the Pill …"
Sometimes in our churches we think that it is the older people who never want to do anything differently. I hear comments like, "She is so stuck in her ways." The truth is older adults have had to do the most changing simply because they've lived the longest. More importantly, God is in the business of changing people and changing peoples' lives. When we allow ourselves to buy into the myth that once you reach a certain age you are not capable of changing, then we put a limit on what God can do.
So how did you do? It is easy to let society's myths influence what we believe, but the church needs to raise the flag and say that we are going to view aging as a blessing, a unique season of life that God has designed in which to accomplish His plans and purposes. Let's do all that we can to help make the later years of life the very best years of life.
(This article first appeared in Christian Standard.)