The time of our lives?
The passing years of course make us older but they also change our perception – and expectations – of age. As a child I used to think that thirty was middle-aged. Now aged 51, I know better! It’s a sobering thought that I recently entered the decade in which both of my grandfathers died – my paternal grandfather died when my father was just 19, and my maternal grandfather when my mother was 23. This scenario was not untypical two generations ago.
I have only had one male generation above me. My children have two above them. If I am blessed with grandchildren it’s probable they will have three generations above them.
As the older generation is now for various well-documented reasons living longer, age is being redefined. So today’s 50s and 60s tend to behave and dress – and in many cases feel – years younger than their counterparts a generation ago. And they (we!) may be expecting to be more physically active, and look better, than our previous equivalents, and to have more leisure opportunities. But it doesn’t always work out like that.
I asked some friends in this age bracket to briefly reflect on their experiences. There are negatives but also positives. The following is a summary of their wisdom.
- You are older so energy levels and enthusiasm can drop.
- You can get settled and change-resistant.
- You can be impatient or dismissive of new ideas – ‘It won’t work! I’ve seen it all before.’ can be a common response.
- You can be too comfortable, just concerned with maintaining the status quo.
One friend refers to the “squeeze generation”. He feels he and his wife are fairly typical. Between them they have two surviving frail elderly parents: one is 93 and has Alzheimer’s and the other is 92 and also needs regular visiting.
They also have seven grandchildren: three boys (8, 6 and 2) and four girls (4, 2, 1 and 5 months). They take the two older boys to school and baby-sit the youngest two mornings a week, and take the three older girls out one afternoon a week. One of the families comes for lunch each Sunday. They are glad to be helping out with the grandchildren but energy levels are not as high as they were! Then there is church work: visiting the sick and shut in, leading a home group Bible study, lifts to a weekly seniors’ coffee morning and regular church meetings, as well as volunteering with Christian organisations.
He feels in his situation there are equal and opposite temptations. The first is to be activist: rushing around, anxious to redeem the time, elders doing the work of deacons, assuming one is indispensable. This can result in blocking the development of someone younger. The “young retired” may volunteer for everything but may not be focusing on “passing on the baton”, mentoring and generally training up the next generation.
Others take the opposite tack, deciding it is time to rest and take a back seat. It should be a stage in life where the mortgage is paid off and when in other ways the financial constraints of earlier years no longer apply. The danger is that like the rich man in Luke 12 we will reach the stage where everything is provided for and we say to ourselves ‘Take life easy – eat, drink and be merry’. Perhaps too easily Christian 50s and 60s can buy into this worldly approach and justify for example frequent holidays or cruises, especially before they are “too old to enjoy them”.
You really start to feel your age and can try to keep on at the pace you enjoyed in younger years! You need to learn to pace yourself accordingly – the dangers of not doing this are both mental as well as physical breakdown.
Christian men and women in their 50s and 60s have experience that can be of benefit to younger people and possibly more time (if kids have flown the nest and you are not ill or have caring responsibilities for elderly parents). Every Christian entering retirement has a lifetime of skill and experience to offer, and needs to work out how this can be used to best effect. It may involve one or more of the following:
- part-time paid work
- voluntary work
- particular ministries or roles in the local church
- responsibility in a wider Christian context (e.g. ministry, committee work)
One recently retired friend commends developing a ‘business plan’ for retirement.
Obviously the content of each person’s plan will vary according to gifts, skills, experience, need and opportunity, but time spent in advance in considering the possibilities and practicalities is well worth while. Those who plan well will achieve more, and be more useful, in the Lord’s service. If extensive family responsibilities are involved (e.g. regular child care or care for an elderly relative), work out whether any other useful avenues of Christian service can still be undertaken. As well as such service being useful for its own sake, this will also give the person a sense of greater fulfilment and usefulness.
For many – probably most – people who are retiring, their ministries and usefulness will be undertaken in their existing local church and local area, but in some cases a re-location on retirement may be needed, in order best to fulfil a particular role – family responsibilities, for instance. In such circumstances, even if the work to be undertaken is not work for a local church, everyone needs to be based in a sound local church and this therefore is a factor to be considered in connection with re-location. People should do their homework, and know in which church they are going to settle before they make their decisions on a house move.
He adds a note of caution though: we have to accept that it’s OK that some things will turn out slightly or even significantly differently from what was planned.
Whatever our generation, there are constants that always apply. In common with Christians of all ages, 50s and 60s are prone to self-centredness and taking the easy option. Like everyone else we are accountable to God for our use of time and other resources. But we have a particular responsibility to teach the coming generation (Psalm 48:13; 2 Timothy 2:2). They ought to be able to look to our godly example and words to encourage their growth in grace.
Tim Curnow is an elder at St Mellons Baptist Church, Cardiff.