The Art of Aging Gracefully: Or How to Not Become a Curmudgeon

I know a dear woman living out her “mission field” from the assisted living center in which she resides. Each day, she walks down to the connected nursing home and spends time with the residents, talking and praying with them, or quietly singing the old hymns of their younger days. She brings them friendship and comfort in the ways she can, in the hope that now in the winter of life, they would see Jesus. Though limited herself, she sees the purpose of her life and the continued sense of calling to be a faithful disciple. There is still work to be done. And the joy and peace radiating from her are so evident.

When I leave from our all-too-infrequent visits, my soul is refreshed and encouraged to keep living faithfully and seize each little opportunity the Lord gives me to be a blessing to another person. I leave saying, “Lord, please, that’s how I want to be when I grow old.”

It seems growing old is a watershed, and one cannot stay neutral. We become wise and winsome or sharp-tongued curmudgeons. We seem to face the choice of joy or misery, and living out delight or bitterness.

My current theory is that what we become in our old age begins with decisions made as early as young adulthood (my generation). Every day we accumulate small moments of decision, which pile up to create the life we’ve lived. We can choose daily loving well over selfishness and practice rhythms of grace and compassion. We can learn early that the world is so much bigger than my own happiness and that the deepest fulfillment is found when I look outside of myself. We can participate in the daily surrender of ourselves to the Lord, willingly allowing Him to shape our words, actions, and attitudes to look like Him.

We’ve all met them, the folks made miserable with age. But I wonder if that misery and self-centeredness is simply a practice engrained and made more evident through years of practice. Perhaps it is not simply an old-age thing; perhaps it has always been there. It is human nature to gripe at inconvenience or subconsciously believe the world revolves around our needs. We are naturally inclined to think we’re right or that our preferences should be normative. Left unchecked, of course these attitudes would grow and become increasingly evident as age strips us of our socially conditioned filters and politeness.

My dad has a habit of saying, “The older you get, the more like you you become.” While this may be true of our quirks and foibles, it is also true of our character. The older we grow, the more our character becomes distinguishable. Misery, bitterness, critical spirits, selfishness, and harshness seep deeper into who we are. But joy, delight, love, compassion, graciousness, and godliness do as well. As we day-by-day surrender to the Lord and seek ever more for His transforming power in our lives, we see the fruit. Over a lifetime, one can’t help but see that we’ve been with Jesus.