Fulfilled living in later life
RS10301 pp

Older age can be the best time of your life

A time to share, to enrich others’ lives

‘Grow old along with me!
The best is yet to be,
The last of life, for which the first was made:
Our times are in His hand
Who saith "A whole I planned,
Youth shows but half; trust God: see all, nor be afraid!'

(From Rabbi ben Ezra, by Robert Browning)

Robert Browning was right: God designed ‘a whole’ of life, including old age. He planned a life where we would live in relationship with Him, growing in grace to mature and bless others. Eminent psychologist James Hillman echoes God’s plan when he writes, “Let us entertain the idea that character requires the additional years and that the long last of life is forced upon us neither by genes nor by conservational medicine nor by societal collusion. The last years conform and fulfil character.”

Sometimes this “fulfilled character” is recognised and applied. In 2007, more than 700,000 Zimbabweans were traumatised when their homes were bulldozed for voting for the opposition party. There were only six psychiatrists in the whole country, but one of them saw the attributes needed in grandmothers and he had thousands trained quickly in rudimentary cognitive behavioural therapy. Dr Dixon Chibanda encouraged them to wait on “friendship benches” in health centres and community centres, offering counselling help to anyone suffering from anxiety or depression. A 2015 report found that 86 percent of those they helped had recovered. Dr Chibanda continues to develop the concept.

What is meant by “good works”?

Let’s look again at Ephesians 2:10. What does it mean by “good works”? The grandmothers’ friendship benches are an example, and there are the obvious things that we tend to think of first, like belonging to a good church fellowship, and encouraging others to faith. But it’s more than that: the good works the Scriptures describe are essentially about relationships, first to God and then to one another. We are told, “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing,” 1 Thessalonians 4:11; “not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching,” Hebrews 10:25.

Sometimes the most important “good work” on Sunday is to collect people and take them to church. There are many opportunities for voluntary work within churches and the community, for example, at your local foodbank. And there’s also the vital work of supporting in prayer those who volunteer: could you commit to praying for a group or an individual, and perhaps calling them to see how things are going and giving them encouragement?

Very often it’s the little things that make a big difference. It’s so easy to under-estimate the effect of a word of encouragement, or a helping hand in a difficult time. Could you be a mentor in your church? Could you commit to praying for a younger person, or their family? If you are able, consider becoming a volunteer for a charitable work. We are grateful for the church volunteers who befriend residents in our care homes and it’s difficult to say who is the most blessed. There is deep gladness in doing what God has called you to do, even in a difficult situation.

In many ways, older people are God’s proof of principle. Older believers have many stories to share of all that God has done in their lives, and they are instructed to tell them to younger generations (Psalm 78). Usually, you’ve grown past the inhibitions of your younger self, and it becomes easier to share the gospel in your latter years. And remember, God will bring opportunities to you.

“And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things and at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.” (2 Corinthians 9:8)

Points to ponder

  • Meditate on your life and recall those times you have had to thank Him for, especially for the times when others encouraged you.
  • Remember times when you were able to encourage someone.
  • Ask God for unforced opportunities to share Jesus.
  • Think of voluntary work, such as food banks and church outreaches, and the people involved that you could pray for.