A middle-aged man looks in the mirror, puts on a bright orange wig to cover his bald head and suddenly he’s young again – allegedly!
But why does he do it? If you see him in the street, it’s obvious it’s a wig! The colour doesn’t match his eyebrows or stubble and you can clearly see the join. And yet, somewhere in the dark recesses of his mind, he’s still in his thirties or forties. He may not look young, but he still feels young — or at least feels younger than he looks. So by using a wig it provides him with an illusion of the person he still thinks he is.
The Bible, however, contains a helpfully countercultural message for our age-obsessed society. ‘Grey hair’, Proverbs 16:31 tells us, ‘is a crown of splendour; it is attained in the way of righteousness’. But perhaps our follicly challenged, past-his-prime poser doesn’t want to look like he’s lived a righteous life — despite Psalm 92:12-14’s promise that the righteous will flourish like a palm tree and will still bear fruit in old age!
Joking aside, the issue of age and ageing, and how we relate to it as Christians, is a deeply emotive one. I know — not so long ago, I emerged from a fairly painful midlife crisis. A few years ago, I lost my job, my wife lost hers, and we lost my beloved father to cancer. Having always looked a fair bit younger than my actual age — and no doubt acted younger — I suddenly felt older, looked older and realised that, in an increasingly youthful jobs market, I was older.
So, trapped between middle age and a fairly far-off retirement, I could see people half my age clambering up the career ladder, leaving me in danger of being left behind by thrusting, social media savvy savants. A comedian once pointed out that students who go without shaving have cool designer stubble. Middle-aged men who don’t shave look like tramps.
I may still feel as if I’m in my thirties, but I sometimes catch a glimpse of myself in a shop window and think, ‘Who’s that grey-haired man coming towards me?’ Then, to my horror, I realise it’s me! A friend, however, experiences things differently. ‘When I feel particularly weary, worn-out or past my sell-by-date,’ he says, ‘I look in the mirror and I’m surprised I don’t look as decrepit as I feel’. Time plays tricks on us all!
Three years ago, my wife and I went for a walk with some friends. I’d torn a tendon in my left foot, so my son Christopher very helpfully found me a tree branch to propel myself along faster while one of our friends rushed down a hill.
The young man overtook us easily and — for a piercing moment — I thought how, not so very long ago, I’d probably have run down the hill after him and possibly rugby tackled him at the bottom. So time takes its toll. It changes things.
Snapping at our heels
Hopefully my young friend will always be fit and healthy. But he won’t always be able to run that fast or, as the years inexorably roll by, instead of vaulting effortlessly over gates or stiles, he may only just clear them.
One day, he’ll probably limber up for his jump, approach the gate after a bit of toing and froing and then, with a shrug of his shoulders, decide not to risk it. ‘The glory of young men is their strength,’ says Proverbs 20:29, but ‘grey hair [is] the splendour of the old’. Unless we die young, old age and grey hair come to us all.
But whatever age we are, time’s snapping at our heels. Are we in our twenties or thirties and are still not married or in a proper job? Are we married and, as the years slip by, still don’t know whether we can or can’t have children — or should or shouldn’t have more? Or are we growing increasingly older while our bosses and work colleagues get relentlessly younger?
Have we achieved our potential and got that promotion, or has time, tide and the ability to use all our talents passed by? Are we too old for work or unable to get it because of our age? Or are we at an age when we could do with a job that pays more than ours does, or which offers possibilities we’re now too old or too tired to embrace?
It’s no wonder that there are those who, like the writer of Psalm 71:9-18, plead, ‘Do not cast me away when I am old; do not forsake me when my strength is gone… Even when I am old and grey, do not forsake me, my God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your mighty acts to all who are to come.’
And yet, as Isaiah 46:3-4 so wonderfully reminds us, ‘Since the day you were born, I have carried you along. I will still be the same when you are old and grey, and I will take care of you. I created you. I will carry you and always keep you safe’.
We should also take courage from Psalm 37:25 which says, ‘I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread’. It’s a promise that God will provide for us even when we’re old.
And what if we’re growing older, but our children are still young and dependent on us, however exhausted or tired we feel? Or we’re still comparatively young, but have children who are older and who — to our sorrow — no longer need us the way they once did? Or perhaps we’re caring for elderly parents and wonder, as we ourselves grow older, how our children will one day care for us.
Again, Scripture has a glorious answer. ‘Though outwardly we are wasting away,’ 2 Corinthians 4:16 tells us, ‘yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day’. As Psalm 73:26 reminds us, ‘My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion for ever’.
When we were young, we probably behaved as if we were immortal; invulnerable. Now we’re older, we’re more aware of our own mortality. So, whatever stage we’re at, we’re all in the same boat, and that boat is moving inexorably faster — carrying us further and further from the shores of our youth to our final destination.
I find it interesting that an article in the October 2016 edition of the Literary Review, David Bainbridge writes that ‘Ageing and death remain surprisingly mysterious processes — we still do not really know why we are not immortal. Ageing has been said to result from gradual wear and tear caused by our bodies’ everyday metabolic activities, but… it does not explain why most animal species, and indeed some human family lineages, seem to have their own arbitrary life expectancies.’
Of course as Christians we realise that, whether we’re battered or becalmed — and whether we like it or not — we’re finite creatures with an earthly sell-by date who, despite this fact, have eternity in our hearts (Ecclesiastes 3:11), and an eternal destiny. Because of sin and the Fall, we inevitably age and decay, but that shouldn’t blind us to the fact that we’ve been created by God for eternal life.
The good news — and there is good news — is that if we belong to Jesus, we will eventually be with God. And we will not only be with him, but will inhabit a strong, healthy, imperishably restored body.
As Philippians 3:20-21 makes clear, ‘But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Saviour from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.’
There’s a similar resonance to 2 Corinthians 5:1-4: ‘For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling’.
In the meantime, we must make the best of it here on earth and enjoy what little time we have — remembering our Creator in the days of our youth, before the spirit returns to God who gave it (Ecclesiastes 12:1-7).
The problems associated with age and ageing are not the result of an uncaring God but the consequences of Adam’s sin. They also act as intimations to those outside God’s faith-filled family of Christ followers of their undoubted need for Jesus!
And yet — and I’m thinking about myself here — how often do we waste the sand- timer of our life worrying about things that might never happen? Or which, if they do happen, are rarely as bad as we’d originally imagined?
Not long ago, I went on a theme park ride with my children Christopher and Emma. I spent most of the time we were queuing dreading the part of the ride when we’d eventually ascend steeply, then plummet down fast into the muddy looking water below.
But much of the ride was both leisurely and enjoyable and the final descent, when it did come, was over so quickly I retrospectively realised that it was hardly worth worrying about at all!
Time spent praying about the things that concern us is never wasted. But time spent worrying about things over which we have no control is a complete waste of what little time we have. If we’re not careful, we’ll spend more of our lives worrying than doing.
Number your days
Psalm 39:4-5 says, ‘Show me, Lord, my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting my life is. You have made my days a mere handbreadth; the span of my years is as nothing before you’.
However we feel about ourselves or our health, or however long we’ve lived, the sobering fact is that we’re like grass that springs up or a flower that’s cut down — a mere breath, a brief mist or an earthly tent that’s torn down, rolled up, or gone almost before we know it.
So, if we’re to number our days to gain a heart of wisdom, as Psalm 90:12 encourages, we should stop worrying about what’s to come or what we have or haven’t done with our lives, praise God for all that is past, and make the best use of the short time that’s to come.
‘Our days,’ Psalm 90 reminds us, ‘may come to seventy years, or eighty, if our strength endures; yet the best of them are but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away’. That, as they say, is life!
Ecclesiastes is full of reminders for us to enjoy the food, drink, work, people and good things God gives us. We should be grateful for what we have, while we have it. Indeed, we should make the most, as Ephesians 5:15 instructs, of every opportunity.
Count your blessings
So let’s recall with thankfulness everything God’s done for us, counting our blessings —though this may not come naturally if, to our shame, we’re by nature ungrateful, forgetful, or numerically challenged!
Let’s not brood on the past or fear the future, but bring to mind the many ways God has kept us and blessed us, asking him how we can make the best use of what little time we have left. Let’s encourage friends, family and fellow believers. Let’s ensure that we’re there for one another and support those who are sick or struggling, whether practically or through prayer. In time, if we’re not there already, we too may be among that number.
So let’s pray for those who are ill or are hurting, befriend the lonely and — if we’re able — welcome newcomers to church with a friendly smile or an invitation to lunch. If we can still lead or host a Bible study or prayer group in our home, why not do so?
Let’s support church activities and help our church flourish by attending its events, encouraging church leaders and giving generously to God’s work — whether it’s to missionary organisations like MAF, the local church, or to those in need. While we still have the time, let’s share our faith with anyone God puts in our path, and be ready to tell others what the Lord’s done in our lives.
Give and accept prayer
And don’t be afraid to ask someone you know if you can pray for them, or to accept someone’s kind offer to pray for you! Someone at our local Baptist church prayed with me — and it turned my life around!
2 Corinthians 5:5-10 sums it up nicely: ‘Now the one who has fashioned us for this very purpose is God, who has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come… So we make it our goal to please Him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad’.
When we’re finally with God, it’ll be our love for him and the things we’ve done with our life — not the colour or texture of our hair or wig — that he’ll examine!
Gary Clayton is married to Julie and father of Christopher (13) and Emma (11). He is copywriter and editor at Mission Aviation Fellowship. To learn more about how MAF’s 135 light aircraft help some of the world’s poorest and most isolated people in 26 developing nations, visit www.maf-uk.org