It’s my birthday tomorrow. You don’t have to send me presents – it costs a lot to mail them. E-gift cards will do!
With each passing birthday, especially since tipping over the half-century mark, I wonder at what point does a person wake up and say, “I’m old!”? When we were kids, 30 seemed old to us. And, 50 was our grandparents, and they were ALWAYS ancient. As I pass each of those markers, I don’t see myself as old. YET. When will I adopt that viewpoint?
An article in The New York Times written by Emily Laber-Warren, called You’re Only as Old as You Feel, tackles the idea of ‘subjective’ age. She shares that, according to Dr. Yannick Stephan, an assistant professor of health and aging psychology at the University of Montpellier in France, 80 percent of people over 40 feel younger than their biological age. Their ‘subjective’ age of how they feel (most of the time) is 5 to 15 years younger. Not surprisingly, scientists are finding that these people are typically healthier and more psychologically resilient than those who feel older.
Why is this even an issue? Why do we say things like “Age is just a number” or “You’re only as old as you feel”? Why do we value youth so much? Gerontologists such as Dr. Tracey Gendron at Virginia Commonwealth University remind us that as we age, we tend to become generally happier and more satisfied. Would we really want to be still trying to figure out our career path, still searching for the right mate, still changing diapers and raising energetic children? Don’t we cringe when we hear of women over 50 getting pregnant? Why do we view this second half of life as less desirable than the first half?
In Laber-Warren’s article, she quotes David Weiss, a life span psychologist at the University of Leipzig, as saying, “If old age weren’t negatively valued, you wouldn’t have the need to say that you feel younger.” In his studies, he discovered that in cultures where elders are respected for their wisdom and experience, people don’t even understand the question ‘How old do you feel?’
Maybe there’s nothing wrong with being an elder. When we moved into our condo as a couple just turning 50, the average age in our building was 72. I joked that this was an excellent strategy to continue feeling young – surround yourself with people older than yourself! We have developed many friendships with people over the age of 80 since we’ve lived here. We play pickleball with a bunch of them! They have so many great stories to share of life experiences and adventures. They can give advice on the best places to shop for certain items, the best places to eat out, and the best flights to take when flying south for the winter. (The building does get a lot emptier in the colder months.)
When I read Titus 2:4-5 in my Bible, I wonder, is that me? Am I an older woman? Nah, I can’t be, right? But, I guess if there are any younger women in our lives who we can mentor or encourage, that makes us “older”. That makes me an ELDER! I’m tempted to say, “Ouch”, but what I should say is, “Wow! Look at the blessings I’ve enjoyed up to this point. I have wisdom gained from experiences too; I have stories to share. I’ve been studying the Bible for years and listening to good teachers, filling my mind with God’s goodness. What’s wrong with being elderly?”
When I wake up tomorrow, I’ll be older. Maybe, I won’t be OLD (?), but I’ll be older than many other people. I don’t need to live in denial of my biological age, insisting that I feel younger. I’m grateful for 52 years of life, and look forward to however many more God chooses to give me. I’m ready to embrace the responsibility of a Titus-woman:
These older women must train the younger women to love their husbands and their children, to live wisely and be pure, to work in their homes, to do good, and to be submissive to their husbands. Then they will not bring shame on the word of God.TITUS 2:4-5
Lord, help me to avoid falling into the trap of our culture’s obsession with youth. Give me peace about my age, and open my eyes to see all that You have given me to enjoy the stage of life that I am in. Thank You for Your continued love, mercy and grace. Every year with You as my Father is a gift. Never let me lose sight of that. Amen.
Do you proudly announce your biological age or does the number make you wince? Most of the people in my building share their age with a smile. In the words of Mel Bernstein: Every day above ground is a good day.
Thank God today for a heart that still beats and breath in your lungs. You may be struggling through difficult circumstances, but as long as you still have life, you still have hope that God will answer your prayers and work things out for your good.
Emily Laber-Warren’s article can be found at: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/17/well/mind/age-subjective-feeling-old.html
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