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BRADY COLUMN: Growing older isn’t the same as aging

The writer of Ecclesiastes said, “Better is the end of a thing than its beginning” (Ecclesiastes 7:8). I wonder if you agree?

If the writer means that the end of a thing is more important than the beginning of it, then I for one would readily admit that he is correct. Certainly, it is better to have a thing turn out well than simply to have it start well. But as a matter of actual fact, the end of a thing is not always better than its beginning. A year may start happily anc end wretchedly. A career may start well and end miserably. A case in point is the biblical character, Solomon.Without question, Solomon accomplished much. He reigned as king of Israel for 40 years. After King David died, Solomon secured his royal power over his enemies. Solomon built the temple. And Solomon was a man who achieved great with his exceptionable skills as a businessman. In addition, Solomon was reported to be a man of noted wisdom (though in the final analysis wisdom in a restricted sense). Yet with all his significant accomplishments, Solomon was not faithful to God. God warned Solomon about his having many wives and building temples to their gods. But Solomon wouldn’t listen; he followed their gods anyway. The result was that the God of Israel became angry with Solomon, and after his death, the kingdom of Israel split apart. Solomon began well but ended miserably.

Now, let’s relate all of this to the whole subject of growing older!

First, if we are to end better, we must, as Bishop William Willimon stated in his book “Aging,” reframe the term aging. Aging is generally used to describe the process of deterioration and decline.  Bishop Willimon went on to quote Dr. Mario Martinez, clinical psychologist and author, who stated, “Growing older is inevitable, aging is optional.” In other words, we shouldn’t let the word “aging” dictate how we feel about growing older.

Second, if we are to end better, we must never stop growing! A number of scholars believe that the tragedy of Solomon’s life was that in middle to later years he stopped growing.

Now, this process of development that Solomon had begun so brilliantly did not continue and as always, a process of disintegration set in. As someone observed, our options in life are only two: either we keep on growing or we start decaying.  A man said he hadn’t read a book in five years. He’s already aging.

Third, if we are to end better, we must maintain belief in ourselves! Maybe we can’t taste or see or hear or digest as good as we once could. Maybe our strength isn’t what it used to be. But God loves us (each one) and that makes us important and of significant value. God said in the book of Genesis, “Let us make humankind in our own image, after our likeness (Genesis 1:26). We are made in the image of God.

Fourth, if we are to end better, we must live outside ourselves!

The late Peter Gomes, minister of the Memorial church at Harvard, often testified to his happy delight of waking up each morning and saying to himself (and to the Lord), “Well, I have awakened to another day. This day, any day really, becomes good when it is an unexpected gift. Thanks be to God.” (Appreciation to Bishop Willimon for this illustration). And fifth, if we are to end better, we must live closer to God! John Killinger tells a beautiful story about a boy and an elderly man sitting on a dock in the late afternoon, fishing. They talked about many things-why sunsets are red, why the rain falls, why the seasons change, what life is really like. Finally, the boy looked up at the older man, as the older man was baiting the hook for him, and said, “Does anybody ever see God?” “Son, the older older man said,  looking across the blue water, “it’s getting so I hardly see anything else.”

That’s it, isn’t it? A strong faith in God is the answer to all joyful aging or growing older. Better is the end of a thing that its beginning — it all depends!