Aging vs Growing Old: How to Choose Life
I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live, (Deuteronomy 30:19, KJV).
We were created for eternal life. Death was never part of the original plan. When sin hit the scene, God made provision for redemption. And although death is part of life’s natural process, Christ provides us abundant life. There’s only one condition: We must choose it.
As an RN, I work with the elderly (geriatric) population every day. Most of them are debilitated with disease – diseases that could have been prevented with lifestyle modifications that were not complicated, although they may have required some effort. Discipline and consistency will always pay off. And to be disciplined and consistent, you must have a fortified plan with the vision and focus to work it. The magic word is ‘diligence’.
Genes aren’t everything.
I don’t know about you, but I have no plans to grow old. Yet, I will age. That part of the equation is inevitable for all of us, and I believe there is a difference. I have met a few elderly people in my time (the oldest being 103 years) who are spry and sharp; witty and strong-willed. They are young in their minds, and their bodies follow suit, despite the common ailments and maladies that afflict most aging people. These are individuals who get our attention, making us question their secrets. They mystify us, and in the end we chalk it up to simply having ‘good genes’. Not so. I beg to differ. Good genes are only one ingredient in the whole recipe.
Those who are wealthy in years demonstrate several key factors that I have come to recognize very well, having seen them repeated consistently throughout my nursing career, and I’d like to share them with you.
Aging with Grace and Dignity
These individuals embrace a mindset of youth that never fades. It does not wane. It’s not that they are immature; rather they are youthful. Their hearts and minds are still very, very young. They have maintained that precious joy of youth and never let it go. It permeates the atmosphere around them. At times I thought I was talking to a twenty year old. They genuinely enjoy life and other people, and they value relationships above possessions; experiences and memories above success. They bubble and spark. They keep up with the times. They are full of stories they long to share. Overall, they are happy and satisfied with life. They don’t preoccupy themselves with worry. They stay active both mentally and physically. And although they age, they do not grow old. They refuse to focus on death. Instead, they choose to focus on life. Death is something that does not preoccupy their time or attention, yet they are at peace with it, and have prepared for it responsibly. Even so, death somehow sneaks up on them. In fact, those I’ve talked to have no firm plans to die. They’re never ready. They want to live, and they show it through a vibrant approach to everyday life. Surprisingly, these are individuals who don’t always have the best gene pool. They have ailments, too. Yet, amazingly, they live beyond them and in spite of them.
Here are some examples I’ve seen:
• The seventy-something woman who went back to college for a law degree.
• The eighty year old who had written and published a book and introduced me to it. When she learned that I was a fellow writer, she asked me for my opinion.
• The eighty-something woman who had recently been parasailing, bungie-jumping, rock climbing, and hang-gliding. Talk about stories to tell!
• The ninety year old who had raised her great-grandchildren, willingly and with joy! Talk about energy! She ran circles around me!
Grow Old and Die Young
With this being said, people who ‘grow old’ often die young. And these, too, have some common mentalities and lifestyles that I’ve seen consistently displayed throughout my career. They are sedentary. They resist change. As they age, death is anticipated. They talk about it, and embrace it prematurely. Their minds grow old, and therefore they fail to maintain the vigor of youth. They may have godly values and beliefs, however, they make poor choices and decisions with regard to their health and daily life. They smoke. They drink too much. They eat too much – and they eat too much of the wrong food. They don’t care about it either – because they want the instant pleasure and gratification life can afford them today. And they say so. They defend their choices. They justify what they’re doing. They always have an excuse. They disregard consequences. They don’t obey doctor’s orders. They neglect themselves for the sake of pleasure. They give very little, if no consideration, to tomorrow and the consequences of their decisions upon themselves or their loved ones. They are often kind, but they are weak-willed. They know what to do, and even how to do it – but they choose not to. They do not have the desire, despite their knowledge. They are difficult to teach, difficult to encourage, and difficult to persuade. They lack vision. These people are not intrinsically motivated, and so they require much coercion. That type of extrinsic motivation lasts only so long, and they are right back to square one again, repeating the same patterns, in the same cycle, only now they’re one ditch deeper than before. Digging them out becomes impossible. And with each episode of failure, they become more and more helpless. Death often becomes imminent.
Stewardship, Responsibility and Consequence
God gives us a clear choice: He places before us life and death, and He clearly tells us to choose life, showing us precisely how to do that.
I hear believers claim healing all the time – yet they deny their own personal responsibility toward the stewardship of their bodies and minds. That is not biblical. We will indeed reap what we sow. When their healing doesn’t come, they wonder why. It’s very simple: Their faith was incongruent with their actions. Faith without works is dead. So, your actions must align with your faith. And you can’t claim healing and continue to abuse your body. God tells us to choose life, and there are consequences when we don’t. It’s that simple.
I think we all have the opportunity to be people who age with dignity if we so choose. But it’s a decision. We will reap what we sow. As a nurse, I don’t think there is anything more frustrating than dealing with a patient who knows the truth about what to do, yet refuses to comply after having received practical education from their medical staff – over and over and over again. And now they are facing the devastation of terminal illness and disease – which they expect us to fix or put a band-aid upon. It’s the same story every time they come into the hospital – and every time they get worse. They erroneously believe we can just place another stent. But the day comes when they are faced with heart surgery, a life-altering stroke, and even death. I’ve seen it in the code blue. I’ve seen it on the floor. They lose limbs. They lose vital organ function. They can no longer walk – and not because their legs don’t work, but because their heart doesn’t. In the beginning of my career, I didn’t see the prevalence of this mentality. But it’s glaring now. And quite frankly, it’s frustrating for those who long to help. It’s frustrating because they had the potential to change their life, to prevent disease, and to achieve a longevity with the information given to them. They just chose not to. They chose death. The sad things is, they didn’t realize that was what they were doing.
Your Choice is Your Responsibility
God tells us to choose. He’s not going to do it for us, and neither will anyone else. We are all ultimately responsible for our own choices. What’s sad is when that window of opportunity to choose expires when you can no longer take that long walk, climb those stairs, or carry your babies.
I would like to encourage you today to consider aging with dignity by refusing to grow old. Stay young. Live long. Live well. Love hard. Stay strong. Make wise decisions. Embrace change, realizing the decisions you make today affect your tomorrow. In fact, today is always the first step inside your future. I encourage you to diligently seek out the life you desire: the life God is calling you to live. Jesus calls it ‘the abundant life’. But you have to choose it. It doesn’t just happen by default. If you’re not satisfied with life, there is a reason. Aim higher. Don’t settle. If you don’t like something about you or your life – change it. Don’t get comfortable with discomfort. Don’t allow yourself to fall into a rut where you keep repeating the same cycles. It’s time to awaken to the possibilities for yourself and your life, and think outside the box a bit. Be willing to color outside the lines. Have the faith to ask God for what you really want. Make your life count for eternity! Ask, seek and knock! I believe God wants a long healthy life for you. So don’t be willing to lose even one day that He has ordained! Don’t let your life be cut short by ignorance or lack of self-discipline.
I see people who willingly commit grave errors in embracing death every day through the poor choices they make. It’s gross. And there is no excuse for it. I beg you, choose life.
Choose abundant life! LIVE! All of us will age. But we don’t have to grow old.
Cheers & Shalom,
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