A couple of weeks ago, Jill and I were walking along the beach in Umhlanga when a little boy, perhaps six or seven years old, came up to me and, very politely, said, “Sir, congratulations on living a long life!” I must say, it was one of the strangest, and sweetest, encounters I have had in my (apparently long!) life. I smiled and thanked him. He went back to play, while I, a bit bemused, shuffled away, taking my grey hair with me.
At first, my wife thought that he was pronouncing a “word of prophesy” but I reminded her that no prophesy was needed: I’m nearly sixty years old. As we talked, we realised that he was simply attempting to show respect to his elders. He saw the “condition” of my hair, concluded that I was old, and assumed that my living long was an honour. Jill was quick to point out that, quite obviously, she didn’t look like she had lived for a long time. If only that kid knew …
Anyway, someone is doing a good job of teaching that little boy that old age is not something to be disparaged, but that it should be viewed as a good thing. Now, perhaps he needs a lesson or two concerning what constitutes a long life; nevertheless, it would be wonderful if our country was filled with such well-trained children.
I was reminded of this recently as I drove to the office and noticed what looked to be a very old lady standing in her driveway. She looked frail. And I wondered how she is treated by her neighbours, even by her family. I thought about the sad reality that, as people grow older, they are often marginalised. I thought about how that needs to be rectified.
We often hear of older people being retrenched because they are considered past their optimal productivity. Older people face huge difficulties in both retaining and/or securing employment. This is so often a huge mistake. Someone who has faithfully and productively laboured in the workplace for decades often has knowledge and skills and insight that remain of great benefit. But, sadly, because of their age, they are often rendered “redundant.” What a horrible word.
I am aware that sometimes one’s age does hinder their productivity in the workplace, and so retirement is best for everyone. This is true even in churches. Some pastors lose their physical strength and mental acumen to carry on a fruitful ministry, and the loving thing for both him and the congregation is to step aside. Nevertheless, in “retirement,” he can remain of great value to a congregation.
In our day, not only is AI (artificial intelligence) a threat to the well-being of society, so is OA (old age). Brothers and sisters, we should show respect to our elders. We should learn from them. And we should value them. And though I don’t recommend going up to strangers and congratulating them for living a long life, we should be slow to dismiss their life experience. Their insights can help us to live, if not long, at least fruitful lives to the glory of God.
But there is another side to this as well. We who are growing older have the responsibility to live in such a way that our old age is commendable. Many infamous people throughout history have lived long lives. And the longer they lived, the more people suffered, and the more God was dishonoured. The Bible, however, contrasts this with the reminder: “Grey hair is a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life” (Proverbs 16:31). This is not an absolute statement, but it does describe the kind of life that should characterise those who grow old. Old people should live righteously, which, of course, means that they should begin when they are young. The best way for the young to righteously grow old is to be trained by the “righteous old.” Hence, Psalm 71:18 describes what should be the goal of every older Christian: “So even to old age and grey hairs, O God, do not forsake me, until I proclaim your might to another generation, your power to all those to come.”
Older Christians should be investing their lives in the younger generation(s). By discipling those who are younger, those with grey hairs will equip those with full heads of natural-coloured hair to also grow old well. Therefore, let us as a congregation “grey old” together.
Greying with you,