By Dick Koehneke
This is only the second time I’ve written about aging in these pages – or anywhere, for that matter. I’m inspired to do so by the excellent writings and insights of Rich Bimler and Charlie Mueller.
Speaking of Rich and Charlie . . .
I remember the 1989 LCMS Youth Gathering in Denver, Colorado, when I had the great joy of baptizing Rich and Hazel’s infant grandson Matthew in front of thousands of people. Matthew’s parents Marty and Diane (Bimler) Cillick were members of the congregation I was serving in New Jersey. Rich thought we should let some more people share in the joy of Matthew’s baptism. I thought that was a great idea, and I still do. Thirty years later, Rich continues to bless me in so many and varied ways.
As for Charlie Mueller: What a strong force for good he has been in my life, and continues to be. I first met him at a gathering of pastors during my vicarage year of 1969-70 when I was assigned to a congregation in Long Island, New York. I remember thinking when I met Charlie and heard him speak, “Wow, this man is really something special!” I still think that, more than ever. Little did I know, at the unripe young age of 24, that Charlie would be such an important person in my life for the next 50 years – and counting, thank God.
Now about the subject of aging . . .
“The secret that all old people share is that you really haven’t changed in all these years. Your body changes, but you don’t change at all. And that, of course, causes great confusion.” That’s a quote from the late British novelist Doris Lessing. It’s found in the new, excellent book Elderhood by Dr. Louise Aronson.
The Lessing quote speaks to me. The basic personality of an individual stays the same despite the physical changes that aging brings. For the believer in Jesus Christ, although your personality doesn’t change with the passage of time, spiritually speaking you’re actually being changed for the better, to become more and more like Christ as the Holy Spirit works in you. “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.” (2 Corinthians 4:16)
I think the entire passage is profound and wonderful (2 Corinthians 4:16-5:7). Here it is.
“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
“For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.
“So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight.”
That’s the key, isn’t it? We walk by faith, not by sight. Our assessment of ourselves and our situation is based less on our own external appearances and more on God’s eternal promises – less on our emotions and more on our convictions – less on how we feel and more on what we believe.
We understand more and more what the apostle Paul meant when he said, “When I am weak, then I am strong.” In our weakness we turn to God for strength. God is the Source of true and lasting strength that transcends circumstances. When He gives us His strength, we are strong in supernatural power, even though our muscles and bones may be weakening. We’re growing while we’re groaning.
Which brings me to the title of this essay: “Downsizing.” I wonder if the metaphor of downsizing – moving from a larger place to a smaller one – might be appropriate for the process of aging. As our bodies age, as our physical “house” becomes smaller, we learn to adapt to smaller space. “Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.” As we lose some strength and mobility, we compensate by adjusting our expectations and finding ways to work within our limitations. We draw on a reservoir of endurance and wisdom acquired over decades of experience, to deal with the changing situations that aging brings.
In short, we view the body/person tension (see Doris Lessing’s quote above) as a normal part of a grand – if not always glorious – learning experience.