I went to Lake Charles recently to baptize a great-granddaughter in a church I served back in the 70’s. After the church service, a former parishioner came up to me and said: “It’s amazing, just amazing.” “What’s amazing?” I asked. “That you are still alive!” she exclaimed.
It’s not only “amazing” but “wonderful”, because I am alive and grateful to God that I have lived long enough to see my great-grandchildren; long enough to travel in 12 countries; and long enough to have a loving family, plus much, much more. The second half of life can be good, but sometimes little scary, because it seems to go so much faster than in the first half. There are also so many “sinkholes” and things left undone. Jesus must have felt the stress of incompletion because his ministry was cut so short. The second half of life begins somewhere in the late 40s and early 50s, depending on the individual’s lifestyle and health. But numbers don’t tell the whole story, because some are old at 40 while others may still be young at 80. It’s not just a calendar thing. So much depends upon positive attitudes, and a healthy lifestyle. I heard about an older man creeping along, stooped, grey-haired and a little shaky. A sociology student was interviewing old people for a paper on “longevity”. “Pardon me, sir,” said the student, “but I’d like to ask you a couple of questions for a term paper I’m writing.” “Shoot,” said the old man. “What is your secret for longevity?” “Well, uh, I eat nothing but junk food, and I booze it up and carouse all night.” “Amazing!” said the student. “And how old are you?” “29,” came the answer.
Although there may come a time when you look in the mirror and see wrinkles never before noticed, bags under your eyes and an unnecessary lump under your chin, you can still have a young outlook on life that carries you right to the end. Trying to hold on to youth is a universal phenomenon. It’s mostly gone now, but I had a hair transplant in the 60’s. Being bald didn’t appeal to me. But it was a little embarrassing to stand in the pulpit with my head all bandaged. I explained it to the congregation and asked them to join me in praying for a “good harvest”.
Here are a few thoughts on “how” to enjoy the second-half of life:
Stay involved. I know from experience that it’s tempting to withdraw from certain activities because it takes effort to dress up and go. But I remember the advice an older man gave me one day: “The more involved you are, the more alive you are.” I have a sister in Mississippi who is a young 96. She still drives all over town, keeps up a large house and garden, entertains bridge clubs and a few other remarkable things. She is an inspiration to me to keep enjoying life. She doesn’t fret about her age.
Stay in shape. Live your life rather than watching others live it. Don’t let the TV hold you captive. What we did wrong in the first half shows up in the second half. I know a man who started jogging every day. Finally he gave it up and said, “My grandfather lived to be 95 and he never jogged a step in life, except to dodge grandma.” We can’t go by what our grandparents did or didn’t do, because this is whole new ballgame. I’ve never seen an obese 90-year old.
Stay in tune spiritually. In I Corinthians 3:16-17, we have some pertinent words from the Apostle Paul: “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you, for God’s temple is holy, and that you are.” If I am God’s Temple, I am responsible for what I put into my body and how I treat it. There’s a lot of confusion about “what’s good for you”. What was bad for you last year, is good for you this year. I read labels and try to stay with a low-fat diet, and I look for the “expiration dates”. When my daughter Cindy comes for a visit, she always checks to see if I am paying attention to expiration dates on food items. That’s a good thing! Keep growing in retirement. A rut is a shallow grave. Mend your fences. Ask for forgiveness from those you may have hurt. Be non-judgmental. Older people have the tendency to talk too much. Some folks go off and leave their mouth running.
It’s easy to over-identify with your work to the point that you may feel lost in retirement. What usually happens is a good case of routine boredom that can sap the life out of you. Studies have been made with people who retire too soon, too young, and they die prematurely. I believe your body will tell you when it’s time to retire. It worked for me. I know how to retire because I did it 8 times. My body finally gave me the message.
Keep growing in your faith. Jesus said that it was necessary to lose one’s life in order to find Life. The Greek uses two different words, both of which we translate by the same word “life”. The first is psyche—the biological life studied by science. The other is zoe—the transcendent life; the life of God. What kills certain retired people is not a threat from the outside, but a drama and conflict within. They never find that strong faith that helps you to accept the world and life as they are—with sickness, loss, old age, dependence and death. Keeping a strong faith and a positive attitude will help you go through all the passages of life.
I began this column with the words of a former parishioner who was amazed that I am still alive. Later, when I told this to a friend, he said this is what I should have said: “Lady, I’m just hanging around so I can officiate at your funeral.” Amen.
Next month: Part II of Enjoying the Second Half of Life