That we age is a fact of life but a lot of the issues that confront us relating to aging are new to us. As J I Packer points out, today we face an "elongated aging process" as bestowed upon us by the modern medical services. It has sustained our mobility and overall well being for much longer, giving us at least a decade more of potential service in our advance years. That capacity was not available to us before and our mindset about old age has not adjusted to the current trend. This book asks what should be the approach to these extra years according to the bible.
I find this book challenging to my Christian walk in the second half of the book when Packer describes the reader he aims the book for - the Christian seniors. It prompts us to reflect if we have run a good race - so far- and if we have served Christ well. I am middle-aged. When I read the description, I feel this is the description of what I should have been when I reach that age. Am I getting there? You may well feel that you could do more starting now!
Packer challenges the advice that the secular Western world gives to retirees - relax, slow down, take it easy, amuse yourself, do only what you enjoy (p.27). Packer simply signposts it as the "wrong way". "What is wrong with it? For the moment I leave aside its lack of Christian content and focus on the fact that it prescribes idleness, self-indulgence, and irresponsibility as the goal of one's declining years. This, over time, will generate a burdensome sense that one's life is no longer significant, but has become, quite simply, useless." (p.29) I cannot agree more. In addition, "any ideology or social blueprint of behaviour pattern that has the effect of detaching the elderly from the ongoing life of what today we call the nuclear family is misguided and inappropriate.' (p.32) This however is a new perspective for me as I was brought up in this trend of nuclear family.
Packer paints a picture of life-long learning and leading for Christian seniors both in church and in family. "The challenge that faces us is not to let that fact (bodily decline) slow us down spiritually, but to cultivate the maximum zeal for the closing phase of our earthly lives." (p.72) "Zeal means priority, passion, and effort in pursuing God's cause." (p.74) Christian seniors should by then display ripeness and spiritual maturity.(Hmmm.... are we getting there? If not, what shall we do differently now?) Also "it is important that we should not forget our own families, even if they seem to be forgetting us." (p.96) "Christian seniors should make a point of being available to give as much help of this kind (mature wisdom) as families are willing to receive, and of showing themselves affectionate, equable, and (if I may coin a word) unsnubbable as they do so." (p.92) This, I must say, is completely opposite to how I envisage my role as my children have their own families.
I think this book offers a lot of food for thought even if the reader has not reached the senior age yet.I think the general message is right, if you have walked steadfastly with Christ for decades, it will be a waste not to use the lifetime of experience and the wealth of wisdom to continue bringing impact on people around us. The challenge for the church is to allow the seniors to do so and for seniors to maintain an active service life to be fruitful in their families and within the church community. And the ripening process starts today! .