By Janice Lane Palko
I recently celebrated my birthday. Now that I’m past the fifty-yard line of life and heading to the end zone, I can no longer deny that I am aging. When I was in my twenties and thirties, I could ignore the subtle signs of the advancing clock, and in my forties, platitudes like “forty is the new thirty” provided a flimsy veil of denial that I was growing older. However, when you hit your fifties, your children are grown, you are now called grandma, and conversations with friends gravitate toward aging parents, physical ailments, and possible retirement dates, there is no denying the obvious: I am getting older.
Many of us take a passive approach to our advancing years, believing that how one ages is out of one’s control–that it’s something that just happens to you. Others go into warrior mode and fight the “dying of the light” with hair plugs, Botox, and sundry other remedies in an attempt to vanquish the inevitable. This birthday spurred me to examine how I wanted to age. I decided I didn’t want to take the “curl up and die” approach and surrender to Father Time, but I also decided that I didn’t want to take the “aging rock star” approach and look foolish trying to cling to my youth at all cost. So how to approach this process of growing older? The second chapter of Luke’s Gospel provides the prescription. This last line jumped out at me as this chapter concludes: And Jesus increased in wisdom, and age, and grace with God and men.
It may seem odd talking about growing older when considering the immortality of Jesus. Though human and divine at the same time, Jesus, nevertheless, did age in body as is evident from his progression from birth as an infant to his culmination as an adult man in his thirties. Therefore, Jesus knew what it was to grow older, and as in all things, He provides the example for all humanity. This verse from Luke is His prescriptive on aging, and it implies that it should be an active, deliberative process that includes three aspects.
The first aspect is to grow in wisdom. To age following Jesus’s example, we must actively pursue wisdom. What exactly is wisdom? Proverbs 9: 10 tells us that “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” Fear in this sense does not mean wariness of God, but of a healthy knowledge of His magnificence and our place and God’s place in His grand design. To acquire wisdom is not to gain knowledge but to be always persevering to know God and know ourselves in relation to Him.
The second aspect is to grow in age. While we know that Jesus advanced in years, many commentaries say that this phrase actually means to mature. Not only did Jesus grow in wisdom, but he flourished into our Savoir. What does it mean to mature? It means to become what God intended you to be, to embrace and fulfill your mission on earth. So, we are not only to gain knowledge of God and ourselves, but we are also to channel that wisdom into serving God by becoming exactly who He intended us to be.
Finally, we must grow in grace. Now, if Jesus is perfect, he could not have grown in grace as we usually think of it. Most biblical scholars take this passage to mean that Jesus performed greater and greater works for men and for God. Therefore, to follow in Jesus’s example, we must continue to acquire knowledge of God and ourselves and strive to fulfill our mission on earth. However, unlike Christ we are not perfected in grace. As such, we must rely on God to help us do greater and greater works in His name.
So, our golden years are designed not to be a passive time of acceptance of the elapsing years or an unreasonable attachment to bodily youth, but to enjoy a dynamic time of continued growth and development. We are to continue our run all the way to the end zone—perhaps with flagging physical strength and failing breath—but, nevertheless, with a vibrant spirit filled with wisdom, maturity, and grace.