More than half of us are fearful about getting older. But Alexandra Davis says ageing is just another part of life, and has its benefits too
New research has revealed that over half of UK adults now fear ageing more as a direct result of the Covid 19 pandemic – even for those who identify as Christians.
Five years ago, only 22 per cent of adults were afraid of ageing. Today, it’s 42 per cent.
The survey, carried out by Pilgrims’ Friend Society and Savanta ComRes, also found that almost three quarters of adults doubt whether existing policies adequately care for older people – so inevitably there’s a concern that, when it’s our turn to need support in older age, it just won’t be available.
Do I fear ageing? Yes, I guess I do, especially the really big stuff like losing my ability to live independently, needing more help with physical things, being able to afford care, or not quite trusting that the state will be able to provide what I need, when I need it.
There’s a spiritual maturity that comes with a life walked with the Lord which can prepare us for the challenges of older age
Perhaps we don’t need to do a deep dive into why we fear ageing – we all know your body hurts more, your brain gets slower, more of those you love move away or die, and the optimism of youth gives way to some of the realities of lived experience. We shouldn’t just focus on why we fear ageing specifically, but why, when we follow a faith which says over and over again, “Do not be afraid”, we are, in fact, afraid?
Setting an example
I know quite a few older people – it’s a perk of being a long-time member of a church family which spans the generations. One of my favourite older people, Audrey, went to be with Jesus earlier this year. In our family, she was famously known for once opening a mini Snickers and muttering “I’m getting my snickers in a twist”. I cried laughing as the story was recounted at her thanksgiving service.
One of my favourite things about Audrey was that she lived life fearlessly; she seemed to take life by the horns right up until the point when she really just couldn’t anymore. Before the pandemic she was still helping out with food at church, perched on a stool doing the more stationary jobs but chipping in, all the same. When I recently did my first ever stint of washing the communion glasses, I asked who used to do it and who actually knew how to get them clean without smashing them. “Audrey” was the inevitable reply.
We follow a faith which says over and over again, “Do not be afraid”
Audrey spent her final months in the same care home as my grandma and I was able to visit her not very long before she died. She was, of course, a different woman by that point, and I wasn’t totally sure she’d know who I was. But, as I leant over her bedside, speaking as clearly and as warmly as I could through my mask, I saw the flicker of recognition in her eyes and a smile at the corners of her mouth.
Facing fear head on
So how do we face old age like Audrey? As Christians, what do we do with our fears? We face them the same way that we face whatever is in our path right now. Perhaps it’s a challenge in our parenting, a fear that our child is walking a dangerous road – how are we dealing with that? Maybe you’re anxious about the future, facing an unwanted job change, a redundancy or a relocation. Who are you sharing your concerns with and asking for support in practice and in prayer? If you’re younger but facing a significant health challenge, how are you walking through that fear with God and with others now?
Growing old is just another part of life, but with the benefit of hindsight and years walked with the Lord. What we do now prepares us for what we’ll do then. If we make a habit now of refusing to accept help when we need it, or avoid showing vulnerability in prayer with others, then that habit might lead us to a later life marked with isolation and anxiety. But if we’re looking to others now, leaning on them in our times of need and making it a habit to share our frailties in prayer, then we’ll take those experiences with us into older age.
Audrey lived a full life, serving her community faithfully as many of us are doing today. Her last years weren’t always easy – the inevitable physical wear and tear took hold and the challenge of being ready and able to accept her decreasing independence played its part. I’m not saying that if we have a positive, prayerful outlook, find ways to serve for as long as possible, keep connections with our family and friends, go on outings and keep going to church that we won’t face those things that we do inevitably fear about ageing. If God lets us live into old age, we will, inevitably, face all of those challenges. But ultimately, there’s a spiritual maturity that comes with a life with God, which can prepare us for the challenges of older age. That journey brings a trust in God that gives us more courage and less fear than when we were young. When we are young, our fearlessness often comes from trusting in our own strength, but age brings the reality of knowing where your strength truly comes from. A fearlessly steady faith in the Lord.
Audrey’s daughter says she smiled right up until the day before she was called home. Will we grab life by the horns, set fear aside and walk with Lord with a smile on our face until our final call comes?