by Ed Smithson
It is difficult to “grow old gracefully.”
Having said that, I don’t know too many people who are doing such a bad job of it after all. With all our maladies and inadequacies, we still manage to be civilized, most of the time. And, of course, it just could be that we have seen a lot of people grow old and do it without becoming morose or morons. So perhaps we just imitate things we have seen, to some degree.
But there are times when it is hard. When you have been active all your life and then you get to the point where you can’t be, it causes one to stop and think sometimes. It is especially difficult when you see others close to your own age who get around pretty well, and you can’t.
I see quite a few people at church that have some of the same difficulties. Some of them use canes and get around pretty slow, others use walkers and do a fairly good job. Then there are those who just cannot yet bring themselves to use a cane or walker. I feel sorry for them but I understand how they feel. They suffer more than necessary because of pride.
However, there are some advantages when we get older. We find we don’t have to rush around like we used to. We know it is still going to be there when we get to it and if not, it really does not matter that much.
People are courteous and helpful. Almost any time I go out I have someone who holds a door for me. I like that! And it makes them feel good too because they helped a crippled old man. I realized years ago the advantage of being disadvantaged. I was having some health problem which included a problem walking. I was using a cane and flew to Phoenix, Ariz., to the Mayo Clinic. They let me on the plane first, people held doors open for me and waited on me to pass through. Folks would hold the elevator for me, to give me time to get in. It wasn’t bad.
There are some folks that actually like old people. They like being around them and hearing their stories. Or maybe they are just being polite? Never mind, it comes out OK anyway.
Then there are the kids. Generally they pay a little more attention and are a little more solicitous when we get older, and I like that too. I certainly have no complaints in that department for my sons have been very good to me.
Oh, and don’t forget the neighbors, if you have good ones, and I have some of the best in the country. I have the best neighbors I have ever had, anywhere. I thank God for them.
I guess getting old is worse for preachers than anyone else, perhaps. Since I am a preacher I have a tendency to know this better than others. There is an attitude of some in the church, not all, that when a preacher gets to a certain age he should be put on the shelf. How sad and tragic! Here is a man that has a lot of experience, I mean a lot, in dealing with all kinds of people and situations for many years. Now many are relegated to the “back of the room” and their considerable talents, experience and knowledge are going to waste. About the only time they are considered is when things have gotten into such a mess, they don’t have anywhere else to go, so they turn to him.
I guess old preachers have the hardest time listening to young preachers. I know I do. I mentioned this to a friend some time ago and was reminded, rightly or wrongly, that I had always had a hard time listening to young preachers. Well, I manage, and there are some I really appreciate. But when you have to listen to people who are unprepared, half prepared, it is difficult. Sometimes it might not be their fault. Perhaps they are spread too thin. It occasionally happens to all, but if it continues, something should be done.
Many young preachers think that old preachers are “old hat,” “old fogies” or “over the hill,” that they don’t understand the modern age. Perhaps they understand it better than some of them think. What gets me is that some think that if an old preacher tries to help, they are just “in the way.” I have made the statement in the past that jealousy is a “preacher disease.” Not that they invented it, but I have seen jealousy between preachers. It is the most ridiculous thing I have ever seen and I don’t remember seeing it until we got into the “growth syndrome.” This idea of, “I want to be bigger than you.” Or, “my congregation has grown bigger than yours.” For crying out loud! Where in the world did that come from? Egos, and bigger egos! Preachers are in the business of preaching the gospel, which is able to save souls, and the Lord is not counting one against the other. All he is doing is counting souls.
Some time ago, as I was getting older, it was suggested to me that there might be some jealousy going on in a group of preachers and I might be involved. That was the most ridiculous thing I had ever heard. The last thing in the world I would have ever dreamed of being accused of is jealousy. Did I get mad? Did I get angry? No! that would not help the situation. I was livid! I have spent over 57 years in this work and never, never been accused of that. I just simmered down and let it slide. I suppose you have heard the expression, “There is no competition between lighthouses.” That has been applied to preachers and churches, and while in some instances it might not be true, it should be. There is no reason for one preacher to envy another’s success. I suppose one reason some of us older preachers keep our peace is that we don’t want to be accused of “sour grapes.”
There are some young preachers that appreciate us “old geezers” and I am thankful for that. I don’t know many of them but it shines a little light into an otherwise dismal situation. I suppose it is a part of the age. I do not remember, when I was starting out, young preachers thinking the same way about old preachers.
I am most fortunate. I am still working at 75. I do a weekly radio program and do these articles each week, for the web site, now for almost two years. It gives me a chance to do what I like to do most, and to vent once in a while like this.
It is not a situation known only in the church. Hardly a week passes that we do not hear in the news or read in the newspapers, where someone has been “dismissed” because they are “getting old.” Sure, there are laws on the books to prevent that, but some people delight in being able to thwart the law and get by with it. Sometimes they don’t, though.
Oh, we sometimes forget things. Seems of late I can’t remember some things long enough to turn around, but our hearts are good. We don’t have long here, those of us who are older. So better use what we have to give while you can, for soon we will be gone.
I don’t know about you but one of the consolations I have about this situation is, that if they live, the younger will get older and they will then understand.
Published as a part of Ed’s “Frankly Speaking Notes” presented by his website www.oldpathspulpit.org. Published November 30, 2007. Ed originates from McAlester, Okla., and studied at Central Christian (now OCUSA) and David Lipscomb College. He has been preaching 57 years. He authored The Forgotten Commandment, a study of church discipline, in 1965. Involved in radio work for the last 47 years, Ed has a weekly radio program on KTXR 101.3 FM in Springfield, Mo. He resides in Euless, Tex.