by John Lowe
6 April 2016
Title: Aging—the World’s Oldest Man (Genesis 5:1-32)
Who would you identify as the first senior adult? The Scripture text will give you a clue. You may have had the question when playing Trivial Pursuit, "Who is the oldest person in the Bible?" Now you know where I am headed.
Many of us have heard of Methuselah and his claim to fame, living to be 969 years old. Isn't it amazing that Methuselah lived so many years? Why do you think there is such a difference in the length of his life and the length of ours? At least four other men -- including Adam -- are listed in this text as having lived more than nine hundred years. Methuselah edged out Jared for longevity by seven years resulting in many people remembering Methuselah's name. Does anybody remember Jared? What a difference seven years can make.
I am 77 years old, and believe me when I say that my body feels every one of those years. Now I wish I had taken better care of my health but it is too late because I already have some serious health issues: Heart disease; high blood pressure; diabetes; restless leg; sleep apnea; back, shoulder, hip, knee and foot pain; depression, anxiety. I could go on but I think I can make my point. “I can’t imagine living another 895 years with all these problems. Surely, he at least had arthritis.” Or perhaps God shielded him from every disease and accident that could happen.
Consider what we know about Methuselah. He was the son of Enoch; he had his first son when he was 187. That son's name was Lamech, who was the father of Noah. Methuselah had other children and he died at age 969. That is all we know about him. I regret that his other children were not considered significant enough by the story-tellers to at least have their names listed.
Lamech was listed because he was Noah's father and Methuselah was mentioned, not because he lived the longest but because he was Noah's grandfather. Don't you prefer to have your identity because of who you are rather than because of your relationship with someone else? You are a person in your own right rather than John's wife, Joan's husband, Dillon's dad, George's mother-in-law, Sam's father, or Sarah's daughter. However, as the story unfolded and Noah became a significant character in the story, it became necessary to trace all the leads in the story to provide a family tree extending from Adam to Noah.
Methuselah served as a link between generations. That is something all of us do, whether or not we have children. We are the communicators to the next generation of what our generation has been like and has accomplished. In this sense, we are passing on our part of the life story.
But surely there is more to life than being a link between generations. We can be more purposeful than that about our lives. One thing that stands out clearly in this text is human mortality. The phrase, "and he died," is found eight times in this passage. The Bible does not beat around the bush when it comes to the fact of human mortality. People are born, they live for a season, and they die, just as all living things on earth do. However, there is the major difference between human beings and all other life forms; it is that we are conscious of dying, we can foresee it, and we feel the resistance of the insatiable hunger for life.
Methuselah has become the biblical symbol of longevity. His life was long but thin as a string. The two Q's of life are important, quantity and quality. A certain quantity of years is important in order for a person to develop quality. Infants that die do not have enough quantity of life to develop quality. That does not mean their lives are meaningless because they are important to their parents, but the infants are not aware of the quality of life.
Length, breadth, and depth are necessary to provide life with both quantity and quality. Depth and breadth of life are developed through relationships. People with many friends have a breadth of experience from which to draw because they are exposed to the experiences and knowledge of many people and open themselves up to human need and understanding. Depth and breadth also develop through the relationships of people with God and as they open themselves to the presence of God in their private lives and in their relationships with others. Just as a shallow lake becomes stagnant so do our lives if we do not develop depth.
One of the punishments of people in the middle ages was to place them in dungeons where it was impossible for them to stand erect. How painful, cruel, and destructive that punishment was. Many people condemn themselves to an emotional and spiritual existence like that. Their lives are shallow, no depth, and they stagnate. I read this just recently, "A person wrapped up in himself makes a very small package." (Repeat)
Developing lives with length, breadth, and depth will serve us well as we approach the threshold of being senior adults. Several dynamics are alive in senior adults to which no allusion is made in the brief information we have about Methuselah except by omission. However, the sketchy information we have about him suggests a need for more to happen in our lives than to be born, have children, and die. Surely there is more meaning in life than being a human incubator or reproductive factory.
Several issues confront senior adults. People are living longer now than at any time in history. The fastest declining age group is 18-year-olds. At the same time, the fastest-growing age group in our country is those over 85. Many people will have the opportunity to have 20 or more years of retirement, which suggests the need to understand retirement as a change of direction rather than a cessation of work.
What many senior adults are doing is retiring from their vocation and discovering an avocation. This requires using their judgment, planning, and new ways to invest their energy. This approach is essential in places where there is mandatory retirement, when our aging has limited our ability to do the job, or when we are no longer willing to deal constructively with the pressure and tension that are common to the vocation. Of course, some are able to continue in their vocations but on reduced schedules.
Several issues confront senior adults that must be discussed. All of these issues confront people at all ages and stages of life, but they are compounded and intensified in the lives of senior adults. Often there is a reduction in mobility, and other physical impairments increase. None of us are as agile and mobile today as we were twenty years ago. We may compensate well for these losses or hide them from ourselves, but we need to admit we can't do things as fast as we used to.
I must be careful because I have too many physical limitations. I told you of some of them. But add to that the fact that I am too fat to play football as I did in the distant past; I don't move as quickly and I fall harder and don't recuperate as rapidly from the aches and bruises as I did in 1960. Senior adults find these kinds of experiences intensified.
Someone has said that you know you're getting older when you find yourself in the middle of the stairs and can't remember whether you were going up or down, or find yourself at the door and can't remember whether you were going in or out. Or you try to make a phone call on the TV remote. People of all ages have these things happen to them, but senior adults seem to experience these things more often.
Senior adults are almost constantly faced with the deaths of friends and family. The members of a Sunday school class of senior adults find themselves in this situation often. As a congregation gets older it is faced with the deaths of members at an increasing rate.
As people grow older and move toward and into senior adulthood there is an increasing chance that there will be a reduction of independence. It may come because failing eyesight means a person cannot see well enough to drive. It may come because a person is just no longer able to manage a house by herself. Whatever form this takes, it meets with great resistance, and often senior adults want to avoid places and situations that remind them of this, such as visiting a nursing home or someone at home who is greatly limited. My sister is 89, and she has to consider moving to an “assisted living” facility or a nursing home. When we discuss her options I find she is very stressed and confused about her future.
Often "fessing" up to our limitations is the way to begin coping with them. This can lead to a healthy, honest assessment of what a person can and cannot do. This enables a person to learn where the boundaries are for him or her, and live within them. My father stopped hunting when he was 70 because diabetes made his feet to tender to walk on uneven ground, and he couldn’t walk all that far. He saw the limitation and learned to live with it.
My father illustrates an issue which senior adults must face. The issue is to assess what one can and cannot do, learn where the boundaries are, and be willing to live within them. This is the same thing that all of us have to do no matter what age or stage of life we are in, but the issue and need are more intense and complex for senior adults. The limitation of what a person can do in no way limits who the person is. Limitation of life does not equate to resignation or “giving up.” Limitations belong to the order of doing, not to the order of being. We struggle with our value as persons and often equate our value with what we are able to do rather than who we are as people created in the image of God.
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