70 Candles

I have a big birthday coming up in several days, and it’s taken me the better part of the past year to deal with the fact that I am no longer in an age range that can be considered “middle age.”

In an article published on October 14, 2021, titled, What is middle age and what age is officially old?” by Amy Cuevas Schroeder, director of educational content for Unusual Ventures, and founder and CEO of Jumble & Flow (a new lifestyle brand that empowers women to thrive in midlife), she writes:

No one can avoid aging, but aging well and with purpose is something else—our raison d’être at Jumble & Flow. 

But first things first: Who gets to decide when you’re officially old? We’ve all heard that age is just a number—we’ll plus-one that but we’re also open-minded about medical research and data.

Not surprisingly, the answer to this age-old age question seems to be “it depends on who you ask.” A 2017 study by U.S. Trust reports that American millennials defined old starting at age 59. Gen Xers said old age begins at 65, while baby boomers and the silent generation agreed that you’re not really old until you hit age 73.

But that was several years go. According to a 2020 survey of 2,000 Americans conducted by Let’s Get Checked, 57 is commonly thought of as “officially old.”

Looking back, when I was 20 I probably would have agreed with the numbers in both of these studies. I realize this is cliche, but now that I’m in my 40s and 57 isn’t that far off, 57 seems like middle age to me….

Psychology Today defines midlife as “the central period of a person’s life, spanning from approximately age 40 to age 65.”

Britannica (yep, they’re still around) defines middle age like this: “Though the age period that defines middle age is somewhat arbitrary, differing greatly from person to person, it is generally defined as being between the ages of 40 and 60.”

HuffPost reports on a study that says “the average person believes youth ends at 35 and old age begins at 58. Therefore, the years in between—all 23 of them—constitute middle age.” (Quote source here.)

So there you have it…. According to the data above (and how old you happen to be right now), old age can begin anywhere between the ages of 57 at the low end and 73 at the high end. Since I am quickly approaching 70, I prefer the high end. That gives me three more years to bask in the land of “middle age.”

But what does it even matter? If one reaches this age it definitely means you are still alive and kicking, and that is certainly something worth celebrating. Many people have never reached this age, and my own mother was one of them (she died at the age of 54).

During my entire lifetime living here in America, our culture has been obsessed with staying young, looking young, acting young, and catering to the young. For example, look at this statistic:

According to the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (ISAPS), the United States claims the highest total number of plastic surgery procedures in the world. There were 4.2 million plastic surgery procedures performed in the most recently survey (in 2016). This accounts for 17.9 percent of all plastic surgeries worldwide. (Quote source here.)

In an article published on November 9, 2018, titled, Why Are We Still Obsessed With Looking Young?” by Danielle Pender, contributor on Refinery29.com, the article opens with two younger women sitting in a café, and they are discussing an older woman they both know. As Pender notes, the comments start off innocuously and turn saltier, such as the fact that she was “pushing 40” and still “trying to get away with it”–(looking and acting younger). Pender states in response:

The thing is, I instantly knew what they meant because I’ve judged older women for doing things I have deemed to be age-inappropriate. We no longer feel the need to slut shame each other or gossip about another woman’s sexual past as a way to keep some kind of moral order, so why do we feel the need to do this about a woman’s age? Where does this policing of older women come from?

You don’t have to look very far to find answers. The skincare regimes we all buy into promise younger, dewier, plumper, more youthful skin. One brand claims their new powder will give you an “ethereal veil of youth”. The buzziest beauty products all promise to deliver a younger-looking you. Anti-ageing, anti-wrinkle serums, creams and elixirs flood the market and our consciousness.

Women over 50 rarely feature in mainstream media and if they do their faces are suspiciously line-free. If a woman does dare to bare her untouched face, she receives a vitriolic backlash. Look at the treatment of Sarah Jessica Parker after she took her 53-year-old face to the Met Gala this year. She was ridiculed and vilified for having the audacity to have (a) worn blue eyeshadow and (b) aged beyond people’s frozen-in-time memory of her as thirtysomething Carrie. (Quote source here.)

Pender later states, “By rejecting or disrespecting older women, we’re rejecting and disrespecting our future selves.” The irony should not be lost on any of us at any age.

My emotions have been mixed as I approach my 70th birthday. I’m well aware of the culture I have been raised in and lived in as a woman throughout my 70 years on this planet of ours. I was happy with the fact that my face remained pretty much wrinkle free throughout my 60’s until I lost 30 pounds back in 2019 and the “padding” in my face that kept those wrinkles hidden was no longer there. I suppose it is a plus that my hair has not turned gray, and it might not as my maternal grandmother, who lived to be 86, died with a full head of brown hair with only a sprinkle of gray hairs running through it.

Can you see in that one paragraph I’ve written above just how much our culture has influenced us as to the terror it can strike in us as we get older and we no longer look “young” or at least “younger” anymore? And it doesn’t help that ageism is alive and well in our culture, too.

In an article published on Barclay Friends on January 12, 2022, titled, Seniors are Alive and Well: Laying the Ageist Myths to Rest (author’s name not mentioned), the article states:

Almost as regretful as the recent death of the beloved entertainer Betty White was the fact that the active, whip-sharp senior was less than a month shy of her 100th birthday, an event she and her fans were excited to celebrate in grand style.

It is also an event that would have been unheard of 100 years ago.

The statistics on life expectancy today are staggering. Consider this:

    • One in four 65-year-olds today will live past the age of 90, and one in ten will live past 95.
    • The life expectancy for men today is 84.3 years; for women, it is 86.6 years.
    • 100 years ago, the average life expectancy was about 50 years old.
    • The number of Americans over the age of 85 is rising faster than any other age group.
    • The number of Americans 65 and older is projected to double by 2060, totaling 98 million.
    • As of this writing, the oldest person alive is 119, a woman named Kane Tanaka who has lived through over a century of history’s momentous events, including the Spanish Flu–the last global pandemic before Covid-19.

Key factors that contribute to increased life expectancy are better health care, improved hygiene, greater emphasis on a healthy lifestyle, adequate nutritious food, better medical care, and reduced child mortality.

Yet, even as people are living significantly longer than ever before, many of the age-old and ageist stereotypes about senior citizens are still alive and kicking. Let’s look at–and bust–some of the most common myths attributed to older age. (We might also look at Paul McCartney, Mick Jagger, Samuel L. Jackson, Cher, Jimmy Buffet, Jane Fonda, and Robert DeNiro, to name just a few popular icons defying ageist stereotypes.) (Quote source  here.)

The article continues with a section titled, Debunking 10 Myths About Senior Citizens.” I’ve listed the 10 myths below and you can click on this link to read more about each of them.

Myth #1: Seniors can’t learn new skills. (Click here to read more.)

Myth #2: Nothing can be done to reduce the risk of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. (Click here to read more.)

Myth #3: Most seniors are weak and frail and shouldn’t exercise to avoid injury. (Click here to read more.)

Myth #4: Most seniors are bound for a nursing home. (Click here to read more.)

Myth #5: Seniors are often depressed, grumpy and isolated. (Click here to read more.)

Myth #6: Genetics determine how well you age. (Click here to read more.)

Myth #7: Seniors don’t have sex anymore. (Click here to read more.)

Myth #8: Most seniors have trouble hearing or seeing, or both. (Click here to read more.)

Myth #9: Seniors should give up driving. (Click here to read more.)

Myth #10: All seniors talk about is their ailments. (Click here to read more and for quote source.)

Case in point: I mentioned above that my mother passed away at the age of 54 (from health issues brought on by diabetes); however, my father lived to be 95 (he was a month shy of his 96th birthday when he passed away in 2019), and besides the fact that he did wear hearing aids as he got older, he “blew out of the water” each of those myths listed above. He was healthy, vibrant, mentally alert and sharp as a tack right up until his death. He also drove his own car right up until his last year of life, and he rode motorcycles throughout his life, and he could still fly an airplane in his 90’s (he was a pilot in WW2). He was rarely ever grumpy or depressed, and he lived life to the full.

In one final article for this post, published on November 7, 2019, titled, Our World Wants to Transend Aging. Christians Should Embrace It,” by Jason Thacker, chair of research in technology ethics at The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, he writes:

My grandmother was one of the strongest people I ever knew. Growing up, we were almost inseparable. Right before she died, she clenched my hand as I sat with her—and it reminded me of what the Bible says about the glory of growing old:

Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you. (Isa. 46:4)

It’s tempting in our technologically rich society to treat old age as a burden and nuisance rather than something to be embraced. Many of us dread going gray and not being able to do the things we did when we were younger. We seek to mask or overcome old age with anti-aging remedies and revolutionary medical breakthroughs. Yet as Proverbs 20:29 tells us, “The glory of young men is their strength, but the splendor of old men is their gray hair.” 

God casts a rich vision for growing old—one Christians should champion in a world that fears, fights, and attempts to hide aging.

Utopian Dreams

Generation after generation has sought to overcome aging with elixirs, medicine, and even by chasing the “fountain of youth.” In contemporary times we chase this elusive “fountain of youth” as we clamor to develop anti-aging solutions and to transcend, with technology, humanity’s natural limits.

Tech titans such as Larry Ellison, Peter Thiel and Elon Musk, as well as prominent futurists such as Yuval Noah Harari, are fascinated with these types of life-extending technologies, which in many ways perpetuate the transhumanist goals of upgrading humanity. Utopian dreams of overcoming aging and death have captured the attention of many, who believe old age is something to be avoided at all costs rather than humbly embraced.

Entire segments of medical technology research focus on anti-aging drugs and treatments. Biotech company “resTORbio has been conducting clinical trials of a drug called RTB101, which seeks to slow the age-related decline of the immune system. While the drug has successfully extended the lifespan of yeast, worms, and mice, it remains unclear if it will work on humans. The drug’s ultimate goal is to prolong our lives by keeping us healthier for longer.

Others deny that living a long life is worth it. Medical ethicist Ezekiel Emmanuel, who served as a chief architect of Obamacare, argues that life after 75 isn’t worth living, because you become more of a drain on society’s resources. He famously promised to refuse all heroic medical interventions, vaccinations, and antibiotics after the age of 75. Without an active and engaged contribution to society, our lives just aren’t worth living. True and fulfilling life, in his disturbingly arbitrary view, ends at 75 years.

But as dystopian as that idea may sound, the underlying utilitarian premise is widespread: your worth is based on what you can contribute. This worldview–increasingly pervasive in our technological society—is one Christians should completely reject. 

A utilitarian basis for the value of human life runs contrary to the vision of dignity found in Scripture—which situates our value on the fact that we are made in God’s image (Gen. 1:26–27). This means that even if you have nothing to offer society, you are still infinitely valuable, because God crafted you in his image. He alone determines your value and your days.

Embracing Gray

Even Christians can subtly buy into these utilitarian ideas. Too often we clamor for the same life-extending medical treatments and treat older people as burdens to be managed rather than image-bearers to be cherished. We downplay the elderly’s God-given talents and contributions to church life by preferring to highlight the gifts and preferences of the young. We over-prize youth by elevating untested leaders to prominent positions of authority, rather than seasoned leaders who have been tested and refined (1 Tim. 3:6; 5:22).

But Christians shouldn’t follow the world’s pathetically low view of aging. For Scripture calls us to a radically higher view instead (Lev. 19:32Ps. 71:18). 

Pursuing restorative uses of technology, such as artificial organs and limbs, can be a good thing—a way we promote the sanctity of life in a world ravaged by sin. Medical technologies that fight the effects of aging can express God’s common grace if they are developed and deployed in ways consistent with the biblical paradigm that all life is valuable and ultimately points back to our Creator. But as many evangelical leaders recently proclaimed in a statement of principles on artificial intelligence, we must emphatically deny “that death and disease—effects of the fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ.” 

If we live as if this life is all there is, we will naturally seek to extend it as long as possible. And if we live as if the value of human life is determined by contributions or strength, then we will seek to end it when their perceived worth to others is gone. But if we instead let Scripture guide life, we will see that old age is not something to avoid but rather to embrace, for to live is Christ and to die is gain (Phil 1:21).

And what is the gain? It’s better than any utopian, transhumanist dream. We will forever enjoy the One who created us and who himself determines our value and dignity. (Quote source here.)

And therein lies the truth about ageing. So as I contemplate turning 70 in a few days, I am reminded that it is God who numbers our days and “locks in” our time here on earth. King David wrote in Psalm 139:16, Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” And Job stated in Job 14:5, A person’s days are determined; you have decreed the number of his months and have set limits he cannot exceed.” 

I’ll end this post with the words of Isaiah from Isaiah 40:31: Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary…

They will walk . . .

And not . . .

Be faint . . . .

YouTube Video: “Keep Me In The Moment” by Jeremy Camp:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here