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Fear of Old Age

Lisa Barry: It's interesting to me to watch how different people age. Some just slip into it gracefully and others fight it tooth-and-nail the entire way. But as we'll find out today on Gateway To Joy, growing old is something we need to accept; and as soon as we do that, a lot of other things will fall into place. All this week Elisabeth Elliot has been helping us all come to grips with the fear we have about the future: the fear of growing old, the fear of bodily harm or illness. And I think we'll all agree that fear is something that we have to guard against. It's a lesson we can appreciate, so I hope you can stay with us as we bring this series to a close with a final word on the "Fear of Old Age." Here's Elisabeth.

Elisabeth Elliot: "You are loved with an everlasting love." That's what the Bible says, "and underneath are the everlasting arms." This is your friend, Elisabeth Elliot, talking with you today about the "Fear of Old Age." I've written a little booklet called Forget Me Not, which came out of my own experience of watching my dear mother become senile and have to be taken care of in a convalescent home in Pennsylvania.

As I visited her there I saw a good many people that were in much worse shape than she was, and my reaction was like that of most of us, I suppose. You go into a place like that and everything in you just revolts against what you see - all these dear old people who look like corpses - their jaws hanging open. Sometimes they're drooling. Sometimes they're making meaningless sounds or shouting or banging on the tray of their wheelchairs. Everything in us just recoils and we say, "I can't bear it. Just think, I might be there. I don't want it. I don't want any part of it!" And the truth is, we're scared to death--the "Fear of Old Age."

Well, this little booklet that I wrote called Forget Me Not, deals with some of the things that the Lord showed me and comforted me with as I contemplated: the prospect of my mother getting worse, or of myself getting just like the worst of the people that I saw in that institution. So if you're interested in getting that little booklet, which really gives some help in how to regard and care for God's aging children, you can call and ask for Forget Me Not.

The "Fear of Old Age" is basically the "Fear of Death," isn't it? Why is it that we refuse to tell our age? Well, I don't, and the only reason that I don't mind telling my age (well, I shouldn't say the only reason--there are several good reasons.) One of them is that it's pretty obvious, isn't it? We're not really kidding people when we'd like them to think we're younger. Secondly, it's the will of God for me to be this age. He was the One that decided that I was to be born in December of 1926.

Why is it that we want to: Dye our hair? Have our faces lifted? Wear sweat suits and running shoes instead of dress (which would be a little bit more appropriate to grandmothers and grandfathers)? Subscribe to the youth cult? Or deny the truth (which is the will of God)?

I think--maybe I'm wrong--but I have a sneaking suspicion, that deep down underneath we are scared of old age. We really are trying to deny it. It's a form of--what I suppose psychologists would call--denial. And just as much as Part Three is God's story, so were Parts One and Two. Why not receive it and rejoice in it, and offer back all that it means to Him?

I offer back my age, my elderliness--whatever you want to call it--my sunset years, my golden age. I offer it up to Jesus. It was His idea in the first place. It is as an old woman that I am to glorify God. And so I say, "Yes, Lord, I'll take it. I will rejoice in it. And I will offer it to You with thanksgiving."

I had a letter from my mother-in-law, Jim Elliot's mother, way back in 1973. She had been pondering Psalm 71:14-23. She said, "I felt that these verses were just for me because I often feel so unnecessary and wonder why I am left here. This generation needs people who have faith, and trust the Lord, and for encouragement. When one is old (and often in pain and just tired) one feels so useless; and verses like this speak to me and give me a lift when badly needed.

"Why should I be left here when Ad," (she was referring to my second husband who had just died) "so capable and needed is taken. I remember when Jim was taken. Dad wept bitterly and asked God that question, feeling that Jim had so much to give in his youth. But God's ways are not our ways. He knows, and we just believe and trust. One's longings cannot be expressed."

That was a letter from my mother-in-law, Mom Elliot, in 1973. And she was very badly crippled from arthritis and from an unbalanced hip and from loss of calcium. Her hands were extremely crippled, and she was in a wheelchair, and on a crutch. I can understand why normally, naturally speaking, humanly speaking, she would just be tired and feeling useless and needing that seventy-first Psalm.

But the Bible tells me that gray hair is a crown of glory. Well, I look at my crown of glory in the mirror every morning. Proverbs 16:31 (NLT) "Gray hair is a crown of glory and it is won by a virtuous life." I don't want to disguise that crown that God has given me.

In Acts 17:26 (NIV) we read, "He determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live." God has determined the date of your birth, the date of your death; and on this particular day, think of the fact that God determined the age that you would be.

My brother, Phil, often sends me a birthday card (only because, of my four brothers, his birthday is the closest to mine--we usually remember each other's.) He's number one in the family of six and I'm number two. Last year he sent me a birthday card which said on the outside, "I thought birthdays were supposed to make you look older," and I opened the card and inside said, "But I don't think you look any worse than you did last year!" Of course, Phil doesn't see me very often and I know that I do look a little worse, but probably not too much more ravaged.

Somebody figured out that if a human life is analogous to a single day's waking hours (say 6:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.) then a twenty-year-old is at 10:00 in the morning, a thirty-year-old is at noon, a forty-year-old is at 2:00 p.m., a sixty-year-old is at 6:00 p.m. So I'm getting on into the evening. But each hour is in God's hand. To me, that's a happy prospect. I'm going to see His face. I'm going to be like Him. Am I afraid? Perfect love casts out fear.

My love isn't perfect. I still have some fears. But the more He teaches me to love Him, the more I trust Him. And the more I trust Him, the less room there is for fear. There's no fear for the future; God is already there. Isn't that a terrific prospect?

In 2 Corinthians 4:11 Paul says, "We are consigned to our death every day for the sake of Jesus, so that in our mortal flesh the life of Jesus, too, may be openly shown."

Now would you allow me for once to quote from Plato? I don't lay Plato and Socrates on you very often, but this is so appropriate to what I wanted to say today. From Plato's Phaedo, "Socrates replied with a smile, 'O Simmias, what are you saying? I am not very likely to persuade other men that I do not regard my present situation as a misfortune, if I cannot even persuade you that I am no worse off now than at any other time in my life.'" I should put in parenthesis that Socrates was in prison, facing his death.

"'Will you not allow that I have as much of the spirit of prophecy in me as the swans? For they, when they perceive that they must die, having sung all their life long, do then sing more lustily than ever, rejoicing in the thought that they are about to go away to the god whose ministers they are. But men, because they are themselves afraid of death, slanderously affirm of the swans that they sing a lament at the last, not considering that no bird sings when cold, or hungry, or in pain, not even the nightingale, nor the swallow, nor yet the hoopoe; which are said indeed, to tune a lay of sorrow, although I do not believe this to be true of them any more than of the swans.

"'But because they are sacred to Apollo, they have the gift of prophecy, and anticipate the good things of another world, wherefore they sing and rejoice in that day more than ever they did before. And I too, believing myself to be the consecrated servant of the same God, and the fellow-servant of the swans....'"

Think of that, we human beings are servants of God, aren't we? And so are swans and all other creatures. Socrates says, "Being a fellow servant of the swans and thinking that I have received from my master gifts of prophecy not inferior to theirs, I would not go out of life less merrily than the swans."

Have you heard that the swan song is a lament? Well, Socrates takes issue with that. As he points out, no bird sings when cold or hungry or in pain--not even the nightingale. So the swan is not singing a sorrowful farewell. He is singing at the prospect of going to the Master who gave him his gifts.

Will you go out of life less merrily than the swans? There's no reason to if you have the hope that all Christians are given. We shall be like Him for we shall see Him as He is. Don't be afraid of old age. Thank God for it.

Lisa Barry: What a great series! And the best thing is, there's something for everyone to apply--young and old. But before we go, let me tell you about a unique gift suggestion. With Christmas only a little more than a month away, you no doubt have your gift list started. Well, I can almost guarantee that there are names on that list with no gift idea written beside it. They're hard to buy for and every year you have this struggle, don't you?

Well, our Christmas packet this year is different than anything else we've offered before. And it just might be the thing for that hard-to-buy-for person. Let me take a minute to tell you what's in it. First of all, Elisabeth has written a brand new book called The Music of His Promises. It's been a while since she's released a new book, so you can be confident that no one has it yet.

You'll also receive a flip calendar that's good for any year and can be re-used. The pages have been updated and improved for 2000. And for those who enjoy sharing Christmas stories with your family and friends, we've included the one-week tape series of holiday tales that Elisabeth will be reading in a couple of weeks.

It's a great packet and for those of you who are able to support us financially with a gift of $25 or more, we'd be happy to send that out to you. Our address is:

Gateway To Joy, Box 82500, Lincoln, NE 68501. Or call toll-free 1-800-759-4JOY, 24-hours a day. That's 1-800-759-4569. Or a third option is our Web site at gatewaytojoy.org.

Gateway To Joy has been a production of Back to the Bible and people like you make it possible. Monday, Elisabeth begins a brand new series about God's teaching, so make it a point to join us then for the next Gateway To Joy.

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