It is reported that Henry W. Longfellow was once asked by an admirer how he continued to maintain the vigor to write so beautifully in the waning years of his life. He turned to an apple tree nearby and said, “That apple tree is very old. I never saw prettier blossoms upon it than it now bears. The tree grows a little new wood each year and I suppose it is out of that new wood that those blossoms come. Like the apple tree, I like to grow a little new wood annually.”
What a wonderful attitude to develop. Instead of talking incessantly about our aches and pains we should be producing “new wood” in our sunset years. Aged saints are valuable assets to any congregation, by reason of experience and wisdom. It is true that some consider the aged to be a liability rather than an asset. It all hinges on the kind of outlook older people cultivate in reference to life. We should heed the words of Longfellow and continue to grow and remain useful while in the world. As long as one grows, age is a blessed anticipation.
The Holy Spirit, through Solomon, has given a beautiful picture of the infirmities of advanced years: “Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh, when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them; While the sun, or the light, or the moon, or the stars, be not darkened, nor the clouds return after the rain: In the day when the keepers of the house shall tremble, and the strong men shall bow themselves, and the grinders cease because they are few, and those that look out of the windows be darkened. And the doors shall be shut in the streets, when the sound of the grinding is low, and he shall rise up at the voice of the bird, and all the daughters of musick shall be brought low; Also when they shall be afraid of that which is high, and fears shall be in the way, and the almond tree shall flourish, and the grasshopper shall be a burden, and desire shall fail: because man goeth to his long home, and the mourners go about the streets: or ever the silver cord be loosed, or the golden bowl be broken, or the pitcher be broken at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern. Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it” (Ecclesiastes 12:1-7).
Solomon’s exhortation is directed to youth before the frailties of older age overtakes them, when so many are inclined to give in to their infirmities. We do recognize that some are incapacitated and unable to perform as in their youth, but we are pleading for the elderly not to give in when able to produce.
Younger Christians should learn from the experience, advice, and wisdom of older Christians. People who are older should only be aged in years and remain useful to the Lord spiritually: “The hoary head is a crown of glory, if it be found in the way of righteousness” (Proverbs 16:31) and “The glory of young men is their strength: and the beauty of old men is the gray head” (Proverbs 20:29).
What a happy balance as the old and young work together for right purposes, blending their abilities and using them to the glory of God! We pray that the elderly may demonstrate a greater patience while working with the youngsters. Likewise, we pray that the youth exert more eagerness as they work with the aged. May this mixture of experience and abundance ever be true of our work.
Louis J. Sharp