Robert Griffith | 22 August 2023
Robert Griffith
22 August 2023

 

It would seem that another significant milestone has crept up on me as I embrace (or endure) another birthday today – and it’s not just any birthday …

They say that age just a number … but is that really true?  I remember when my number was 18 – it was a really big deal for me. I could vote; I had my full license; I was considered an adult by the world around me. When my number was 21, it was not as huge as it once was in our culture, but I had the party and received the ‘key’ signed by all my family and friends. I was also married and about to become a father – so age was not just a number that year.

The next number I recall as clear as yesterday … was the day I woke to the realisation that I was not a ‘young person’ anymore. The number was 30 and it was a truly sombre day for me. I don’t know why it impacted me so much – most people experience this at 40 but for me it was that number 30 which shook me to my core and made me ask a lot of questions about where I was headed and what I was doing with my life and who I was becoming. It was no coincidence therefore that I entered theological college that year and started my training as a full time Pastor and Bible teacher.  Age was far more than a number that year.

Age is not just a number; age is not a state of mind; it’s not irrelevant. Why is it that we only find units of measurement to be irrelevant when it suits us? We don’t say, “Oh, I’ll pay however much you want for that house. Money is just a number.” The Police officer doesn’t say, “I noticed you were driving at 140 kilometres per hour, but don’t worry, speed is just a number.”

Numbers are important. They help us to measure things, and to make sense of the world. And age is important because it helps us to make sense of ourselves and of other people.

Age is measured in numbers, but it has much greater significance and meaning. Age indicates our stage of life and our experience and, in our culture, our power and social currency.

Because our age reflects our stage of life, we have different expectations of different age groups. We expect more from an 18-year-old than a 12-year-old. We are surprised when a 21-year-old owns their own home, and equally surprised when an 81-year-old is still working full time. We do not ask a 15-year-old girl why they don’t have kids, but we readily ask a 35-year-old woman when is she going to start a family.

We also have different expectations of different age groups when it comes to behaviour, dress and lifestyle. It is not at all odd when a teenage girl posts duck-face selfies on Instagram, wears midriff tops and parties till 3am. It is certainly not illegal for a 70-year-old to do the same, but it feels discordant because it is not behaviour commonly associated with seniors.

It is also discordant when two people of vastly different ages get into a relationship. That doesn’t mean age-gap relationships can’t work; they obviously can, and sometimes do. But to pretend age is not an issue – that it is “just a number” – is disingenuous. Age-gap couples need to be content with having friends at different stages of life, with the inevitable power differentials (particularly when the woman is younger) and with their different physical capacities.

Age is definitely not just a number when it comes to a woman’s fertility or to a person’s physical health. You can get Botox and fillers until you look like a bowling ball with eyes, but you will still be older than you want to look! You can date a 20-year-old, but you will still need to do your bowel cancer test at 50.

People who protest that age is just a number are often, I believe, making a statement of defiance. They don’t want to be reined in by society’s limiting expectations of older people. They want to assert their right to wear miniskirts, or to make cute little TikTok videos, or to date a much younger partner.

But if we didn’t live in such an ageist society, the saying wouldn’t even exist. We cry “age is just a number” because our culture devalues older people. We say age is a just a number because this cultural stigma makes us terrified of getting old. If we respected the wisdom, the experience and the maturity of our elders, we wouldn’t so desperately try to deny our own age.

Age is not just a number – it is so much more – and if we actually valued getting older, we would proudly own the number we are.

You would be right in assuming that this post comes today for a reason.

My number is 65 today – and that is most certainly not “just a number” to me.

I realised today that the number 65 has actually been in my sights all my life. Until recently, it was the age most people ‘retire.’ When I was in primary school, my grandfather was 65 and to me he was so, so old and I could not even comprehend being ‘that old’ at any time in my life.

When I was 30 years old, I had a little more clarity and no longer thought 65 was so old anymore. I actually had relationships with some 65-year-old people in Church and I found them to be very engaging and valuable members of the society.  When my number was 60, my whole attitude to 65 changed completely as this milestone was now very close and I would soon have to deal with it face-to-face.

So here I am today – staring in the face of this number I thought was so far out of reach when I was young. How do I feel?  I feel privileged. I feel grateful. I once took every day for granted, but not anymore. Losing my father suddenly when he was 54 years of age changed my perspective completely and I began to value each day far more.  Presiding over the funeral of my baby granddaughter who only remained with us for 14 months, made me realise how precious our time really is on this earth and how each day is a gift from God.

I also find great comfort in the Scriptures which were written in a time when old age was valued and respected far more than it is in our modern culture. From God’s perspective, the elders in our midst are vitally important to His plan and purpose and essential as mentors, role-models and overseers in the Church.

I take great comfort in God’s Word on this long-awaited day:

Isaiah 46:4  “Even to your old age and grey 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.”

Job 12:12  “Wisdom belongs to the aged, and understanding to the old …”

Corinthians 4:16-17  “Though outwardly we are wearing out, inwardly we are renewed day by day. Our suffering is light and temporary and is producing for us an eternal glory that is greater than anything we can imagine.”

Age is certainly not just a number. In fact, the Bible makes it very clear that in our senior years, God expects us to fulfill a very important function in guiding the generations to come:

Psalm 71:18  “Even when I am old and grey, do not forsake me, my God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your mighty acts to all who are to come.”

So as I now begin the next chapter in my earthly journey, however long that may be, I thank God for each and every one of the 23,741 days I have walked this earth and I would not change one of them – even the really hard days – for each one has been used by God to make me who I am today and from each of those days, comes wisdom I would not have without them.