With a Canadian average life expectancy of about 80.7 years, many of us are—or will be—classified as “seniors” for the last third of our lifespan. Researchers on aging now claim people in North America live through more life stages as seniors than they experienced in the first third of their lives!
So how are we going to use this final third of our lives? People over 55 go through several stages that are recognized in popular culture by terms that include “older adults,” “seniors,” “elderly” and “frail,” or “go-go,” “slow-go,” and “no-go” labels. But our life experiences, rather than chronology, determine our stage of older adulthood—and it is always in flux. For instance, after sustaining a fractured ankle and wrist in a car accident on Feb 10, I became a “slow-go” senior for about six weeks. Thankfully, the condition was temporary.
Because of lingering ageist attitudes that label older people as outdated “geezers,” many people over 55 don’t like to think of themselves as seniors. However, older adulthood should be desired and celebrated. It is time for the church to boldly proclaim this biblical attitude!
After the Feb. 10 accident, I am particularly thrilled to anticipate my 60th birthday this summer. I intend to purposefully celebrate each additional year the Lord gives me. I am convinced that I’ve been saved for a purpose. My life as a senior will be full of challenges, but also blessings, and I hope to be a blessing to others as well.
Due to high birth rates and low infant mortality rates between 1945 and 1964, along with increasingly good medical care, young seniors abound in North America. Most of us have lived privileged lives, which, in turn, have afforded us many options as seniors. From Scripture, we know that much is expected from those to whom much has been given. I am convinced that God is challenging this privileged generation to claim their senior years as a time to mentor, encourage and bless the younger members of our faith communities, whether these people are our biological or spiritual family members.
Unless we learn to deliberately encourage and bless the younger participants in our congregations, our larger numbers could easily dominate and overwhelm emerging generations of leaders. This concern was one of the major findings of the 2006 “God’s People Now” tour by Mennonite Church Canada’s former general secretary, Robert J. Suderman, who personally visited nearly every MC Canada congregation.
Encouraging and blessing the younger generations has now become part of my work as formation consultant. After several years of work and assistance from a wonderful team, I have written a book entitled Please Pass the Faith: The Spiritual Art of Grandparenting, which is anticipated for release by MennoMedia on July 1 this year. I hope and trust that it will provide meaningful tools for my generation to become a blessing to those in the first third of life.
Elsie Rempel is MC Canada’s formation consultant.