A celebration of a 70th birthday

The other weekend we celebrated Caroline’s 70th birthday. Alas, the Scriptures have little positive to say about such a milestone. Indeed, the Psalmist declares: “The days of our life are seventy years, or perhaps eighty, if we are strong; even then their span is only toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away” (Psalm 90.10).

I consulted the commentaries: Derek Kidner writes of how this verse speaks of “our decline and fall”; while David Wilcock notes that “our three-score years and ten… lead inexorably downward to the grave”. In a very real sense this is true – but this is not a text for a celebration. Of course, there is a place for preachers to remind their congregations that we should “count our days that we may gain a wise heart” (Psalm 90.12), but those who reach this milestone do not normally need such a reminder! So how should we celebrate such a special birthday? In our case, we all came together as a family – and that in itself is a fruit of the years worth celebrating! We went ten-pin bowling and then went on to party big-time. It was in this context that I gave a speech – and in the thought that it might be of interest to subscribers I include some extracts from it:

‘Caroline, today we are celebrating your 70th birthday. We want to congratulate you on all you have achieved in the past 70 years, and to wish you well for the years that lie ahead.

How do you feel at this moment, I wonder? According to Martha Stewart, the American lifestyle guru, “70 is the new 50! Not everyone wants to retire, and very few people want to slow down”. She also added that “maintaining a tiny waist is a very important factor in successful aging”. Another perspective on aging has been offered by the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis based in Vienna: according to a research report they published in November 2015, old age should be measured not by age, but by how long people have left to live. On this basis they suggest that middle age now lasts until 74. Only then do you become a senior adult.

Whether 70 is the new 50, I am not sure. But there does come a stage when we become ‘senior adults’. But this does not mean that we become weak and feeble.
My mind goes to Caleb, who at the ripe old age of 85, said to Moses as the children of Israel entered the promised land: “Give me this mountain”(Joshua 14.12). In the words of Richard Morgan, who wrote a book on retirement for the American market, “Caleb was not ready for a rocking chair or a tent in some retirement village in the Jordan Valley. Some may have thought that it was the time for his disengagement from life, but he claimed a mountain. He asked for a challenge, not a cushion. He wanted more adventures in his ‘retirement’ years.” Caroline, you are not 85 yet – nor have you retired yet. But like Caleb, it seems to me that you are still up for challenges, and not for a cushion.

There is nothing to be ashamed about growing older. Although our energy levels may not be the same as they were in our 20s and 30s, the fact is that as we grow older we have the opportunity to grow in wisdom in a way which is not true of the young. Aging is an opportunity to engage in sage-ing! Daniel Klein wrote a blog on The Independent newspaper site in which he attacked the septuagenarians and octogenarians who are still busy with all the projects left undone in their lives. He quoted the ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus: “It is not the young man who should be considered fortunate but the old man who has lived well, because the young man in his prime wanders much by chance, vacillating in his beliefs, while the old man has docked in the harbour, having safeguarded his true happiness”. He ended his blog with the words: “Happily for me, 75 is the new 75”.

Caroline – to the new 70! May the coming years be full of happiness!’

As I was writing this blog, a friend forwarded me a picture depicting two somewhat dumpy senior adults jumping stark naked into a pond, and underneath were the words:

‘I am a Seenager. (Senior teenager)
I have everything that I wanted as a teenager, only 60 years later.
I don’t have to go to school or work.
I get an allowance every month.
I have my own pad.
I don’t have a curfew.
I have a driver’s license and my own car.
I have ID that gets me into bars and the whisky store.
The people I hang around with are not scared of getting pregnant.
And I don’t have acne.
Life is great.’

Actually teenage and senior years have a lot in common, for both are characterised by change. Whereas in middle age it is all too easy to get stuck in a rut, our later years can actually be the most dynamic period of our lives. On reflection Caleb is a great model for senior adults. He was a man always ready for a fresh challenge – always ready to move on with God – always ready to put faith into action.

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