By Dennis Rainey
Over lunch last week a friend of mine, Danny, reminded me of Clint Eastwood’s sage advice about getting old. As Clint was getting ready to direct and in a new film at age 88, he said, “I just don’t let the old man in.”
I never thought I’d ever quote Clint in my writings … after all, he’s most known for his epic admonition while pointing his revolver at a murderer: “Make my day!” But his banishment of the “old man” was a pithy reminder of what I’ve been reading and studying in the Scriptures and interviewing all kinds of folks about … “Growing Older but Not Becoming Old.”
There’s a big difference in “growing older” and “becoming old.” The key word is “growing.” Growing denotes life. Becoming old sounds like the expired milk in the frig. Done! Over!! Hasta la vista!!! Contrast that with growing older, which smacks of progress, even maturity or aging gracefully.
When I was in my 20’s I was taught the concept of growing older by my former Dallas Theological Seminary “Prof,” Dr. Howard Hendricks. Prof was in his 40’s at the time as he was sharing what he was learning from the Scripture and from others about the process of aging well.
He told the story about a widow in her late 80’s who regularly challenged him with her vibrancy and exhilaration for what God was doing in and through her life. She was a voracious reader and asked Prof, “Well, Hendricks, what are the best five books you’ve read in the past year?”
There was no way she was going to be embalmed early. She modeled growing older but not old. So I began to take note of the living lessons of those who modeled the same thing to me.
King Solomon, King David’s son, provides a chilling lesson of growing old. God warned him about the loves of his life early on saying, “Don’t marry foreign wives, for they will surely turn your heart after their gods.” 1 Kings 11:2-4 reveals Solomon’s disobedience, “Solomon clung to these in love.”
He ended up with 700 wives, princesses, and 300 concubines. The
epitaph of Solomon’s heart is quite simple; it reads, “For when Solomon was old his wives turned his heart away after other gods.”
His life yields the first lesson on growing older: The essential task of life is to love the right One supremely.
That admonition reminds me of another mentor in my life: Bill Bright, the founder of Cru, who taught me two more important lessons on growing older and not becoming old. As Barbara and I started our lives together in marriage back in 1972, we decided that before we celebrated Christmas by giving gifts to one another, we would celebrate the birth of Jesus by giving Him our lives. That first Christmas gift of surrendering our lives to him in a contract was called “The Title Deed to their Lives.” That idea came from Bill and his wife, Vonette, who signed a similar agreement early in their marriage.
Barbara and I wrote and signed this document when we were 24 and 23. We settled the issue of “ownership of our lives, marriage and family” at the very beginning. Our surrender back then continues to encourage us and provide the fuel as we grow older today.
A second thing that Bill Bright taught and modeled for me was very important: He not only taught me how to live, but also how to die.
He showed me how to “run” all the way to finish line until he died in July of 2003 of pulmonary fibrosis.
In the two years leading up to getting his “graduation papers,” I met with Bill several times. In one meeting shortly before his death, I interviewed him for my radio program, FamilyLife Today. As we talked about his priorities, you could hear him labor to catch his breath. In over 26 years of broadcasting I interviewed more than 1,000 guests for more than 6,250 broadcasts, and this three-part series is one of my top 10 favorites.
He was a very good friend. In fact, in my last visit with him while he was in the hospital he was delegating assignments for me. As I walked out of his hospital room, it hit what he had just done. I quickly opened the door and stuck my head back in his room and said, “Bill Bright, here you are dying and I came to visit and encourage you and you ended up giving me work to do!” He just laughed!
He was ALL IN on the Great Commission of building disciples around the world (Matthew 28: 18-20). He modeled how to grow older and still be very alive, and he modeled how to die.
I’m eternally grateful to God that I’ve had other men in my life who have done the same thing: Without realizing it they taught me and millions of others how to live and how to die. (I’m compiling a list of lessons they taught me and I’ll be sharing that list in 2024.)
HINT: The key word in “growing older” is GROWING.
So here’s an assignment for you:
1. Consider your sphere of relationships (work, church, friends, neighbors) and write down those who are “growing older,” and the ones who are already old.
2. List three to five 3-5 “older” folks that you know and reflect on the lessons their lives are teaching you about growing older, but not becoming old.
3. If you are over 20 and under 100, reflect on what you are learning about growing older and make a list to share with others. Important: Growing older doesn’t start when you get your first Social Security check! If you are alive, you are growing older!
4. If you are on social media, share your list of lessons learned and perhaps this post. Remember: We live a “Culture of Youth” that doesn’t talk much about the inevitable, but people of all ages need to prepare for growing older and NOT becoming old.
Doing my best to permanently evict the old man!
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