Doom, pestilence, plague… I hope my previous post didn’t give the impression that I think I already have one foot in the grave, or am expecting my later years to be nothing more than a story of perpetual sickness or increasing decrepitude. Far from it.
In fact, researchers have been punching holes in simplistic stereotypes that make out our AARP years to be intrinsically unhappy. This brief 2011 TED Talk by Stanford psychologist Laura Carstensen makes the point well: older adults, as a group, seem happier, more oriented toward positive emotions, and more able to deal with negative ones. Other evidence suggests that while historical events (like growing up in the Great Depression) can influence the happiness of an entire generation, accumulated life experience may indeed give us a more realistically positive way of looking at the world.
That’s neither to deny the very real and visible challenges to our health, nor to encourage us to sit back and expect everything to take care of itself. Studies like the ones above don’t give a clear roadmap for what to do next. But surely, any excuse is a good one for cooperating with how God might want to shape our character.
Hopefully, I’m just about done being sick for this flu season, though my voice hasn’t come completely back, which could make lectures more entertaining. My doctor frowned disapprovingly when I told him I hadn’t had a flu shot, and quipped that I must enjoy playing Russian roulette with my health. Not being one to argue with someone sticking a scope up my nose, I told him I would most definitely think about it.
That, however, isn’t the most important lesson learned. Both my wife and I can be rather independent (stubborn?) people. But these last few weeks, we’ve had to lean on each other quite a bit. Sometimes, that’s meant nagging each other: “Will you please sit down and rest, and let me do that?” We’ve been forcibly reminded that we can’t always be as independent as we’d like, that we lean on each other more than we realize, and that how we deal with dependence is a matter of character.
So, two life lessons. First: I want to continue to cultivate the mindset proper to being a patient caregiver. But second, and perhaps more importantly: I want to cultivate the mindset of being a patient patient.
As suggested in an earlier post, groaning, patience, and hope are all of a piece in the life of faith. Groaning is not faithlessness (though there are, of course, faithless ways to groan that have no vision of a redemptive future). Indeed, there is a kind of groaning intrinsic to faith, the kind which responds to trouble with a fervent but patient Maranatha–our Lord, come!
As Carstensen and others suggest, a few extra years of life experience can give us some much needed perspective. But the hope-filled story of Scripture can give us more. At any age. Why wait?