My dad turns 90 this week. Mom follows closely after him, in June. Their needs have increased, as has their dependence on family.
It’s a reminder to me that all of us need the help of others. That need increases as we age, but we are never in a season where we truly can go it alone. I mean, even monks need brothers, and Tom Hanks had his volleyball.
We live in a culture that values, even idolizes, independence. We want to be free of needing others. We want to live life on our terms. We don’t like limitations. And so, when we bump up against those areas where we can’t go it alone, we often try to push through. And we fear the day when, by virtue of age or health or both, our life will mostly be limitations. As C.S. Lewis put it: “I’m afraid as we grow older life consists more and more in either giving up things or waiting for them to be taken from us….” Those are the situations we desperately wish to avoid – having to do for others, and having to have others do for us. We desire to spare ourselves, and our loved ones, the challenges of walking with us through our final, difficult years.
With those cultural and personal ideas echoing in our ears, how jarring it is to hear a podcaster share a line he once heard: I want to live long enough to be a burden to my children.
What? Really? Who wants to be a burden – and openly wish for such a thing? Isn’t it better to live energetically and enthusiastically until a ripe old age, and then go peacefully in your sleep?
Or is there something to be learned by caring for our aging parents – and having the same done for us when we grow old? For isn’t love, by its very definition, committing to someone through the unknowns? And isn’t the value of a person deeper than what they can do? In a culture that values the young, the beautiful, the active, the smart, and the productive – it is counter-cultural to choose to love and honor someone in, and into, the season where they can offer very little in return. And while it can be extremely difficult to love through the last days, months, or even years of life, there is something deeply Christian and pro-life about such a choice.
Saying this does not deny the incredible difficulties that may come, nor does it passively accept that the diminishment of life is our ultimate destiny. We can both love fervently AND fervently long for the day when “there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Rev 21.4, NIV).
So, while I am not enthusiastic about what I expect to be a continuing increase in the need my parents have for help and support, I believe that one of the most important things my family can do is to honor my dad and mom all the way through their final days. In doing so, they will be loved through the “burdens,” and I will be formed more into the person I am called to be – learning to nurture the kind of fruit (love, patience, kindness, gentleness, and faithfulness) that I might have not otherwise been able to produce.
So, happy birthday, Dad! Bring on the 90s – and let’s continue to love and grow in grace, together, and as a family.
2 thoughts on “turning 90”
What a perfect time for me to read your observations on this topic. My father-in-law, Lord willing, will turn 90 in April. Today, he lies in a hospital bed as doctors and nurses try to treat his cardiac condition. As a Christian, love for others should be a verb, particularly for family member who need our help. Tremendous encouragement for me to read as I prepare to head to the hospital this morning. Stan
Thanks, Stan. Blessings to you, Susie, and her father.