Lean Thine Arm: Growing Old Gracefully
By Maxie Dunnam
Monday, September 01, 1986
In my last sermon, I talked about Parent Burnout. I told some of you that you would get equal time. Today, I'm talking about "growing old" -- growing old gracefully.The truth is that this sermon is not just for one segment of the congregation; it's for all of us. We're all growing old. And as someone has said, "growing old is not so bad when you consider the alternative."
A 90-year-old was asked what he felt like when he woke up in the morning. He responded, "Surprised."
Now I know that you teenagers in the congregation will want to turn off right now when you know what I'm talking about, but you have grandparents. And you young adults, you'll be tempted to do the same: to turn off, because as far as the way you live from day to day and that with which you are preoccupied, you don't consider growing old. But I warn you--your day will come.
You know you're growing old when:
Your mind makes contracts your body can't fulfill;
You know all the answers, but nobody asks the questions;
You look forward to a dull evening;
You walk with your head held high trying to get used to your bifocals;
You turn out the light for economic reasons rather than romantic ones;
You sit in a rocking chair and you can't get it going;
Your knees buckle and your belt won't;
You regret all those decisions to resist temptation;
You're 17 around the neck, 42 around the waist, and
108 around the golf course.
And then someone made this observation: I find that one of the most disturbing aspects of aging is my growing inability to recall important information like the Greek alphabet, the gross national product of Lebanon, and where I left my glasses. This becomes particularly pronounced when I go upstairs to get something. Halfway up I realize that I have no inkling of what it is I'm going upstairs to get, so .... should I go back downstairs and try to remember what it is I needed, or should I continue up and look around for something that needs bringing down? Unable to decide, I resort to sitting on the landing, only to discover that after three minutes, I've completely forgotten whether I was originally upstairs going down .... or downstairs going up!
Well, I'm not sure that's the way I would want to define growing old, but it does make a suggestion, and that is that older people who enjoy a sense of humor get along far better than those who don't.
Growing old is inevitable. It's an unavoidable process that begins at birth. The question is how do we deal with it, how do we cope, how do we grow old gracefully?I.Let's begin by looking at our scripture lesson again. I don't know how old the person was who wrote this psalm. In many translations of the Bible, this psalm has this inscription at the beginning: "A prayer of Moses, the man of God." If Moses wrote it, he had to have been old when he did. He didn't start the Exodus until he was in his eighties. It's a psalm about the eternity of God and the frailty of humankind.
Where is there a more picturesque expression of the eternity of God?
"Lord, thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations.
Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting thou art God" (
Where is there a more gripping word that grabs us by the shoulders and shakes us until we come to grips with the reality of our human frailty?
"Thou dost sweep men away; they are like a dream,
like grass which is renewed in the morning:
in the morning it flourishes and is renewed;
in the evening it fades and withers" (
Then there is that additional piercing word that underscores how fragile and frail and tenuous life is: "Our years come to an end like a sigh" (
Yet there's more in the psalm, far more. Where is there a more challenging and encompassing call?
"So teach us to number our days
that we may get a heart of wisdom" (
And where is there a more confident prayer, a more hopeful possibility?
"Satisfy us in the morning with thy steadfast love,
that we may rejoice and be glad all our days (
Let thy work be manifest to thy servants,
and thy glorious power to their children" (
With that psalm as a backdrop, let's talk about growing old, and let's let the psalm inform us. We're trying to discern how we may "number our days in order to get a heart of wisdom," how to cope with aging; not the aging of others, but our own aging--how to grow old gracefully.
Many of you here find rich meaning in the title of the sermon. For years, Sunday after Sunday, you heard our precious founding pastor, Dr. Charles Grant, call you to prayer in your Sunday morning worship service:
Every morning lean thine arms awhile
Upon the windowsill of heaven
And gaze upon the Lord
Then, with a vision in thy heart
Turn strong to meet thy day.
As I worked on this sermon, that seemed an appropriate title: Lean Thine Arms Awhile Upon the Windowsill of Heaven. That's what the psalmist was doing, isn't it? As he contemplated his own life in relation to God--the eternity of God and his own frailty--that's what he was doing. He was leaning his arms awhile on the windowsill of heaven. He was gazing at the Lord.
And when he had that vision clear--the vision of the eternity of God and his own frailty--with that vision in his heart, he could turn strong to meet his day.
That's what we need constantly, at every stage of life. That's the reason the sermon is not alone for those who are sixty or seventy or eighty here this morning; it's for all of us.
Life can never be what it was intended to be unless we keep that perspective--the eternity of God and the frailty of humankind--and that perspective comes only as we lean our arms upon the windowsill of heaven and gaze at our Lord.
Now with that backdrop, I offer some specific suggestions which will keep us alive all our life. That's what the little girl said to her grandfather: "Granddaddy, I hope you stay alive all your life."