Who would you identify as the first senior adult? The Scripture text will give you a clue. You may have had the question when playing Trivial Pursuit, “Who is the oldest person in the Bible?” Now you’re getting it.
Many of us have heard of Methuselah and his claim to fame, having lived to be 969 years old. Isn’t it amazing that Genesis 5 lived so many years? Why do you think there is such a difference in the length of his life and the length of ours? At least four other men — including Adam — are listed in this text as having lived more than nine hundred years. Methuselah edged out Jared for longevity by seven years resulting in many people remembering Methuselah’s name. Does anybody remember Jared? What a difference seven years can make.
Consider what we know about Methuselah. He was the son of Enoch, he had his first son when he was 187. That son’s name was Lamech, who was the father of Noah. Methuselah had other children and he died at age 969. That is all we know about Methuselah. I regret that his other children were not considered significant enough by the story-tellers at least to have their names listed.
Lamech was listed because he was Noah’s father and Methuselah was mentioned, not because he lived the longest but because he was Noah’s grandfather. Don’t you prefer to have your identity because of who you are rather than because of your relationship to someone else? You are a person in your own right rather than John’s wife, Joan’s husband, Dillon’s dad, George’s mother-in-law, Sam’s father, or Sarah’s daughter. However, as the story unfolded and Noah became a significant character in the story, it became necessary to trace all the leads in the story to provide a lineage list from Adam to Noah.
Methuselah served as a link between generations. That is something all of us do, whether or not we have children. We are the communicators to the next generation of what our generation has been like and has accomplished. In this sense we are passing on our part of the life story.
But surely there is more to life than being a link between generations. We can be more intentional than that about our lives. One thing that stands out clearly in this text is human mortality. The phrase, “and he died,” is found eight times in this passage. The Bible does not hedge on the fact of human mortality. People are born, they live for a season, and they die, just as all living things on earth do. However, there is the major difference in the human dimension that we human beings are conscious of dying, we can foresee it, and we feel the contradiction of the insatiable hunger for life.
Methuselah has become the biblical symbol of longevity. His life was long but thin as a string. The two Q’s of life are important, quantity and quality. A certain quantity of years is important in order for a person to develop quality. Infants that die do not have enough quantity of life to develop quality. That does not mean their lives are meaningless because they are important to their parents, but the infants are not aware of the quality of life.
Length, breadth, and depth are necessary to provide life with both quantity and quality. Depth and breadth of life are developed through relationships People with many friends have a breadth of experience from which to draw because they are exposed to the dimensions of many people’s lives and open themselves to human need and understanding. Depth and breadth also develop through the relationships of people with God and as they open themselves to the presence of God in their private lives and in their relationships with others. Just as a shallow lake becomes stagnant so do our lives if we do not develop depth.
One of the punishments of people in the middle ages was to place them in dungeons where it was impossible for them to stand erect. How painful, cruel, and destructive that punishment was. Many people condemn themselves to an emotional and spiritual existence like that. Their lives are shallow, no depth, and they stagnate. Howard Clinebell has said, “A person wrapped up in himself makes a very small package.”
Developing lives with length, breadth, and depth will serve us well as we approach the threshold of being senior adults. Several dynamics are alive in senior adults to which no allusion is made in the brief information we have about Methuselah except by omission. However, the sketchy information we have about him suggests a need for more to happen in our lives than to be born, have children, and die. Surely there is more meaning in life than being a human incubator or reproductive factory.
Several issues confront senior adults. People are living longer now than at any time in history. The fastest declining age group is 18-year-olds. At the same time the fastest-growing age group in our country are those over 85. Many people will have the opportunity to have 20 or more years of retirement, which suggests the need to understand retirement as a change of direction rather than a cessation of work.
What many senior adults are doing is retiring from vocations and discovering avocations becoming prominent in their thinking, planning, and energy investment. This approach is essential in places where there is mandatory retirement, when our aging has limited our ability to do the job, or when we are no longer willing to deal constructively with the pressure and tension that are common to the vocation.
Of course some are able to continue in their vocations but on reduced schedules.
Several issues confront senior adults that must be negotiated. All of these issues confront people at all ages and stages of life, but they are compounded and intensified in the lives of senior adults. Often there is a reduction in mobility, and other physical impairments increase. None of us are as agile and mobile today as we were twenty years ago. We may compensate well for these losses or hide them from ourselves, but we need to admit we can’t do things as fast as we used to.
I still enjoy playing basketball, and my weight is the same as it was when I was playing high school basketball; but I don’t move as quickly and I fall harder and don’t recuperate as rapidly from the aches and bruises as I did in 1965. Senior adults find these kinds of experiences intensified.
Someone has said that you know you’re getting older when you find yourself in the middle of the stairs and can’t remember whether you were going up or down, or find yourself at the door and can’t remember whether you were going in or out. People of all ages have these things happen to them, but senior adults seem to experience these things more often.
Senior adults are almost constantly faced with the deaths of peers. The members of a Sunday School class of senior adults find themselves in this situation often. As a congregation gets older it is faced with the deaths of members at an increasing rate. A charter member of my congregation told me recently that he could remember a time when five years passed without a member of the congregation dying. There have been times in the past couple of years when two of our members died the same week.
As people grow older and move toward and into senior adulthood there is an increasing chance that there will be a reduction of independence. It may come because failing eyesight means a person cannot see well enough to drive at night. It may come because a person just is no longer able to manage a house by herself. Whatever form this takes, it meets with great resistance, and often senior adults want to avoid places and situations that remind them of this, such as visiting a nursing home or one at home who is greatly limited.
Often “fessing” up to our limitations is the way to begin coping with them. This can lead to a healthy, honest assessment of what a person can and cannot do. This enables a person to learn where the boundaries are for him and live within them. My father-in-law stopped roller skating when he was 62. He was having a ball at the roller rink with a church group, doing fancy turns when his skate caught on a piece of gum stuck on the floor, causing him to fall and break his arm. It was the first broken bone he had. He thought it was wise not to take that kind of risk anymore. He saw the limitation and learned to live with it.
My father-in-law illustrates an issue which senior adults must face. The issue is to assess what one can and cannot do, learn where the boundaries are, and be willing to live within them. This is the same thing that all of us have to do no matter what age or stage of life we are in, but the issue and need are more intense and compound for senior adults. The limitation of what a person can do in no way limits who the person is. Limitation of life does not equate to resignation. Limitations, renunciations belong to the order of doing, not to the order of being. We struggle with our value as persons and often equate our value with what we are able to do rather than who we are as people created in the image of God.
There are several other needs of senior adults of which we need to be aware. They need acceptance, assurance, and peace. Who of us does not need to know that we are accepted by others, and when we feel accepted who of us does not feel reassured and at peace? Developing a senior adult ministry communicates to all senior adults that they are important to each other, they are important to the congregation of which they are a part, as well as to the larger community in which we live. Acceptance of senior adults also states clearly the conviction that seniors are useful people who contribute to life.
As we age our abilities may shift but we still have abilities that are valuable and needed. One ability that is especially important is the particular view of life senior adults have and what they have gleaned from life that they consider valuable in living a life filled with meaning. Jack O’Rear gave a valuable summary of senior adults, “We are opinionated, but soft.” Herschel Smith and Emajean Rowland wrote in Wisdom (a newsletter for senior adults), “Older adults possess skills, wisdom, knowledge, and life experiences to share with others” (Spring 1987).
A further need for senior adults is the importance of relating to people of all ages. These intergenerational relationships contribute to the health and dynamic living of people across the age spectrum. Certainly there are events and situations that call for our involvement with people who are our peers, but this must never happen to the point that we do not also have plenty of opportunities to interact with people across the age spectrum. We need each other to develop lives that have length, breadth, and depth.
None of us is going to live as long as Methuselah lived. Tom Watt, a physician and former member of this congregation, said that studies in gerontology indicated that if a person were fortunate enough to remain healthy, ate a proper diet, exercised adequately, and generally took good care of his life, he could possibly live 120 years, but our bodies eventually wear out. We are human and mortal.
We cannot live forever in this life, but we are called by God to live as long as we can with as much meaning as possible. We serve as a link between generations and we need to carry on the stories of humanity that began millions of years ago and continue in us today. The good news of God’s creation, sustenance, and redemption always are only a generation from extinction.
Senior adults, you are our link, our only contact with the previous generation. Share with us your wisdom and knowledge that our lives may have more meaning and that we may learn from you both what and how to share with the next generation.

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