How to Stay Young

Finding myself firmly in mid-life now, I'm realizing that this stage offers us a unique perspective on youthfulness and aging. On the one hand, I'm raising adolescents at home with my wife, our heads spinning as we negotiate with our kids privileges and responsibilities, ubiquitous technology, and the onslaught of influences, good and bad. On the other hand, we're trying to be attentive to our parents, who are in their late 70s and early 80s, facing concerns unique to their stage of life. We see first-hand one generation celebrating its vigor while struggling to gain its independence; at the same time, we watch another generation gradually losing its independence with health concerns. We're young enough to remember very well the teen years and all their wonder and temptation; we're old enough (and wise enough, now) to pay attention to what our parents are going through and realize that, as life whizzes by, it won't be long til we find ourselves where they are.

This vantage point makes me want to reflect on how we might stay young--in mid-life and into our golden years. I'll start my list...but please feel free to comment and add your own suggestions.

"How to Stay Young"

1. Keep learning! Never be too old to learn new things. Don't be afraid of the computer. Take a class on how to use it; enlist a younger person to get you wired (or better wireless!) so you can surf the Internet. Read widely; listen to online lectures. Take a class at the community college. Go to adult Sunday School. Your body may be aging; but keeping yourself intellectually stimulated can stave off the effects of aging on your mind...and spirit.

2. Exercise. Make exercise (as you're physically able) a priority. Walk, swim, stretch, work on your balance. My chiropractor friend Craig says that we age according to our balance. If we can maintain and improve our balance, we can age better. Give it a try.

3. Interact with younger people. Refuse to stay cooped up in a one-generational ghetto. Mix it up with younger folk--and not just your family members (though that's a good place to start). Get to know the neighbor's kids, as well as your grandkids. Ask them to teach you about their music, their technology, their dreams. Listen well and be humble enough to let them lead you once in a while. A place of worship is a great place to meet younger people, too. If yours isn't offering intergenerational activities, help the leadership get some started!

4. Get outside. Let the beauty of creation continue to inspire you. If you can't get outside for a walk or a drive, rent a video on nature or catch a travel program on a beautiful part of the world. If you've got a computer, do a Google image search of creation and savor what you see.

5. Beware a critical spirit. Already, even in mid-life, I can see how this becomes a major temptation of old age--we criticize the younger folks, their dress, their music, their arrogance. It may all be true; but guess what? It makes us sour, like milk past its expiration date. Don't go there. Reign in your tongue and your thoughts and when it's clear the younger generations are missing the boat, pray for them instead of criticizing.

6. Invest in younger people. As a pastor in mid-life, I'm very aware that young folks are longing for mentors, older pilgrims who can impart the wisdom of their experience. Look for people in whom you can invest.

7. Worship. Don't ever lose a fascination with the divine. God is the ancient of days, but ever vital and full of life. As we praise God and kindle our enchantment with our Creator and Redeemer, we stay young. God is never boring and our minds can never fathom God's infinite wisdom. Staying connected to God plugs us into the source of life--and aging becomes relative.

8. Serve. Serve others. Even with advancing age and diminishment of physical capabilities, we can still serve others. We can make a phone call, send an email, write a letter, mail a postcard, bake some cookies, invite someone to tea or coffee, or simply pray for them. Self-absorption kills the human spirit--at any age.

9. Play. Play. Play. That's hard for me, with my Teutonic backgrond, to write--but I believe it! Seriousness ages us much too fast. Lighten up and enjoy life wherever you can. Do something just for the fun of it.

Those are just nine suggestions. Not even Ten Commandments! But enough to get us started. Help me out--what would you add for the perfect ten?


Wendy Redal said...

Love this, Carl! (And it's appropriate that I'm reading it while sitting at Peet's, albeit over a cup of jasmine tea, rather than my usual coffee drink.) I think you have covered all the right bases! The only thing I might add, and it could well go beneath #1, is to travel and be open to new discoveries and other cultures (this can happen within one's own city or region, too). Travel is such a source of stimulation, novelty and contrast that forces one to examine that which is taken for granted (tying also into your point #5 here), and when done well, #9, too -- which I think I need to bump to the top of my list. Thank you for sharing these; I'm going to circulate them among various of our peers!

Carl Hofmann said...

Travel--I love it! I notice that it's easy NOT to travel as we get older (for a variety of reasons, legitimate and not). As long as we physically can do it, travel makes sense and keeps us growing. Great addition, Wendy!

john said...

awesome post.

john said...

my point 10 might be: Openly consider contrarian points of view. It doesn't mean you have to agree, but try to understand where people who are different from yourself are coming from.

Carl Hofmann said...

I like this, John--and it's hard to do, isn't it? That openness to discussion keeps the mind and heart supple. We may keep our opinions, we may not. What's important is that we are challenged not to become curmudgeonly!

Karen McB said...

love your phrase "fascination with the divine," Carl. It encompasses so much. It is both more delicate and more complex than the too-common mandate to "love God." As to a 10th item ... "Laugh," comes to mind. So (after a day spent with a 16-month-old) does "crawl," i.e., put yourself in a position to see things from a different vantage point from time to time. This is a great post.

Carl Hofmann said...

"Laugh"--a great addition, Karen! Especially for those of us of German descent! :-)

Glad to know that crawling is going well for you, grandma!

Anonymous said...

An addendum to #6: invest in older people, too. It's easy and tempting to give elders short shrift, but they are inherently beautiful and wise, even if/when suffering from physical and mental decline. I feel younger (literally, but also in spirit) and humbled when I spend time with elders.