It was my mother's birthday yesterday, and more than ever I'm grateful for her godly instruction in aging gracefully. Once a raven-haired beauty with skin as smooth as silk, she now dons hair as white as the light that shines from her radiant face of joy. It's a peaceful face, one that's perfectly etched with deep lines of love that hold 87 years of wonder and wisdom.
She once held me in her arms, and now I hold her in my heart.
This week a friend of mine posted a series of questions on Facebook, prompting us to offer thought to the aging process as it relates to women, gray hair and the coloring of that gray hair. I very much liked her inquiries since I'm a fan of anything that prompts us to thoughtfully confront our lives. The comments that her post solicited were as interesting to me as her questions.
I'm certain my mother doesn't realize how much she's taught me about aging, because the best aspects of her instruction have always been rendered silently by her example. As an 87-year-old Christian woman who loves Truth, I'm confident there is no gift I could give her that she would cherish more than my grateful heart that declares I've imbibed the eternal values that she's diligently prayed would be my own. So thank you, Mom. Thank you for your instruction that God has used to hone my following thoughts on aging with grace:
1. WE WERE CREATED FOR LIFE AND BEAUTY, NOT DEATH AND DECAY
Because of sin, an ageless creation of flawless perfection was thrust into a state of disarray. Because of sin, there is death. Because of sin, we live in physical bodies that decay. But we weren't created for decay and death. So it's good and it's right that our hearts rejoice in beauty and that they yearn for life. The million and one things that a woman does to enhance and preserve her appearance have never been problematic in and of themselves. If they are done with a humble heart of contentment that desires to exalt the glories of Christ, they can represent a quest for life and beauty that points directly to God.
Unfortunately, sin has always had us being harsh with each other in matters of physical beauty, pressuring one another with statements about what's hot and what's not, what's in and what's out. Men often bear blame for this pressure, but women are each other's harshest critics. And as they age, they often accumulate enough wealth of "knowledge" to throw in a lot more than just their two cents.
When our identity is deeply rooted in Christ, resistance to the decay of age can be an honorable endeavor. Securely bound by His love and acceptance, we can embrace health and beauty in the midst of the aging process without possessing the kind of need for its preservation that compels us to cling in desperation to our own vanity. Even if our fight for that health and beauty is met with little success, we will be content with the sovereign unfolding of the aging process. And we will confidently embrace that aging process without succumbing to pressure from others about how we ought to do that best.
Aging gracefully has us remembering that beauty is fleeting even as we seek to enhance and preserve it. Even as we work to retain the beauty of youth, aging gracefully has us wallowing too much in the wisdom of years to whine about the waste of time. Aging gracefully is about the condition of our heart, not about the color of our hair, the content of our closet or the cache of our cosmetics. It's about fixing our eyes on the One Who set us free from sin and set us free from self. It's about a freedom that was purchased at the Cross, a freedom that came with a price far too costly to reduce its value to a matter as insignificant as our outward appearance.
2. WE WERE CREATED TO GLORIFY GOD WITH OUR LIFE AND BEAUTY, NOT GLORIFY OURSELVES
There is honor in embracing health and beauty when it's done for the glory of God. The pleasure of beauty that each of us enjoys is uniquely honed, so embracing that honor as we age doesn't have to look the same for everybody. For some it will include a bottle of Clairol and for others it won't. Aging gracefully involves resisting the sin of our hearts that tempts us to pridefully defend our personal choices and uphold them as some higher standard of honesty or authenticity.
There is no shame is resisting death and decay when that resistance flows from a heart that desires to exalt the beauty of God. The woman bravely fighting against cancer who chooses to bare her bald head isn't somehow more honest and authentic than the woman who chooses to wear a wig. The woman who chooses to bare her natural skin isn't necessarily more honest and authentic than the woman who chooses to wear make-up. And the woman who chooses to bare her silver locks isn't more honest and authentic than the woman who chooses to color them. There's no dishonesty in embracing that which we've deemed to be a more beautiful choice for ourselves. The only thing that's dishonest is robbing glory from God by using our personal choices to promote and exalt ourselves.
3. LIFE AND BEAUTY OF THE SOUL IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN LIFE AND BEAUTY OF THE BODY.
"Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised." (Prov 31:30)
A woman who ages with grace is a woman whose fear of the Lord is powerful enough to overshadow any fear she may feel over the loss of life and beauty.
"Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day." (II Cor 4:16)
A woman who ages with grace has her heart and mind fixed so solidly on Christ that, in the midst of decay and decline, she rejoices in the beauty of God's sanctifying work that is daily changing her into His glorious image.
A woman who ages with grace is a woman who loves life and beauty. In fact, she's a woman who loves it so much that she isn't content with others having their focus and attention settled on the fleeting beauty of this world. The driving desire of her heart is for the beauty of this world (including her own) to serve as a signpost that guides them to the ultimate Beauty. This driving desire is what dictates her choices in all that she does to preserve health and beauty, including her choices about modesty and discipline.
Until a woman understands that her beauty is designed to incite worship of God, she will view it as something to incite worship of herself. Whether through enhancing her beauty or exposing her beauty, the self-exalting desire that drives her will cause increasing angst as the marks of age make the securing of attention increasingly difficult.
If you're a woman who desires to age gracefully even as your heart throbs for life and beauty, Steve DeWitt's Eyes Wide Open: Enjoying God In Everything is an excellent resource. The following excerpt is an example of the truth that is powerfully unpackaged in this book: