“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.” – 2 Corinthians 4:16
There is a precious book my daughter loves to have read to her, titled, The Lines on Nana’s Face, by Simona Ciraolo. It is a beautiful story that follows a little girl who asks her grandmother about every wrinkle on her face. The grandmother responds, not perhaps with the horror we might expect in having one’s multitude of wrinkles pointed out, but with delight in retelling stories from her past; of the joy, grief, sacrifice, and anxiety that led to the lines that now cross her aged face. It is full of beautiful illustrations and one of the most compelling books on the beauty of aging.
For aging is beautiful. On the one hand, aging is difficult, it carries with it its own sufferings: our aging body that seems to slowly betray us, forgetfulness, pain, illness, and the harsh reality that we are mortal. But on the other, for Christians, aging carries a promise. Aging reminds us of the contrasting reality of our finite bodies that hold eternal souls. As our hair grays and lines cover our features we do not lose heart, because our inner self is an inverse of this outward decay. Our outward self deteriorate, yes, but as it does, our inner self is growing in maturity, wisdom, holiness, and nearing the day we get to see our Savior face-to-face.
Just as Death has lost its sting, so aging has lost its ability to cheat us. We may momentarily lose loved ones or abilities, our outward self will waste away; but it is only a momentary loss, and as the Holy Spirit renews us day by day, our inward lives are strengthened, more robust and alive. Even as our flesh decays and we are nothing but bones in the ground, this is but a temporary reality. Because the grave is indeed swallowed up in Christ’s victory. We are laid to rest, yet we will rise again with bodies imperishable.
Perhaps your graying hair and wrinkles do not remind you of joy-filled memories but regret and tragedy. Nonetheless, in Christ, even those memories can be a source of joy, as they are evidence of the Lord’s work in your life to bring you to today wherein he makes you more like himself and less like the person of your past. Whether aging brings us out of suffering or into it, Christ is with us, and in the process of purifying us. By looking at the lines in our own face and remembering who we were in contrast to who we are today, we can see his work, like threads in a tapestry.
If this is true, Christians ought to in many ways celebrate aging. We ought to revere the elderly, and delight in hearing stories of their past that we might glean wisdom from them. We ought to embrace our gray hair as a crown of glory (Proverbs 16:31). We ought to look at the lines in our own face and remember the goodness of God throughout our life. Above all, we ought to face the grave–and all the aches and illness along the way–with hope, not fear, knowing that death is not the final victor.
In knowing that we will have victory over death, that one day our aged, earthly bodies will be transformed into immortal heavenly ones, we can look differently at our own graying hairs, and drooping skin. Instead of seeing gray hairs as curses or threats, we can see instead, evidence of the Lord’s sovereign care, as we are reminded that he lets not a hair fall–nor gray–apart from his will. We can allow the reality of our age to unfold on our features with joy, acknowledging God’s goodness in our life. We can use up our bodies laboring for the gospel, and let them show the signs of a life lived, not in pursuit of the fleeting beauty of youth, but in service to others for a kingdom that will never end.
As we observe our outer selves wasting away, we should not despair, nor long for the past, but with gratitude recognize the gift of the present the Lord has brought us to, and eagerly anticipate our future with him. May we let our face be traced with lines, and tell younger generations the stories that are evidenced on our bodies. How our gray hair is is evidence of the Lord’s sustaining work in our lives; how our crow’s feet are evidence of joy in the presence of the Lord; how the creases between our brow exist because we have studied God’s Word with persistence; how frown lines may have found their place through suffering, but a suffering that was always accompanied with the comfort of Christ. May we embrace our age as evidence of God’s goodness to us. May we not lose heart as our outer body wastes away, because we know that God keeps his promise to renew us day by day.