One of those inescapable facts of life with which we all must eventually cope is the constant “drip-drip-drip” called aging.
I’m now 79 and can’t understand how I got so far over the hill, when I don’t recall ever being on top of it! None of my peer group is particularly excited about getting older. The alternative, however, might be even less appealing.
Aside from our physical appearance taking some serious hits, we seniors also must deal with ever more physical limitations. My 58-second sprint around the track has become a five-minute walk with a little hitch in my “get along.” After working out I have aches and pains in parts of my anatomy that I can’t even identify.
My vanity drives me to keep going in hopes that I won’t look quite as bad as the other old people around me. I fully understand that in many ways I am merely putting off the inevitable. I think, in fact, that God might be using the aging process to get us all used to the idea of our eventual demise. Nobody is getting out of this world alive, at least until Christ returns at the end of history.
Realization of that fact can create a lot of unnecessary anxiety. Most serious Christians, however, understand that a better afterlife awaits us at the end of our journey. I totally embrace that perspective. The idea that there is no sickness and no worry in Heaven is tremendously appealing at this point in my life. When I think about it, death is not really all that scary. The main problem with aging for me is the fear of becoming weak, helpless, and irrelevant.
While recently reviewing some of my earliest newsletters I was reminded that I had to deal with this issue thirty-four years ago while Judy and I prepared for our mission to Kenya. During that time God gave me an experience that helped me conquer a fear that might have compromised our ministry in Africa. Let me share an excerpt from the book that Judy and I authored, ”Out of It in Africa: Dispatches from Clueless Missionaries,” based on our monthly newsletters from Kenya:
My main personal issue was health. I don’t ever remember fearing death, except maybe during moments in my childhood when I had defied my no-nonsense Navy Chief father. I did, however, fear being sick and weak. I feared helplessness.
That is always a possibility in Africa. Malaria, typhoid, cholera, and any number of exotic diseases are waiting to waylay missionaries. Sickness is one of the main reasons missionaries return to their “first-world” homes. Hospitals and clinics are rarely clean or well-equipped in the bush. Bad things, especially medical-wise, do happen to good people. I did not want to be one of those.
Fortunately, I believe, God already knows that. His grace for me ended up being a one-week stay in an American hospital with a serious kidney infection. Judy and I were in Lexington, Kentucky preparing for our initial exploratory trip to Kenya. Dr. Dow Robinson, a seasoned missionary and theologian, was there at the time and had graciously agreed to walk the Curtis’ and the Parkers, our prospective teammates, through a week-long intensive study covering the basic lessons of how to be missionaries in a foreign country.
In the middle of our study, I came down with a serious kidney infection that put me in the University of Kentucky Hospital for a solid week. My body temperature peaked at 106 degrees and the doctors were concerned. I lapsed between consciousnesses and delirium, fever, and chills. I had all the symptoms of malaria without actually having the disease. This meant that the doctors knew exactly how to treat my illness and I got the “benefit” of knowing what “sick” feels like.
The hallucinations that I experienced in my high fever moments underlined my fear of being ill and weak. Spooky-looking figures wearing traditional African witch doctor masks would rush at me, sending me into panic. After a few episodes of this ordeal, a peace that surpasses all understanding mysteriously began to overwhelm my soul. It was like I heard the same word from the Lord that the Apostle Paul received when crying out in his affliction. “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (II Corinthians 12:9).
From that point I knew that I could face any and all dangers through Christ, who is my strength. Within a few hours I was healed. I have to believe that God was answering a lot of prayers. At the same time, He was doing a redemptive work in me according to His promise in Romans 8:28, using everything to work for my ultimate good.
I realized that I could be sick in America or Africa. In every case, in every place, He is large, and in charge! I needed to know that in a very personal way. I don’t suggest that dramatic demonstrations such as this are necessary to overcome fears that might hinder our faith, but I would certainly admonish anyone to trust God in every circumstance that requires a greater than usual amount of faith.
God’s Word is timeless and it’s always relevant to every situation everywhere. Many years after my kidney infection episode, God still reminds me regularly that my weakness, which includes an occasional medical issue, is no reason to disqualify myself from His service.
It is true that aging does create certain physical limitations. That is a fact of life that everyone must take into consideration. However, it doesn’t necessarily mean that age cancels our possible contribution to the advancement of God’s Kingdom in the world. God uses any available vessel He chooses to serve Him, including older folks whose value can be so easily under-appreciated in a post-modern culture.
It is encouraging to me that Abraham and Sarah were well into their years before God called them to carry His grace into the eternal history of mankind. I doubt they could have imagined their significance at the time. They just believed and obeyed. That was all that mattered to the Lord; their age certainly did not. God had plans that included them in a very major way.
That speaks deeply to me. Perhaps my most important accomplishments lie before me, and my ability to serve God is not nearly as limited as I might think. I’m not sure what’s next, but I want to be ready to hear God’s call and move out, even if I need a cane to do it. The last thing I want to do is prematurely “retire” for reasons that are irrelevant to God’s plans and purposes.
The strength of youth is often overconfident in its ability to actualize what can be done only through the grace of God. Veterans of the “Walk” understand all too well the human paradox: apart from Christ we can do nothing (John 15:5), and I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me (Philippians 4:13). There are still battles to fight and victories to be won for the Kingdom until God calls us home. We all need to make everything we have and everything we are available to Him while we are still alive.
Thank you so much for your faithful prayers and generous support for us over the years. We have always treasured your manifest care and praise God because of you.
God bless you,
[LeRoy Curtis is a graduate of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and Asbury Theological Seminary. He served four years as a U.S. Naval Officer after which he became a pastor, Bible professor, educator, author, and missionary living in E. Africa for eight years where he and his wife developed a curriculum of biblical studies for untrained pastors in rural Kenya. His passion for training young church leaders takes him to various parts of the U.S., Latin America, and Africa. He and Judy are currently residing in Carrollton, Georgia.]