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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...

Happy Aging

The elderly, especially Christians, are the most content with life

By John W. Kennedy
July 20, 2014

Traditionally, old age rarely has been considered the most pleasant time of life. A general increase in health problems, cognitive decline, the death of similarly aged loved ones, and a sense of not being able to contribute as much anymore can influence one’s perception of life’s later years.

Yet several recent studies indicate the senior years actually can be the most enjoyable. Research shows the majority who are elderly are satisfied with and appreciate life more than in their younger years. Being retired, paying off debts, and lacking responsibilities are factors in the fulfillment. 

However, being happy certainly involves more than playing golf with friends day after day and not worrying about where to find enough money for the next mortgage payment. There is empirical evidence that Christians who find a purpose in serving are not only more joyful but also live longer.

Jason J. McClenthen, who turns 70 in September, is a prime example. McClenthen became an endorsed Assemblies of God chaplain in April.

“A good portion of my younger years were spent in self-centered living,” McClenthen says. “I’m much happier at 70, seeking my Father’s will. Older people are content if they truly are in the Lord.”

That assessment supports the findings of a Gallup poll which showed that the elderly — even those in their 90s — are likely to enjoy higher “emotional health” than those in their 30s, 40s or 50s. People who are 65 and older demonstrate significantly better emotional health than those who are younger, regardless of race, education, marital status, employment, standard of living, or regional location, according to Gallup.

A London School of Economics study last year found that happiness actually peaks at age 69. Likewise, a study published earlier this year in the Journal of Consumer Research showed that many older people are happier with daily life than those who are 18. By and large, once the senior years arrive people are more agreeable, less anxious, and more emotionally stable.

Midlife seems to be the most depressing time, according to a plethora of analyses. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports the highest suicide rates are for those ages 45-54.

McClenthen spent more than 30 years repairing mobile homes full time. These days, he divides his time between serving as a resident chaplain at Christian Life Retirement Center in Loves Park, Ill., and as staff chaplain at the Rockford (Ill.) Rescue Mission.

As he ministers to the elderly, McClenthen can relate to them because of his age. He similarly identifies with the homeless because of traumatic experiences while growing up.

McClenthen didn’t have an enjoyable youth, as he followed in the footsteps of his father and started drinking heavily during high school.

“As a young man, I was afraid of people because I was hurting,” McClenthen says. “I had a lot of anger. I didn’t have good relationships. I was a drinker for so many years, and I hurt people all along the way.”

McClenthen’s life turned around after he started attending Rockford First Assembly of God in 2000. He began volunteering at the rescue mission and learned how to be compassionate to the brokenhearted.

“God had been preparing me all my life for this,” McClenthen says.

Judy Popineau Wick, who is an Assemblies of God U.S. Missions church planter and developer along with her husband, Wes, has seen numerous instances of people finding their ministry niche late in life.

“Many seniors were on the sidelines in their churches, but they experienced a marked difference once they rolled up their sleeves, got out of their shell, and began to serve others,” says Judy Wick, 62. “It keeps you young when we step out of our box to serve Jesus, within the church as well as in the community.”

The Wicks co-founded the ministry Young Enough to Serve (YES!) in 2008.

“There is something about a Spirit-filled Christian who is really exercising the fruit of the Spirit,” Wick says. “Their whole countenance, demeanor and outlook on life is so much more positive and refreshing than those who are not walking with Christ.”

Wick contends adults who are proactive in seeking out younger people to disciple are more fulfilled.

“If I want to feel older, I just hang out with older people,” Wick says. “We are more vivacious when we are doing things with the younger generation.”

The simple fact of getting older, or even attending church regularly, doesn’t make someone more spiritual. McClenthen says he often sees an aged person in a nursing home or hospital bed with shallow faith and no interest in reading the Bible.

A string of studies connect church activity with physical well-being. Those who attend worship services more than once a week outlive those who never attend by an average of eight years, one report indicates.

John Heide, pastor of Seal Beach (Calif.) Leisure World Assembly of God, says happiness in advancing years often is the result of a person learning to accept his or her stage in life. He notes many who attend Leisure World AG have downsized from large homes and aren’t interested in striving for material possessions as they did in younger years.

“Those who are older are happier if they are more productive, if they have someone — usually family — to love, if they have something to hope for, and if they have something to do to stay active — a ministry of some type,” says Heide, who is on special assignment at the church as an AG U.S. Missions pastor to seniors.

Heide, 64, cites as an example an 86-year-old greeter who converted to Christ at the age of 83 and is among the most cheerful at the Seal Beach church.

The elderly at Leisure World AG usually have come to terms with the end of life, in part because so many others in the congregation have died. Most young people don’t want to discuss death, Heide says.

Leisure World AG contributes half its annual budget to missions because attendees want to be involved in reaching the lost, even if they aren’t physically able to go on trips, Heide says.

“It’s an exciting time to be in the second-half generation,” Heide says. “God is starting to awaken people to finish life strong so we can make the rest of our years the best of our years. It doesn’t matter what we’ve done in the first half of life. People recognize they have a finite number of years left, and they want to make them count.”

McClenthen concedes he doesn’t have the energy he once did, and he must be wise about how far he can push himself. But he plans to keep serving as a chaplain as long as he is physically able.

“This is so fulfilling,” McClenthen says. “The Lord is looking for people to answer the calling. He is the source of all my satisfaction and fulfillment and peace and joy.”

JOHN W. KENNEDY is the contented middle-aged news editor of the Pentecostal Evangel.


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