Recently I called my Mom to sing to her on her birthday.
“Is this the big one?” I asked.
“I’m 39,” she said, in a singsong voice, “always 39.”
Why is she pretending? I wondered, bemused that she was claiming to be younger than her own daughter.
Sometime after 40, I started absentmindedly dropping a year: saying 42 when I was 43, and 43 when I was 44. Then I hit 45. This time it was our son doing the singing to me, on my birthday. He didn’t ask my age, but being good with math he boldly declared, “Mom, you’re halfway to 90!”
I laughed. But I winced, too. Suddenly, I had a lot more empathy for my Mom.
It’s not easy getting older. And there’s plenty of help to pretend we’re not.
Dye your hair.
Inject your skin.
Tuck your tummy.
Work your abs.
A multibillion dollar beauty industry keeps the charade going, all the while showing little-to-no respect for the elderly.
When it comes to getting older, our culture offers three options: delay, disguise, or despise.
Don’t Delay — Embrace
As a young girl, I never understood why my Nana considered me rude for asking her age. I used to pester her with questions about when she was born — all to no avail. I wanted to know the number of her years, thinking it remarkable that someone could live so long. I loved her gnarled hands and begged her to stop dyeing her hair and let it go natural. Though she never revealed her age, she did stop coloring her hair. And when she did, it came in a brilliant white. I loved telling her how beautiful it was, and promised I’d never dye my own hair when I was her age.
“When it comes to getting older, our culture offers three options: delay, disguise, or despise.”
Somewhere between 14 and 40, something changed. I started disguising my age at the salon, doing what I said I never would. Paying to have my hair colored made sense in a way I didn’t understand when I was a girl. And I liked the affirmation I got for my decision. But every time I came to Proverbs 16:31 in my Bible, my conscience whispered to me, “Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life.”
Over time, the whispering grew louder.
Don’t Disguise — Teach
That wasn’t the only passage challenging my efforts to disguise my age. Paul tells Titus that the older women are “to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled” (Titus 2:3–5).
I’ve always loved this passage, wanting to be mentored by older women when I was younger, and looking forward to being the mentor when I got older. But if this gospel-adorning discipleship is going to happen, the older women must be willing to acknowledge that they are, in fact, older.
For me, that meant going gray. It wasn’t easy weaning myself off the potion for youthful hair: my hairdresser’s pressure to keep coloring, the roots-showing “ugly phase,” and the appearing of so many strands of growing-older evidence. My pride mourned the death of my illusion of never aging.
Did wisdom show up along with my roots? Well, no. Gray hair is evidence of a long life, but the mere passage of time doesn’t produce the wisdom worth sharing. To be old and wise takes intentionality, starting with paying attention to the fleeting nature of life.
“Aging bursts the bubble of self-sufficiency. Older women, let it burst!”
In Psalm 90:12, Moses prayed, “So teach us to number our days aright, that we may get a heart of wisdom.” There is a treasure of wisdom that comes from numbering our days, not just as they pass, but knowing how many remain. It is not easy to think truthfully about our limits. It’s painful because we have eternity set in our hearts (Ecclesiastes 3:11). But it is necessary. Aging bursts the bubble of self-sufficiency. Older women, let it burst!
We are not, in ourselves, sufficient. Facing our limits and our waning lives forces us to think about what matters most. The Enemy who promised Eve that if she sinned, she “will not surely die” (Genesis 3:4), is the same Enemy who lies to us about the worth of spending our years chasing the season that is behind us, distracting us from the assignment we have for the season we’re in.
What is that assignment? Teaching younger women.
And if older women are going to teach the younger faithfully, they must themselves “be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good” (Titus 2:3). This means learning gracious ways and manners, conducting ourselves with dignity, practicing godly conversation, and learning how to deflect gossip while urging others to do the same. It means setting an example of edifying others on social media and knowing when to walk away. It means not being controlled by passions and lusts of the flesh, including the desire to look perfect on Pinterest and Facebook. It means being diligent stewards of our time and responsibilities at home and in the church. In short, it means embracing maturity, rather than trying to delay its onset.
The more I practice these things, and the more white salt that grows into my pepper-dark hair, the more courage I feel to speak truth into the lives of the younger women around me.
Don’t Despise — Flourish
Our culture would have us despise old age, but Scripture says aging is a gift and a stewardship to spend for the kingdom.
Psalm 92:12–15 gives me hope — and purpose — for the years ahead, however many remain:
The righteous flourish like the palm tree and grow like a cedar in Lebanon. They are planted in the house of the Lord; they flourish in the courts of our God. They still bear fruit in old age; they are ever full of sap and green, to declare that the Lord is upright; he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.
“Let’s help younger women look beyond what is seen and temporary to what is truly beautiful and eternal.”
Whatever the number of candles on your cake, are there more than you’ve been willing to admit? There is no denying that we are growing older. Our outer selves — our skin, our hair, our muscles, and more — are wasting away. No amount of hair dye can delay the inevitable. But take heart! If you belong to Jesus, your “inner self is being renewed day by day” (2 Corinthians 4:16). Let’s spend ourselves for the younger women in our lives, looking beyond what is seen and temporary, to what is truly beautiful and eternal.
For the blood-bought woman, you’re called to embrace a new season of loveliness the world will never understand.