Will I Grow Old Alone?

The Potential of Singleness at Midlife

A quiet presence. That’s how I remember a longtime single friend who died in her seventieth year. She served full-time on staff at her church, and by “full-time,” I mean she was available morning and evening to do whatever needed doing. She never complained; she simply showed up and got things done.

After years of faithful service, sudden illness overtook her, and she was confined to her home thereafter. She had no husband or children or grandchildren to care for her during her final weeks. Even so, she was never alone. Her church family provided round-the-clock care — not only meals and medicine, but loving companionship.

When we’re young and single, we don’t think much about that prospect of dying unmarried. But it begins to take up residence in our thoughts as we enter middle age, and with the prospect comes anxieties. Who will take care of me? Will I have sufficient funds for assisted living? If I’m overcome by dementia, who will ensure my safety?

I think back to my old friend whenever these fears arise, and I recall how God provided for her — how he met every physical, emotional, and spiritual need. Through her I witnessed God’s care for his own and how he delights to provide it through the family of his people.

Fighting the Anxiety of Aging

All through Scripture we see God’s tender heart for “the widow, the orphan, and the poor,” biblical wording for society’s most vulnerable, which today surely includes elderly singles. In Christ, we need not fear growing old alone. He takes care of his own. God promises his people through Isaiah:

“Even to your old age I am he, and to gray hairs I will carry you. I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save.” (Isaiah 46:4)

The prospect of dying alone isn’t the only anxiety to show up in midlife. The inevitable physical changes can be a source of sorrow. Our energy isn’t what it used to be, nor is our metabolism. Where formerly we relished an eight-o’clock dinner invitation, we now anticipate crawling under the covers at nine. And we wistfully remember when a pint of Ben & Jerry’s served as the perfect dinner on a summer evening. So we feel a bit sad when we realize that never again will we feel or look like we did ten, twenty, or thirty years ago, and we grieve that our hoped-for future love interest won’t ever get to know us at our best.

But the thinking that underlies such sorrow is a lie we’ve picked up from our anti-aging culture. The message of the multi-billion-dollar, fountain-of-youth industry is everywhere we turn. And the multitudes who buy into it refuse to see that all its promises are empty. We can safely disregard the glorification of youth, in all its forms, because nowhere in Scripture is age portrayed as something to fear or avoid. In fact, old age is held forth as honorable.

“You shall stand up before the gray head and honor the face of an old man, and you shall fear your God: I am the Lord.” (Leviticus 19:32)

The glory of young men is their strength, but the splendor of old men is their gray hair. (Proverbs 20:29)

Our middle and later years can actually be some of our happiest and most fruitful. For one thing, we tend to roll better with the ups and downs of life, as melodrama no longer defines our responses. We are learning, as Paul instructed, to redeem time (Ephesians 5:16; Colossians 4:5), and the wisdom we are gaining in the process not only provides us a good measure of stability, but also equips us to encourage and guide the younger generation. Far from having less to offer, we have so much more. All this is what makes wrinkles irrelevant.

Fighting the Loss of Motivation

Some of us experience little temptation to bow before the idol of eternal youth, but we are easily tempted to give in to discouragement, which can creep in and steal our motivation to keep going and growing.

A significant temptation in middle age is to let ourselves go. It’s a time we’re tempted to slide into sloppy stewardship of our bodies, our relationships, and our testimony of the gospel, settling for milestones we’ve already reached. We can stop participating in church activities because it’s more comfortable to be home. We can make our peace with boredom and isolated evenings on the couch with a clicker and a bowl of chips. And before we know it, our paltry feelings of happiness are derived from the easiest route to the greatest comfort.

This, too, is empty, and a breeding ground for loneliness. In middle age we can lose sight of the fact that all true happiness is found not from creature comforts, but from getting out of ourselves to serve God and love the people in our lives.

Midlife might actually be the best time to practice good stewardship of everything we are and have. Given our time, talents, money, health, and the wisdom we’ve acquired from years of walking with Jesus in a broken world, we typically have more to offer now than we did in our youth, or that we will in decades to come. If we are willing, we can discover for ourselves that our middle years can be the most fruitful and enjoyable season of life. And these are good years to renew our hope.

Don’t Waste Your Midlife

One of the loveliest brides I have ever seen was seventy years old when she walked down the aisle. She emanated happiness, and the beauty of joy shone through her veil-covered face. I was reminded that day that God delights to bless those who wait for him (Psalm 37:34; Proverbs 20:22; Isaiah 30:18; Lamentations 3:25).

So whether we die at seventy, or get married then, or live unmarried long into old age, midlife is a crucial time to echo the prayer of Moses, “Teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12).