Aging Gracefully

A recent photo at a news site shocked me. A much praised 65-year-old British actress was featured as she came out of some movie opening. It was a ghastly sight. Bright red tights with open toe red sandals, a flippy skirt that would normally be seen on a woman of 20, a short red crop top that revealed a white, jiggly stomach and navel, and a tight little hoody jacket that was clearly too small for her. I stared at the photo for a moment and wondered at what has happened to womanhood.

The term “aging gracefully” means different things to different women. Pop culture usually defines it to refer to those who manage to look as young as possible for as long as possible. To me it means to look attractive in a way that is appropriate to a woman’s age. The English have an expression, “mutton dressed as lamb.” That clearly described the British actress, and it was a shocking and sad sight.

I use the word sad to describe the actress because she has seemed engaged in recent years in an exhausting and never-ending quest to re-write the rules for what it means to be an older woman. She recently appeared in a sleazy movie in scenes that cannot be described here. There’s a whiff of desperation about it all, and a sense of denial about reality.

Imagine the work that must go in to keeping up your appearances with a life like that. Imagine how crushing to finally lose the battle of appearances and to be left with nothing internally because you spent your life trying to stave off the inevitable ravages of age. It makes me depressed just thinking about it.

Growing old gracefully as a Christian means something very different. Unlike the secular world with its shallow and vain worship of youth, we are told in Scripture that a gray head is a crown of glory if it is found in wisdom. (Proverbs 16:31) That’s if it is found in wisdom. The British actress, flaunting her aging body for all to see, sadly does not possess wisdom and discretion.

Something that contributes to this shallow mindset about age, even among those who are Christians, is the hyper-emphasis on sexuality now. I’ve written before about the sexualizing of young girls even down to the very young. The opposite end of life has been influenced by this as well.

I was checking out at a department store recently, and the woman at the checkout was the age of the British actress referenced above. She was flashing cleavage at me and every customer who stopped by. It was, in a word, pathetic. Here was a woman who was the age of a grandmother, trying to show off her breasts. Had she no self-respect? Was her life so empty that she gained some sort of affirmation from the leering eyes of…whom? Strangers? What was lacking in her life that made her seek attention like that?

The hyper-sexualizing of women is there at the beginning of life and apparently now at the end of life. It says much about the internal and spiritual bankruptcy of so many in our culture now. We have a society that increasingly lives by its glands. The life of the mind and the soul is discarded in favor of cheap sexuality, a moment’s titillation, quick gratification, fantasy, and narcissism.

I see growing old gracefully as acknowledging the passing of time, accepting the seasons of life that God sends, and seeking to be useful in each season without reaching back to what once was. Middle-age can often do that to women where we spend far too much time mourning the loss of this or that, seeing our youth fade and grieving for it rather than embracing what God has for us in the present.

It is a transitional mindset needed in mid-life–a shifting into a mode of mentoring and sharing our experiences with younger women when it’s wanted, and relishing the opportunities for ministry that this affords. I don’t want to be a girl anymore, or a young woman. With youth comes all of the lessons still yet to be learned. I like to think that I’ve learned at least a few things in the last 40-some years that I wouldn’t want to re-learn!

God has positioned each of us in a place where we are influencing others, whether we realize it or not. A woman who ages with grace is one who doesn’t spend much time moaning over a new wrinkle in the mirror, but who looks around and asks God what He would have her to do in someone else’s life with the experiences already learned.

My great-grandmother from Norway used to tell my grandmother as a girl, “Make yourself of consequence!” She didn’t mean make yourself important, she meant, “Be useful!” It’s good advice at any age, especially in a world of plastic women spending their lives running around desperately trying to retain youth. Skip the Botox, put on a smile, and God will make you of beautiful consequence in His Kingdom.

36 thoughts on “Aging Gracefully

  1. Jean Selden says:

    Ingrid:

    Well said and well observed. I have had to begrudgingly accept the age of 60. I have always been interested in clothes and fashion but tried real hard to look my best without denying my age. I have to admit it is a hard thing to give up and to accept older age. Dreams tend to seem more distant. Hopes–well I have to accept the fact that they may not come to fruition. Hello Moses.

    As a believer, I have seen so much of this in the church arena. Having been in youth leadership for many years, I saw more and more parents wishing to be their children’s friends rather than their parents. Sometimes, it was hard to tell who was who not only by their dress, but by their behavior.

    Our society so dominates the church nowadays that many are caught in the trap of pleasing man rather than God. I have no problem with mothers being stylish and well-dressed. I think how we dress is a statement of what we think of ourselves. Our dress and behavior is just an outward sign of what is going on in our hearts and many women are in broken, unfulfilled marriages and are looking for attention elsewhere.

    My sister is in cosmetic sales at a high-end store and she says it is nothing for a person to plunk down $500 for a face cream. Just recently, she sold $10,000 in makeup in one day. Women are desparate to stay young whatever the cost. The stories she tells me of these women are very, very sad. It is just vanity.

    As Christian women, we should often read about the Proverbs 31 woman and make her our role model. These disciplines take time, but are well worth the effort for everyone in our lives.

    The Woman Who Fears the LORD Proverbs 31:10-31
    10 An excellent wife who can find?
    She is far more precious than jewels.
    11The heart of her husband trusts in her,
    and he will have no lack of gain.
    12She does him good, and not harm,
    all the days of her life.
    13She seeks wool and flax,
    and works with willing hands.
    14She is like the ships of the merchant;
    she brings her food from afar.
    15She rises while it is yet night
    and provides food for her household
    and portions for her maidens.
    16She considers a field and buys it;
    with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard.
    17She dresses herself with strength
    and makes her arms strong.
    18She perceives that her merchandise is profitable.
    Her lamp does not go out at night.
    19She puts her hands to the distaff,
    and her hands hold the spindle.
    20She opens her hand to the poor
    and reaches out her hands to the needy.
    21She is not afraid of snow for her household,
    for all her household are clothed in scarlet.
    22She makes bed coverings for herself;
    her clothing is fine linen and purple.
    23Her husband is known in the gates
    when he sits among the elders of the land.
    24She makes linen garments and sells them;
    she delivers sashes to the merchant.
    25 Strength and dignity are her clothing,
    and she laughs at the time to come.
    26She opens her mouth with wisdom,
    and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.
    27She looks well to the ways of her household
    and does not eat the bread of idleness.
    28Her children rise up and call her blessed;
    her husband also, and he praises her:
    29″Many women have done excellently,
    but you surpass them all.”
    30 Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain,
    but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.
    31Give her of the fruit of her hands,
    and let her works praise her in the gates.

    God bless you for the great blog.

    In Him,
    Jean

  2. Lori Glass says:

    Enjoyed your post Ingrid. I am trying to age gracefully. I figure I have earned my gray hair. One of my teachers years ago at tech school said something I thought was so cute. She was probabaly in her early 60’s and a little over weight ( pleasingly plump). She was talking about her weight and put her hands by her face and said with a smile no wrinkles. I pray I am setting a good example for the younger women that are watching my life.
    Emmy and her little friend are so cute too. Keep posting. Lori

  3. Donna says:

    Robert Browning did not write “[Do not] grow old with me. The best is yet to be [as long as you dress like a teenager.]” These women seem so foolish–and what on earth is wrong with the men in their lives?

  4. Ingrid Schlueter says:

    Donna, exactly right. Helen Mirren is the actress, and she reminded me of the reverse of a little girl in her mother’s clothes. She was 65-year-old woman in junior high clothes. The bare belly thing was the worst.

    As for the men in their lives, I think a lot of this stuff gets encouraged because men are getting their cues from celebrities they see in entertainment media. Used to be a man didn’t want another man ogling his wife. Now if he has a trophy wife with skin tight jeans, hooker boots, over-processed hair, a face plastered with make-up, and orange skin from a permatan spray down, he thinks he’s a stud married to a Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader. Now that’s ghastly on any woman, but try that in your 70’s, well, it is not a good look, LOL.

  5. Donna says:

    I am closing in on 60. I enjoy looking nice but am NO “babe.” But my husband thinks I’m lovely (at least he says so–bless him!) and he would hate to have me wear alot of makeup or dress provocatively. He needn’t worry–it’s not going to happen.

    He is alot like my father, who is almost 90. Dad thought my late mother was so beautiful. She struggled with a few extra pounds, her hair was silver, she dressed beautifully but very conservatively, she wore little makeup. For over 50 years she was his true love and nobody could have turned his head from her.

    I would hate to be married to a man who wanted other people to think his wife was “hot.” Do these folks not understand the concept of inner beauty? Or of radiance? Or a kind face?

  6. Ingrid Schlueter says:

    Oh, Donna, this is what I’ve said so many times. I sometimes have noticed that age is taking its toll and when I comment on it to Tom he just laughs, he doesn’t see it, isn’t looking for it, says many times, like your husband, that he finds me just fine. Maybe the women who try so hard do it because they don’t know what it is to be appreciated and loved for who they are. Maybe that’s the only currency they have with their men–looks. That’s what troubles me about girls today. The media has so filled their minds with “hotness” as the desired end of every female and they then end up with men who also have no higher view of women than as sex objects. The beautiful thing about a good marriage is the companionship, mutual respect, tender care and the whole-person kind of love that makes the spouse even more beautiful with lines on their face – representing all the years together. How sad that beauty is defined only by “hotness.” And what a lie it is.

  7. Rose says:

    Thank you for this wonderful post. I have been blessed to know and learn from many godly elderly ladies over my lifetime. One in particular was very special.

    For a few years, until she passed on to heaven, I was a companion care aide to a 92 year old Christian lady. She was a very tiny lady who was all bent over from osteoporois. She had many ailments to contend with and her daily life was filled with pain, physical struggles, and often loneliness, too. What a dear and truly beautiful lady she was! She had the sweetest smile you can imagine and she was always smiling, praising God, and encouraging others, even when she was coping with pain. She was the prayer warrior of our church…praying for hours sometimes in the wee hours of the morning for people she didn’t even know (as she was rarely able to attend services then)…just names on a prayer sheet but she loved each one of them. She had had a very hard life herself, yet she had learned to trust and to be grateful to God through her many hardships. When she died, I felt like I had lost my best friend. She had a stroke. When I went to see her in ICU, even in her unconscious state, there was still a hint of that sweet smile on her lips. And I could imagine angels surrounding her bed ready to take her home. I think of her often and she has become my example to follow now as I am myself entering into my senior years.

    I am almost 64 and I do see many changes in the mirror these days… thinning hair, a few new wrinkles… but I am too busy to be bothered much by that. I am enjoying the new freedom I have at this stage of my life to do ministry I could never do while I was raising my family. God has something for us at each stage of life. A little lady in her 90’s made a huge difference in my life and I hope I can follow in her footsteps, growing more beautiful, more Christ-like on the inside even as the outer beauty fades away.

  8. Lisa K says:

    Amen ladies! I love this post and all the great comments. I’m 55 and very conscious of aging – especially since my youngest son is 13 and most of my mom friends are at least a decade younger than me. I always keep an eye open for older women to emulate. My father’s lady friend is 93 and lovely – a sweet spirit is the most important ‘accessory’ the older we get.
    I’ve always thought Julie Andrews dresses tastefully and looks quite beautiful even now.

  9. Donna says:

    agree on Julie Andrews! You aren’t going to see any (shudder) aging cleavage there. And she wasn’t flaunting that sort of thing even when she was younger. Laura Bush is also very beautiful and well-dressed, I think.

  10. Donna says:

    good morning, all. To follow up on this very interesting discussion, there was a picture in the morning paper of Hugh Hefner and his fiancee, who could be his granddaughter. The girl certainly is very pretty but in that obviously enhanced, bleached, “plaything” way. I couldn’t help but compare Hefner’s leering pose with what I have personally observed from my husband and father, and what Ingrid describes from her Tom. And I can say that I would not trade places for the world.

  11. Elizabeth says:

    It;s understandable why unbelievers act this way. The end drawing near, last grasp at youth(which means life).

    As Christians, we rejoice with each passing day that our pilgrimage is one day nearer its end. We give God thanks for our earthy mercies, but we long to be with HIM.

    I am happier the older I get. My husband and I both feel deeper in love as time passes. We march through this wilderness together.

  12. carolynb says:

    Ingrid, well put.

    Proverbs 11:22 says “As a ring of gold in a swine’s snout, So is a lovely woman who lacks discretion.” Our Lord sure has a way of putting things! 🙂

  13. Jessica Fales says:

    Ok so I am not in the 50+ crowd, but I am going to join in the Amening. I am 36, and fast approaching 40. When I was in my 20’s, I am ashamed to say I dressed like I was in my 20’s. I thank God that I married a man when I was 29 who likes me best in overalls, or as he says, “I just like when you look comfortable.” 🙂

    I have had a few hairdressers who ask me what I intend to do about my grey patch popping up on the left side of my hair. I am pleased to tell them, I like the color of hair God gave me. Some may call it mousey brown. I guess I like mousey. I tried coloring in my 20’s, I didn’t like it. It didn’t look like me. I guess grey will be my new favorite mousey color.

    I have to admit sometimes my vain heart longs to look like I did at 25. I wonder why my husband finds me attractive when I look at my wardrobe of “Mommy jeans”, tee shirts and shoes that have no laces so I can slip them on and off fast. But then I remember, God gave me a godly husband and he finds me attractive when I am comfortable.

    I also admit, sometimes I see friends or others at church who look so put together and I think, “I used to be able to pull that off.” Then I am reminded, it’s not that season for me. This season is about being a good wife and mom. And really envy is a sin.

    Don’t get me wrong, I still have date night with my husband, and I make sure to look my best. There are times to when I reevaluate comfortable and see I am sloppy and adjust accordingly.

    All of these observation come from growing in the Lord. I don’t expect the World to understand it but it is nice when they do. I pray more believing women would understand my grey hairs left untouched, and my slip on shoes, but God determines their growth. I am just supposed to try to be a good example. I hope I am.

    Jess

  14. Lisa K says:

    I agree on Laura Bush – she looks lovely and it irks me that the media fusses over the usually inappropriately dressed Michelle Obama, when they never gave Laura a single compliment.
    I guess I’m old-fashioned, but I’ve always thought classic, tasteful clothing, hair and makeup were very attractive no matter what a woman’s age. I admire Grace Kelly and Audrey Hepburn (and of course Julie Andrews). Today’s awful, awful styles are their polar opposites.

  15. paulacummings says:

    Hollyweird is a closed, agist, society, you are either in or.. Having said that, I think it is also true that in order to age gracefully one must become comfortable with the core of who they are and as such you become more humble as a human being (at least that is how it makes me feel). You have to learn to be comfortable with the idea that a big chunk of your life is done, and there will be a disconnect with how you feel inside and how your body now presents itself. Many in hollywood know that the only thing that has gotten them by all these years is their appearance. Humility and hollywood are mutually exclusive ideas. If a celebrated designer decides the silhouette of a 12 year old boy should be ‘the look’ for all women(regardless of age, or body type), they all jump on board, no questions asked. They are a culture of very messed up narcissistic people for the most part. The last thing they want is to feel irrelevant. And so they adhere to ridiculous rules of their outward appearance wasting, time, money and themselves. As our society has become more secular, the ideas of beauty have become more depraved and disgusting They would rather fool themselves into thinking they look young and cool no matter how silly they look to those of us who can still see truth, than have to face the core of who they are and perhaps learn to be a bit humble in the process. Unfortunately, the insanity of all this filters down into the inane population at large, and we have the sad state of affairs presenting itself to us daily in all walks of life. I know I am really tired of it, don’t want to hear the words, sexy, hot, flawless, anymore.
    I use to actually look forward to having crows feet because I thought they added character to peoples faces, now that I have them… not so much!

  16. Kitty Foth-Regner says:

    Right on, Ingrid! It reminds me of a poem my mom wrote back in the ’30s. Cleavage and bellies were not the issues in those days!

    MY MOTHER’S HANDS

    When I was only twenty-one
    My hands were slim and fine;
    And all the world and I well knew
    None were so soft as mine.

    I looked with scorn at Mother’s hands
    That were no longer fair.
    I didn’t know that love for me
    Had etched the wrinkles there.

    But when my mother’s hands were still
    Forever, ever more,
    I saw such beauty through my tears
    As I’d not known before.

    Now that I tend my own hearth fire,
    I pray, when my work’s done,
    My hands will look like Mother’s did
    When I was twenty-one.

    — Ethel Boehm Foth

  17. Jessica Fales says:

    You know I just had a thought. As believers, we know we will decay from the day we are born to the day Jesus brings us home. We are okay with that because we know when Jesus brings us home, we will have glorified bodies. Our hope should be in heaven. Where can a non-believers hope be? Only here on earth, so they cling to their earthly body. Sad.
    Jess

  18. Lorrie says:

    Kitty, what a sweet poem! Great article & comments everyone. I just turned 45 and am refusing to cover my gray hairs. My 11 year old son sometimes comments on my “crown of glory” – LOL! I just wish all the ladies older than me would agree not to color their hair so I wouldn’t have to look so old!

  19. Ingrid Schlueter says:

    My mother’s hair went from brown to a very pretty silvery white. It’s just beautiful.

  20. christina says:

    Great post Ingrid. Wonderful comments. I am 26 and I long to grow older. To grow in wisdom. I cant wait for my hair to go gray. I love gray hair. I keep telling Andy that I love that he is going gray. I just wish he would let his hair keep growing out! 🙂

  21. Judi Hayes says:

    My own observation as a “50 somethinger” is that the amount of make-up needed goes way down to about the same as what looks best on a teen. A little blush, a little lip gloss, a little eyeliner, a little mascara–with the emphasis on little/light. A teen just needs to let the natural blush of youth shine forth, and not cover it with make-up to look her best. We older women actually look older when we try to hide what we are…so let the “blush of our years” crown us. (Just talking about the externals here. Not the truly important stuff of a pure and gentle spirit, what’s on the inside that really matters.)

  22. Margaret L. Been says:

    How I agree, Ingrid! The older we get, the more creative, artsy, and unique we can be in our attire—free spirited without going along with fads or exposing our bodies!

    I love resale shop clothing, my hand knit vests, etc. Individual flair is everything, and has nothing to do with “what’s in”!

    How I love this time of life with long skirts, colorful shawls from all over the world (especially from India!), funky hats, and vintage jewelry—the quality stuff of antique malls, not Boston Store or Wal-Mart! Just like my grandmothers used to wear (in fact I still have some of one Grandma’s pretty jewelry.)

    I love the classics, too—cashmere sweaters and plaid wool blazers. I grew up on these, and never tire of them. I even have a pair of saddle shoes!

    A bit of soft accent on the face never hurt anyone—no matter how old—especially on the eyelashes and eyebrows. Eyes rarely age, but only grow more expressive and interesting with every passing year. Eyes are truly the “windows of the soul”.

    And I personally enjoy having long white hair—the crown of age! Maybe it’s because I like things easy. Long hair is so much easier to maintain than short!

    With all the gorgeous fibers and colorful fabrics we can drape ouselves in, who would ever want to show all that skin or consider stupid trends? Being one’s unique self is much more creative! 🙂

  23. Lisa K says:

    Margaret I love your attitude!
    I have to admit I feel I’ve been looking old lately and it’s bothering me. I shouldn’t let something so superficial get to me like this! I need to be more creative and rethink my ideas about appearance.

  24. Ingrid Schlueter says:

    Margaret is one of my all time favorite people! Thanks, friend, for sharing those thoughts!

  25. Donna says:

    based on Margaret’s profile picture, she is a stunning woman. And far more appealing/engaging/attractive than a cookie cutter bimbette (if that is a word).

    Margaret–I do not know where you live, but there is a fantastic store in Illinois called “Ginger Blossom.” They have the most beautiful (and wonderfully priced) clothes that Ginger picks up on her travels, as well as gorgeous fabrics and really well-priced furniture and rugs. People are shocked when they find out how little I spend on really nice things (I never mind saying) and it’s so much better quality and more interesting than any of the chain stores and way less expensive than boutique-y places. I have no tie to the store, other than that I have shopped there–as have several of my friends. They have a website–gingerblossom.com–and you might enjoy taking a look.

  26. Ingrid Schlueter says:

    I just saw this on a Facebook status: Sensuality is Satan’s substitute for beauty and elegance. True.

  27. Margaret L. Been says:

    Donna, that store sounds like fun! Is is just “over the border”? (Illinois border, that is.) We live in Nashotah, near Oconomowoc.

    Years ago I made frequent jaunts to Richmond, IL–a charming historical little town with loads of antique shops and some good food. Would love to go back there sometime, and spend a nostalgia day in the old shops. 🙂

  28. Lisa K says:

    I love the Ginger Blossom website but want to see more of what they carry. How far is it from Chicago?

  29. Donna says:

    Margaret–how would you describe the location for Richmond? I have the worst sense of direction in the world!

    Richmond is loads of fun, especially in the summer with the farm stands. Ginger Blossom is on a farm and it’s very cold at this time of year, since many of the things are in the farm outbuildings. But if you can brave the cold or wait until warmer weather, I think you’ll be delighted.

  30. julie says:

    Ingrid thanks for this timely message. Just like so many things, the world turns the truth on its head. Perhaps in this case the desperation to look younger is at its core a denial of the fallenness of our world and our bodies. A refusal to accept aging and death as the consequence of sin. In any case, young or old we Christian ladies need encouragement to be discreet and to have a whole different set of goals and values than the world does. I find that daily I need to remind myself (or be reminded) of God’s truth for women. It really would help if men understood this need that we have (I believe God-given) to be attractive to our husbands and just how challenging that is as we age and fashions aren’t on our side! I recently dyed my hair after letting it go gray for a few years. I do like the look but I miss the naturalness of my own gray hair.

  31. Lisa K says:

    Julie I love how you put that so politely “the fashions aren’t on our side”

    I heartily agree! No one wants to look pretty or feminine anymore – it’s all about sleazy and skimpy!

  32. carolynb says:

    I just love this post, I keep coming back to it again and again! Anyhow, may I share an encouraging story?

    When I was unsaved, I used to dress inappropriately. Part of my wardrobe included a long, burgundy/purple velvet evening gown, but it was revealing. When I got saved, the Lord convicted me of my clothing choices, and I tossed out everything immodest and got a whole new conservative wardrobe. I also got rid of that gown, but commented to God that I wish I could have a pretty velvet gown again, same color, but modest in style.

    Fast forward years later to this past week. I found an ad for a new local consignment store that was having a half-off sale, so I decided to check it out. I went there, and on the dress rack was a burgundy/purple velvet dress – with a high neckline, long sleeves, a modest fitting bodice, and it was full length (to-the-floor). Basically, total coverage head to toe! I tried it on – and except for the length being too long for me (it was ON the floor, with me stepping on it… it will need to be hemmed) – it was perfect. And the price – $14 on the tag, 50% off = $7! I bought it and brought it home. My husband said, “Hey that’s the same color as your old gown!” Except, happy for me, it’s pretty and conservative. So, Lord willing, off to the seamstress it will go for minor alterations. And hopefully, I will have the gorgeous burgundy/purple velvet gown I wanted!

    So Lisa K, yes, while today seems to be about sleazy and skimpy, there are women out there who still want to look pretty and feminine. I do! 🙂 I admit, I gush over the clothes in the Anne of Green Gables tv-movies (that aired on CBC / Canadian TV, and are now on VHS/DVD). Sooooooooo pretty… 🙂

    Thanks for this post, Ingrid, and also for your CrossTalk America broadcast about the Miss America/Christian debacle. God bless you for your stand for Christ!

  33. Lisa K says:

    Carolyn, I was thinking the same thing recently – watching one of those PBS mini-series taking place in the early 1900s – what beautiful – yet modest -clothing!

    The feminine hairstyles, long gowns accented with beautiful lace, ah, maybe I was just born at the wrong time 🙂

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