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.