By Scott Keith –
“Those who lack within themselves the means for living a blessed and happy life will find any age painful. But for those who seek good things within themselves, nothing imposed on them by nature will seem troublesome. Growing older is a prime example of this. Everyone hopes to reach old age, but when it comes, most of us complain about it. People can be so foolish and inconsistent.” Cicero, How to Grow Old, pg. 11
I’ve been thinking a lot about growing old lately. Maybe it’s because I just became a grandpa (Grandpappy). Nonetheless, all of my contemplation has reminded me that we are culturally obsessed with staying young. We work out to avoid growing old. We follow every fad thrown at us by pseudo-science in an attempt to stave off any wrinkle, gray hair, or slight physical impediment. We seem to define our youth with vim, vigor, and vitality, and old age with fatigue, apathy, and weakness.
Several weeks ago, I was in New York City and visited the world renowned Strand Books. If you haven’t visited Strand Books, you ought to, as it is a truly remarkable experience. Their slogan is “18 Miles of Books;” Strand Books is just my kind of place. When I am in a bookstore like Strand Books, I am always on the lookout for something I don’t have and something “unique,” as defined by something that I would not intentionally search for on Amazon.
While there, I ran across and purchased a little work by Marcus Tullius Cicero entitled How to Grow Old. (The side benefit for me is that this copy, translated by Philip Freeman, is an English / Latin edition which allows me to safely practice my Latin!) This is a great little work, arguably produced by Rome’s most famous Orator and Senator. He composed this little book after he had opposed Julius Caesar’s marching into Rome with his troops. Caesar had pardoned Cicero for his seeming betrayal, but Cicero was humiliated and retired to his home in the country. By this time, Cicero had been divorced twice, was getting older, and was out of a job. Needless to say, all accounts suggest that he was feeling somewhat forlorn and even useless.
It is during this time the Cicero found purpose in writing. It is while he was retired at his country home that he penned some of his greatest works. How to Grow Old is not usually considered among Cicero’s greatest works, though it was the first of his works to be translated into English and published in America.
In his little work, Cicero lays out 10 lessons––you have to love ancient 10-step programs––that we all need to learn in life in preparation of growing old.
- A good old age begins in youth.
- Old age can be a wonderful part of life.
- There are proper seasons to life.
- Older people have much to teach the young.
- Old age need not deny an active life, but we need to accept limitations.
- The mind is a muscle that must be exercised.
- Older people must stand up for themselves.
- Sex is highly overrated (I’m not sure I agree with this one).
- Cultivate your own garden. (Have a hobby or take care of something that you care about.)
- Death is not to be feared.
So what are we to make of Cicero’s “10-Step Program?” Well, I hear in it not only ancient wisdom toward living a virtuous life but also echoes of what the Scriptures teach all of us.
- “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” (Proverbs 22:6)
- “He took his last breath and died at a ripe old age, old and contented, and he was gathered to his people.” (Genesis 25:8)
- “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven…” (Ecclesiastes 3:1)
- “Hear this, you elders; listen, all you inhabitants of the land. Has anything like this ever happened in your days or in the days of your ancestors? Tell your children about it, and let your children tell their children, and their children the next generation.” (Joel 1:2-3)
- “He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength.”(Isaiah 40:29)
- “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8)
- “Do not rebuke an older man, but exhort him as a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and with all propriety…” (1 Timothy 5:1-2)
- “Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body.” (1 Corinthians 6:8)
- “They shall still bring forth fruit in old age …” (Psalms 92:14)
- “For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing will have the power to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord!” (Romans 8:38-39).
At the end of the day, this little work convinced me that even the wise pagans like Cicero knew something that we all––Christians too––neglect. Getting older is the way of things and is not to be feared. After all, we have nothing left to fear; Christ has taken all of our real fear upon Himself. He has conquered sin, death, and the devil, and now this life we live we live in Christ. When our old age results in our death, and it will, that death will not have the last word. Christ has ripped death’s last word out of its mouth and has declared that you will live again on account of His death and resurrection. The life we now live––even the life we live as we get older––we live in the freedom of that truth. Christ is risen, and because He is risen, we shall be risen indeed! Thus, the words of Cicero quoted at the top can be adjusted to have new meaning for those in Christ: “But for those who seek good things in CHRIST, nothing imposed on them by nature will seem troublesome. Growing older is a prime example of this.”