Benefits of Aging

What are advantages of experience that only years can bring? Fred Smith speaks from the position of “wise old owl” on aging

By Fred Smith

I think that it is important to look at some of the benefits of getting older.

Selective tension:

Older people are usually tense over important things, not over everything. So many young people stress about everything; their lives have no peaks and valleys. At one point in my life I was playing too much golf and relaxing more than I should. I noticed my memory started to slip. When I ran into a well-known psychologist with whom I'd done some lectures, I mentioned my memory problem and equated it with getting older. He said, "No, that isn't the cause; it's your lifestyle that's become more relaxed. You've lost tension in your brain. He went on to explain that the brain is a muscle, and he suggested that if I brought back some constructive tension into my life, my memory would improve. I took on new challenges and I found my memory returning.

Clarified values:

Growing older gives us an opportunity to sort through our value system. For example, we can better see that the spiritual really does contribute more to our life than the economic. We finally agree with the philosopher who says that who we are influences our happiness much more than what we have.

The temptation then, of course, is to try to force our value structures on younger people. We don't stop to realize that they haven't had the years of maturity and growth that gave us discernment about values. We can't expect them to accept these values with the same certainty we have. We can only encourage them to accept them on the basis of our experience until their own experience ratifies our beliefs.


Proverbs 20:29 says, "The glory of young men is their strength; of old men their experience." Experience turns knowledge into wisdom. We can take knowledge, run it through the press of experience, and out comes a concentrate — wisdom.

Experience, like faith, is a teacher. But, faith is better than experience, because faith keeps us from bearing the scars of experience. Yet none of us is able to totally live by faith, and we have to experience some things for ourselves. If we have good sense at all, however, our experience leads us to the same place faith would have led us. Experience convinces us that "this is the way, walk ye in it."

Increased excitement:

As the years get shorter, the excitement of fully utilizing them can be a great motivation. Don't become depressed or afraid; feel the same excitement as if you were racing in the Indianapolis 500 and had completed 490 miles. The last ten miles become the most exciting because they're really the reason you ran the first ones. All your experiences, friends, associations, and education are consummated in these last years. The need for less sleep helps us maximize our time.

A good friend of mine is completing his Ph.D studies at seventy. He's taking the degree from one of his former students. This is what age does for you. It lets parents live long enough to see their children become their teachers. That's exciting.

Tested relationships:

As we grow older, relationships mature. For example, when you're first married, you don't know what to fight over so you indiscriminately fight over anything. You even quit going out with a couple who likes French restaurants because you like Mexican ones. But as we get older, we recognize areas of importance and unimportance. We have tested our friendships over the years and know which ones will hold and which ones will always be tentative.

We learn to trust people with whom we can talk confidentially. They're real. And it's a wonderful thing to know we will probably be neighbors in heaven.

Death is part of life:

A final compensation we have as we grow older is the full realization that death is a part of life. When I look at death, I Corinthians 13:12 is an important verse to me: "Then shall I know even as also I am known." Whatever I have known up to now has always been fragmentary. The great hope of heaven is that I will know the full truth.

I think it's important, as we go along through life, to create certain thirsts that death will satisfy. The thirst for truth is one of these; so are the thirsts for immortality, for God, and for renewing relationships with those who have died. You start developing these in your teens; you feed them and nurture them, and then when the time comes to die, it's really graduation.

I used to ask for sudden death, but I decided that was basically selfish. When we hope for sudden death, we're thinking about ourselves. One woman who lost her husband after a short illness said, "I'm so thankful we had time to say goodbye."

I'm not much to insist that mourners celebrate, because this seems phony to me. There's a time of loneliness and mourning that should be carried out; but I'm afraid we are getting to a place in some churches where we impose celebration. But the person who died can celebrate; he or she can sing a hallelujah chorus because the race is finished.