50 and Fearful?


Author: Alex Drew

Well if I haven’t already been in ‘the second half’ for a while now, I’m definitely in it now! To some people, 50 is the proverbial ‘spring chicken’, but for those of us just getting there, like most decade milestone markers, it feels worthy of some reflection.

In the Bible, every 50th year was a year of jubilee – a year of releasing people from their debts, releasing slaves, returning property to those who owned it, and resting the land – it was like a year of rest and restoration; a time to reset, a fresh start.

Nowadays, although a far cry from restfulness, there remains this sense of renewal when the first jubilee birthday is reached. An invitation to clear the decks, dive deep into pension matters, finally fix the leaky roof, get fit, get focussed, and get ready for the second half. For many of us the empty nest, stabilising finances, still good health, and growing wisdom (please Lord), make this time of life an exciting one, full of potential, and many in their fifties are energetically embracing this time and living vibrant and successful lives.

It’s also the time of life when many begin to consider the future. Recent research commissioned by one of our partners, Pilgrims’ Friend Society, revealed that when people in midlife think about their later life (70+) they look forward to a more relaxed lifestyle, with holidays and special times spent with friends and family. Don’t we all?

But the challenges of later life loom large too, with more than half those surveyed feeling that later life is a time to fear. Top concerns include health decline, having dementia, being a burden to loved ones, and not having enough money to support care needs. That’s quite a balloon burster isn’t it?

But all of these are understandable fears, especially in a society poorly prepared for those of us entering our later years, and experiencing some of these fears first hand.

Although not always getting the recognition they deserve, churches and community groups are a huge support to older people, often improving later life for many.

From our vantage point at Faith in Later Life we know that churches reduce loneliness and increase purpose fulfillment, which in turn improves health outcomes. Church communities also do a tremendous amount of work in journeying with those living with dementia, as well as their carers. And in a culture where families are often dispersed, we know that the church eases the burden on many families by supporting older people in their congregations for as long as they can.

I suppose one of the reasons many are fearful about later life is the uncertainty – experiences vary hugely, and we have no idea how it’s going to go for us. We know people in their 80s, 90s, and more, living really well, and yet we also know much younger people who are struggling.

By the time we reach midlife many of us have some up-close-and-personal experience of later life, through relatives, friends and neighbours. Amidst the stories that give us hope, of older people abseiling and wing walking for charity, winning fencing competitions, and pioneering breakthroughs in industry, many of us have by now journeyed with those whose world is shrinking and for whom joy is hard to find. This gives us a challenging insight into what may be to come, making the statistics about fearfulness of later life further understandable.

Among the uncertainty those of us in midlife do have some choices right now. Fear could bind us with anxiety, which ironically speeds up a decline in health, or it could drive us to grab hold of the life we have and do what we can to ensure good physical, mental, financial, and emotional health.

As much as I’m embracing my 50th year with some of that sense of determination, renewal, and not forgetting a splash of adventure, I’m also conscious that by the time my mother and my grandmother reached their jubilee birthdays, they were already in the last decade of their lives. Old age is a gift that not everyone will receive – that doesn’t make me fearful, but it helps me with perspective.

For now, far from wanting to stop the clock or turn back time, I’m happy to leave my teens, twenties, thirties, and forties behind, expectant of good things yet to come, one way or another, and claiming God’s promises, including this one from Isaiah:

“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” Isaiah 43:18-21.

None of us know how long we have, or what will unfold, but as well as instruction about rest and renewal, the Bible is packed with so much hope and assurance; of God’s relentless love for us, and His unending presence with us, for the whole of our lives.

Right, back to those balloons…