My husband and I recently attended a seminar on how to prepare for retirement. Neither of us want to retire any time soon, but with economic conditions what they are, we hear over and over to sock money away for the future. What I remember most about the seminar was an astounding statistic. Our instructor told us that insurance tables predict that a healthy baby girl born today is projected to live as long as one hundred and twenty years!
My mind immediately turned to ministry with women. It’s in my DNA. Are we preparing women to live that long? to take care of loved ones who will live that long? Is the church aware of the tidal wave of change that an aging population will mean? I don’t think so.
I decided to look for support of this outrageous claim. I learned that in 1900, less than five percent of Americans lived over 65 years, but the percent of older adults has steadily increased. In 2009 people over 65 represented almost 13 percent and by 2030 the projection is almost 20 percent. In 2006, there were 73,674 persons 100 years old or older. That number is expected to mushroom in the decades ahead. Yes, we are heading toward a world where a centurion won’t be that exceptional, and most of them will probably be women.
Yes, if patterns hold, women will be the largest group effected. Women are poorer. In 2006 the median income per month of a man 65 or older was $1958, but for women it was $1134. This means that half of the older women had an income of less than $1134 to live on. How can we help women prepare financially to live longer lives? And women, by in large, are the caregivers of older folk. When was the last time you saw intentional ministry support and training for caregivers of older loved ones or aging friends and neighbors? These changing demographics of the United States (as well as other places e.g. Europe, parts of Asia) will have dramatic effects on all facets of culture and society, but certainly more on women than any other group. How should the church prepare and respond?
First, I commit to talk and think about growing older differently. I commonly complain to younger women about the downside of “maturity”, leaving a negative impression. I need to stop for their sake and mine. I tend to think of ministry years left, forgetting that Goethe finished Faust, Michelangelo completed the dome of St Peter’s, and Cervantes wrote Don Quixote long after their 65th birthday. If we older women practice self care now and later, most of us will be productive far into the golden years. I commit to stop worrying about being alone or sidelined, and adopt a more positive mindset.
Second, I need to learn more. Helpful resources I’ve been reading and can recommend are:
A Vision for the Aging Church by Houston and Parker, Baby Boomers and Beyond by Amy Hanson, and Caring for Aging Parents by Julie-Allyson Ieron. Equip yourself.
Third, I need to be more proactive in preparing myself and others. How can we help women live full years for Jesus even as centurions, or as long as our dear Savior might give us? We need an army of women with more passion, insight, and focus on what it means to age well and how to help others do the same, regardless of their age. Are you plagued by attitudes toward your own aging, mortality, and ministry usefulness that are unhealthy? Brainstorm with me about what kinds of thinking, attitudes, and ministry strategies would benefit women as they age?