In twenty years, when asked to describe my COVID-19 quarantine experience, I’ll tell how I entered my apartment as a twenty-nine-year-old woman and walked out with more in common with my eighty-two-year-old grandmother. I think Grandma would approve of how I’ve spent the last few months: relearning the piano, watering plants, and napping away my pain. I’ve taken an unnecessary number of pictures of my peace lily and sat in front of my amaryllis, willing it to bloom.
At the end of December, when the first flowers finally burst from my amaryllis stem, it felt like Christmas had been extended. As the petals began fading and crumpling around the edges, I moved the vase from room to room, hoping different shades of sunlight would shock it back to life. Throughout this transition, I’ve wished that I could call my grandmother to ask for her advice on how to help my plant thrive. Her knowledge of gardening was encyclopedic in the days before dementia began erasing her memory. She would have known what to do.
A few weeks ago, when hospice called my family and let us know it was time to say goodbye to her, I moved my amaryllis back to my desk and began writing Grandma’s eulogy. If I had to describe her, I’d say she wasn’t an amaryllis so much as a double knock-out rose—the kind you find thriving under the Texas sun, able to withstand cold and heat and disease. How do you become a woman like that? How do you grow deep roots that will withstand every season of life?
As a master gardener, Grandma knew how to bring about new growth and beautiful blooms, in and out of season. She woke up and watered her plants early in the morning to prepare them for the day to come. I’ve been learning this routine is important when it comes to aging as well. If you and I want to blossom into godly older women, we must prepare for the afternoon while it’s still morning.
The Sermon I Haven’t Heard
When I think about the sermons on aging that I’ve heard, it seems the same three message points are presented to single women:
- A warning to the woman building her own empire, the one who is working her way up the corporate ladder, stomping on all who stand below her. She’s exhorted to not live in pursuit of her own name but for the glory of God.
- A celebration of the far-off missionary, the woman living abroad, who has sacrificed all she has to serve those in need. She is set apart as an example of someone who has given everything she has for the sake of the gospel.
- An encouragement to the soon-to-be-married, the one preparing for her life as a wife and mother. She’s reminded of the value of this role and spurred on to continue loving well.
While each of those examples is important, what about those of us who don’t quite fit into any of those categories? What about the woman who has not been called to full-time ministry overseas, but still wants to serve God faithfully in her secular position? What about the woman who may not get married for many more years or who may not marry at all? What about the woman who cannot or will not have children of her own?
If my eulogy was written today, it wouldn’t include many of the same milestones that marked my grandma’s life. Marriage and children may or may not be in my future—God alone knows what’s to come. Today, I’m a single woman, working a full-time job, wanting to prepare for the future in the place where God has planted me.
Aging with Grace
In recent weeks, I’ve been reading Aging with Grace: Flourishing in an Anti-Aging Culture by Sharon W. Betters and Susan Hunt. I preordered it when I saw it illustrates how “the gospel is big enough, good enough, and powerful enough to make every season of life significant and glorious,” whether we are single or married, sick or well, at home or abroad.
In the foreword, Susan gives a short history of the phrase “the afternoon of life,” which is defined as fifty-six to eighty-three years of age. She says that the world cannot prepare us for this stage of life, “because it has no hope or power to give us. Culture’s false narrative about aging is the church’s opportunity to proclaim the hope and power of the gospel to equip God’s people to flourish.” Sharon and Susan invite readers to purposefully prepare for the afternoon of life while they are in the first half of life—and single women, that includes us.
Throughout each chapter, Sharon and Susan open the Bible for answers because, as they say, the Bible is where we learn to grow and flourish in the soil of the gospel. In that rich gospel soil, Sharon and Susan point to four biblical examples of women who show us how to age with grace.
Aging with Joy
If you’ve studied the book of Ruth before (or if you’re in the middle of the Women of the Bible series now), you may have been drawn to the titular character, the young, beautiful woman who married the mysterious Boaz and became the great grandmother of King David. But that’s not the woman who Sharon and Susan spotlight in Aging with Grace. When they open up to Ruth 1–4, they focus on the older widow, Naomi. Now, why would we want to learn from Naomi?
Sharon says that though pain filled every part of Naomi’s being and seemed to crowd out any vestiges of God’s love, “Naomi’s story is a beautiful picture of the gospel. God relentlessly pursued Naomi.” By the end of the book, we see that God was not only sovereign over Naomi’s circumstances, He was faithful in showing His love and kindness to her.
When we experience the dark side of singleness—the disappointment, frustration, or bitterness, we may start to question God’s character. We may know that He is sovereign and that He is in control of all of the details of our lives—but we start wondering if He really cares about us, especially when it feels like He’s neglected us. Or we may believe that God is loving, but then we doubt whether God really has a purpose for our single years.
Naomi’s life illustrates that God is both sovereign and loving. As Sharon says, “We can be confident God is moving through our lives in a similar way.” As believers living after the time of Christ, we have something Naomi didn’t: the “deep, deep love [which] flows from our Redeemer Jesus.”
Aging with Peace
In Chapter 4, Sharon and Susan introduce a group of women you might not be familiar with, the “Matriarchs of the Exile.” The Israelites had been exiled to Babylon. “Desperate to go back home,” Sharon explains that “they turned to false prophets who promised deliverance within two years.” In Jeremiah 29:10, the Israelites learned it would be seventy years before God delivered them—this meant that many of the older women, the matriarchs, would die in exile.
[The Matriarchs of the Exile] could be life-givers or life-takers. They could choose to joyfully embrace God’s call to cultivate a godly, peaceful community, or they could choose bitterness, whining, and complaining, and so can we . . .
Will you hope in His plan, promise, and power, or will you hope in yourself? I encourage you to join the company of holy, hopeful heirs of the grace of life. (Aging with Grace, 85, 91)
In the midst of their circumstances, the matriarchs had a choice for how they would respond. We do, too. Singleness may feel like a wasteland, but we are called to claim this place for God’s glory and to flourish where He’s put us.
Aging with Hope
It’s easy to think that the struggles of singleness are somehow unique to this season alone. We might not admit it to our married friends, but we may secretly believe that if we just survive the single years, we’ll never experience loneliness or loss or waiting in the same way. We can learn a lot from the lives of Anna and Elizabeth, New Testament women who exude hope in God.
In the chapter about Elizabeth, Sharon writes, “I imagine her, with twinkling eyes, calling back to us, ‘Listen to my story, and see how God taught me to die to self and twist myself around Him by waiting in hope, even when He denied me the desire of my heart.” Her story is told in Luke 1:5–48. Similarly, in Luke 2:25–38, Anna “had reason to despair, but at some point she chose to learn what it means to worship in the darkness.” Anna was a woman in full bloom:
She declared God’s word. She spoke of redemption—the gospel story. She recognized the Messiah. She saw majesty in what others would call mundane. She gave thanks. The grace of gratitude was her immediate response. She lived covenantally. She knew God’s people and spoke about Jesus to those who were waiting for him. She lived generationally. She spoke life-giving words of hope to the young woman with a sword in her soul . . .
Anna’s story parallels our own. As we grow older each day, circumstances confront us with a choice. Will hopelessness or unbroken hope take up residence in our hearts? . . . Will we wait with frustration, or will we abide in Christ? (Aging with Grace, 52–53)
While It Is Still Morning
When I closed Aging with Grace, I couldn’t stop thinking about one sentence in particular that described what happened in Anna’s life: “In time,” Sharon says, “hopeful words from Scripture, planted in [Anna’s] heart like tiny sticks of dynamite, exploded into comfort and guidance.”
This is how we prepare for the afternoon of life: we dig deep into the soil of God’s Word, and we ground ourselves in the grace of Jesus while it is still morning.
Note: Want to hear more about how to age with grace? We’ve got great news for you! Sharon W. Betters and Susan Hunt will be on the Revive Our Hearts podcast March 24–26. Mark your calendar, and if you want to get a head start on reading the book, you can order it today from the Revive Our Hearts store!