Aging Well as a Boomer
Baby Boomers are defined as those born between 1946 and 1964. As these adults who are now in their 50s and 60s move into their 70s and 80s, they face changes which could further define how they think and feel about themselves. Each stage of life presents challenges to our sense of self that we must successfully meet in order to move into the next stage of life with a healthy identity. As Baby Boomers move into the second half of their lives, evaluating these challenges, including their faith, relationships, health, and leaving a legacy, as well as making the appropriate changes in these areas, are tasks that need to be addressed moving forward.
Living by Faith
Some define successful living as the capacity to lead a life of meaning and purpose while meeting the challenges of each decade of life. For those of us who embrace the Christian faith, we find life’s meaning and purpose through our relationship with Jesus Christ. Faith manifests itself in service to God and others.
As we walk with Jesus through our relationship with Him over time, maturing faith will truly become as the writer of Hebrews wrote, “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” As we age, hopefully our focus has moved from, “what is God’s will for my life,” to, “what is God’s will, and how does my life fit into His will?”
Baby Boomers Dennis and Janet Dickey recently made the transition into retirement and have walked through this question and others first-hand. As a result, they have some encouraging words to share with those who are either preparing to be in that life stage or already are. “Our retirement has been blessed with more time to travel on mission trips,” Janet shared. The Dickeys make sure they intentional with their time in retirement, especially on things that have eternal significance. “We have gone on two mission trips each year during our retirement. We are [also] making a kingdom impact by participating in supporting missionaries in Peru and Swaziland.”
Maturing faith will not seek to trust God for certain outcomes (even ‘good’ outcomes), but rather to trust God Himself. Maturing faith leads to wisdom, which results in wise decision-making. Finding our meaning and purpose in Christ brings a sense of fulfillment that only comes from placing our faith in Him.
How We Relate
As believers, the quality of our life’s relationships are an outgrowth of our relationship with Christ. A major factor in the way we form relationships is in how we related to our parents or caregivers in our earliest years. Those bonds greatly affect the way we become healthy, functioning adults. Some of the specific relationships Baby Boomers may be navigating are with spouses, adult children, elderly parents, sibling relationships, work relationships, and friendships.
Healthy relationships are built on the capacity to appropriately form emotional bonds with others and to communicate effectively. The ability to resolve conflict and problem solve in relationships allows for personal growth and relationship development. Deepening friendships and engaging in recreation through fun and play helps keep relationships strong. Establishing and maintaining appropriate boundaries displays a respect for roles in relationships. Healthy boundaries with work associates, friends, family members, and church family are important to navigate in each life stage, especially in the areas of communication, conflict management, and values.
Don’t Underestimate Your Health
Pursuing good health for our bodies as we age helps combat the changes in hormones, metabolism, muscle mass, and many other health-related challenges. Healthy “clean” eating, adequate and quality sleep, daily exercise, regular medical and dental checkups, and healthy sexuality are ways to address the changes that come with physical aging. Moving from excess in smoking, drinking, and other addictive behaviors, as well as excess weight gain into a balanced, healthy lifestyle, will improve our quality of life and may even add length to life.
Mental and emotional health is enhanced when we learn to express our thoughts and emotions appropriately. We learn that we are responsible for how we feel and think and respond and that others are responsible for the same. We learn assertiveness instead of controlling behaviors. We learn resiliency or the capacity to “come back” from difficult situations. When life is viewed as “continuing education” then opportunities to continue educating ourselves about the world we live in will consistently challenge us to new understandings about life.
Also, it is important to understand that health issues may increase or be more frequent as you, a spouse, or a loved one age. “Being understanding about your spouse dealing with changes in their health requires much prayer and talking to each other,” Janet shared. “Support for each other is important in making your retirement a joy and not a burden.” Dennis provided some insight on taking care of yourself over time. “Do not ignore your health—it will pay off as you age.”
Finances and Legacy
As Baby Boomers shift from full-time employment to more flexible living, there will be many opportunities to participate in a wide range of purposeful activities. “Time Management is an adjustment when you retire,” Janet shared. “Retirement happiness depends on if you have prepared for it by having hobbies and, [if you are married], spending time together as a couple doing the things you enjoy.” Managing a balance of meaningful work and play in regard to both time and resources can allow Boomers to accomplish a sense of generativity, enabling them to help nurture and guide the next generation.
For example, Janet and Dennis make it a priority to spend time with their family. “I enjoy spending a lot of time with our grandchildren,” said Dennis. They usually try to babysit their grandchildren at least once a week so that they are able to have quality time with their grandchildren. Also, since retirement, they have had more time to invest in others spiritually. “One of the most fulfilling things for us has been leading our Blended Family Sunday School class for the last 15 years,” Dennis shared.
These actions, among others, contribute to the legacy they will leave. Through the stewardship of having a will, a financial legacy will be left. Through the stewardship of a life well lived, a living legacy will remain. Planning for your legacy and what you leave behind can even start while you’re young. “Save and invest timely at a young age, Dennis advises. “A little amount will be a lot if you start saving early. This will help you do the things you feel is important for kingdom impact.” Because of financial planning and investments made early in their life, the Dickeys have been able to support missionaries across the world, as well as support the church in many missions opportunities.
What kind of legacy would you like to leave behind? As important as all of the different areas of life are and how they can help us age well, the most important aspect of finishing the race of life is our legacy. And it’s never too late to create the kind of legacy you desire to leave. Begin thinking and evaluating now about how you are spending your time and resources, and how you are investing in relationships.
Making the Most of Your Days
Be intentional with these areas of your life. Make a list of items with eternal significance that you hope to accomplish in the coming years, and begin taking steps to set things in motion so that you can accomplish those things. Some questions you may want to ask yourself are, when people think of you, do they see Christ and the Gospel? Do you want to go on a mission trip? Tell someone you know about the gospel? Make sure your family or children know how much you love and appreciate them? These are all things that can leave you with a sense of not only purpose, but with a sense of legacy that will remain long after you are gone.
Janet and Dennis have some advice for those in their 40s and 50s who will be retiring in the coming years. “Enjoy the moment,” Dennis shared. “It doesn’t matter if your house is clean or whatnot, but what does matter is spending time with your kids and family. Slow down if your life is busy. Janet and Dennis both agreed that we should focus on making eternal impact. “Invest in as many lives as possible to bring them to heaven with you,” Janet shared. “Spend time on what matters. One day it won’t be what you have, but what you leave behind in memories and family support. Your Christian example will be what they remember.”
This article was originally published as part of the Faith and Family series in The Alabama Baptist newspaper.