Do you ever wonder why our bodies fall apart as we get old? Personally, I wake up each morning nowadays wondering which body part has been placed on the injured reserve list during the night while I slept. Elbow? Hamstring? Ankle? Colon? Semi-colon?
In just the last year, I have thrown out my back while sneezing, pulled a muscle in my left shoulder while combing my hair, and sprained my right knee while, um, while doing nothing. One day it just swelled up for no reason and I limped for a week.
And that’s just the orthopedic, muscle and bone stuff. I’m not sure exactly what’s going on with all my internal organs as I get older, but I know it’s not good, especially since I now have more doctors than friends.
So, it’s just a fact of life that our bodies slowly but surely break down and wither away as we get old. The question is, why? Why do our bodies relentlessly deteriorate with age?
What if things were different? What if our bodies developed normally from birth to age 30, and then at that point just leveled off. From age 30 on, our bodies just stayed exactly the same: no receding hairlines, no baggy eyes, no shrinking muscle mass, no expanding bellies, no flab, no sag, no wrinkles. For the next 50 years we looked and felt exactly the same: a spry and healthy and energetic 30-year-old. And then sometime in our 80s or 90s, we suddenly would keel over and die. At least at the wake people wouldn’t be lying when they said, “He doesn’t look a day over 30!”
There would be some interesting ramifications if our bodies stayed age 30 for five or six straight decades before we passed away. The hair coloring industry would collapse, as would the companies that manufacture dentures, Velcro sneakers, walkers, and Bermuda shorts with the waistline just below the armpits. We would hear sports announcers say something like this: “Biff Walenski is entering his 52nd season as a Red Sox starting pitcher. He’s in the 33rd year of his record-breaking 45-year contract.”
I think I know why God created us with bodies that fall apart over time. He wanted to give us an opportunity to become humble. Basic Christian philosophy tells us the worst sin — the one thing most likely to keep us separated from God — is pride. And there’s nothing that encourages us to be prideful more than a young, healthy, vigorous body. When we are in the prime of life, we really feel like WE are something special, WE are in control, WE are the masters of our fate, and WE really have no need for God since WE can take care of ourselves.
However, when our bodies deteriorate, we have to give up some or all control and depend on others to assist us. This is very humbling. When this happens, as it inevitably will (unless something else happens first: an unexpected sudden death at a young age), we can handle the situation in one of two ways. We either can get angry and bitter about our failing health, and in the process become just a delight to be around. (Did you notice my sarcastic eye-roll as I typed the word “delight”?) Or we can gracefully accept what’s happening to us, and smile as we tell God, “You’ve got a weird sense of humor, Lord.”
The opposite of pride is humility. Being humble is the exact state of mind God wants for us — or more accurately, the exact state of heart God wants for us.
Our steadily deteriorating bodies can be a source of extreme frustration. But we need to understand that it’s really a blessing from God. It’s God’s way of reminding us that we are dependent on Him. It’s His way of giving us a chance to stifle our pride and learn a little humility.
Each day when we wake up and discover yet another body part has been placed on the injured reserve list, instead of getting angry, we need to laugh and look heavenward and exclaim, “Dear Lord, you are a funny guy! Now, since you got me into this mess, please give me the grace to deal with it!”
Getting physically old and frail is inevitable. But having a humble and childlike soul can be ours forever. We just need to remind ourselves Who is in charge, and Who promised that He would never leave us or forsake us.
(Oh, and once we get to Heaven, I’m pretty sure our bodies will be 30 years old forever, except this time around without all the pride.)