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Rocks for the aged: Staying active and a foundation of faith

OW Staff | 7/27/2011, 5:31 p.m.

Paulette Meeks' eyes light up as she tells of the preschool kids she teaches two days a week. This lively group of 3- and 4-year-olds delight in hearing about God's love for them. They listen with rapt attention as this 71-year-old childless widow reads Bible stories to them.

Sixty-five-year-old Marvin Powell hears similar joy in the voices of the Sunday School class of 50-to-93-year-old men and women who sing the Southern Gospel songs he strums on his guitar.

Their aged voices enthusiastically praise God for blessing them for more than half a century.

Occasionally, Powell sings solos. Not infrequently, his rich baritone voice chokes with emotion, as he sings his gratitude to God for shielding him from death when bombs and grenades exploded around him in the Vietnam War. Powell volunteers at the Veterans Administration and feels that the insights, compassion and understanding he developed from dealing with his own Post Traumatic Stress Disorder enable him to bring a measure of comfort to younger veterans.

Their involvement with activities larger than themselves helps to defend people like Powell and Meeks from the harmful effects of the anti-aging messages permeating American society. These destructive messages convince many people that with the progressive loss of their energy, hair, jobs, independence and perhaps, memories, they are also at risk of losing their significance and becoming useless. Unfortunately, this leaves many seniors bewildered and depressed, wondering why they are still alive. After retirement, some see no purpose for even getting out of bed.

Meeks and Powell are aging with joy because their religious faith provides them with meaning and purpose. Social science researchers have amply documented that people with strong, positive religious beliefs and practices manage aging and other life challenges in significantly better ways than those lacking such spiritual foundations.

A growing body of evidence from the scientific study of happiness finds that people who age with a sense of purpose are happier. They also tend to have better mental health, remain mentally intact and even live longer than those who don't. Researchers from the Alzheimer's Disease Center at Rusk University Medical Center in Chicago found that over a five-year period, people who lived with purpose were significantly (57 percent) less likely to die than those who felt they had few or no purposes for living.

In her new book, "Reflections on the Upsides of Aging: Living with Joy & Purpose After Age 50" (WestBow Press), Helen Mendes Love, MSW and Ph.D., uses the lens of the Bible to remind readers that aging, i.e. a long life, is a gift from God. Anyone who has reached age 50, knows that God has not chosen to give this gift to everyone. Mendes Love points out that God is not wasteful. Neither does He want those who have received the gift of long life to waste it.

In "Reflections on the Upsides of Aging," Mendes Love uses the examples of 75-year-old Abraham, 80-year-old Moses and other biblical, as well as, contemporary people over 50, to show how right-living men and women can still live productive and meaningful lives in their senior years.