Psalm 71

Do not cast me off in old age; when my strength fails, do not forsake me! (71:9)

The context of this Psalm is a prayer from the Psalmist to God. Bear with me for a moment, because I want to suggest that to understand this verse as a heartfelt plea from an aged individual for God to embrace him and give him strength in old age doesn’t really make sense. Such a plea is whiney and ungrateful.

Aging and failing strength happens to virtually everyone, and when it doesn’t happen, when a person dies at a young age, we consider it an exceptional tragedy. On one hand, most people want to live lot an advanced age, even though they know that as they age, their physical vigor will decline. On the other hand, the same people might bemoan their physical decline.

A spiritually healthy person may not welcome the physical decline, but finds a way to adjust his expectations so that he is not continually frustrated by thinking about what he used to be able to do but can do no longer. As our strength fades, we should not be crying to God, we should be thanking God that we’ve loved long enough to experience the sunset of years.

If we imagine that the Psalmist is addressing his child or other caregiver instead of God, the verse has a very different valence. Gone is the whininess and ingratitude, replaced by the reality that we owe our elders extra care as they enter their advanced years. The speaker is pleading with those around him not to abandon him just because he can no longer keep up physically, no longer see well, especially at night, and no longer hear many of the voices around him.

There ought to be no shame in needed extra help. A spiritually healthy person may not welcome physical decline, but accepts with equanimity the assistance offered to him.

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