Reflections on ageing

Life is short—a mere blip in the continuum of time. But is it futile, empty and pointless?

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Over the past 10 years my hair has gone grey—a process that seems to start at 50 to ensure that any fantasy about staying young has truly been dispelled as 60 approaches.

To be fair, in my case, by the age of 50 there were very few hairs remaining to actually go grey—the vast majority having already abandoned my care and headed to more promising environs. Of course, on a scientific note, hair doesn’t actually go grey at all. Hair either has pigment or it doesn’t. Once a hair follicle decides that it has provided enough lustrous colour, a strand of hair is quite white. But as this doesn’t uniformly occur across the scalp, there is the illusion of going grey. White is for the seriously old and I’m just coming on 60.

Unfortunately, hair colour is not the only sign of growing old. We could talk about joints that no longer enjoy their full range of movement, flesh that tends to hang, skin that’s lost its tautness and eyes that can’t see anything that’s closer than a metre. And the fact that I no longer like change.

But this was never meant to happen to me. Ageing was for others—the careless, the discouraged, those who were my parents’ age. I would be forever young.

But despite my mental resistance, ageing has visited with relentless stealth. Day by day, year by year, I have begun to accept my mortality, my inevitable acceleration into old age.

In Ecclesiastes 1:2, the teacher says:

“Life is fleeting, like a passing mist. It is like trying to catch hold of a breath; all vanishes like a vapour, everything is great vanity.”

The psalmist likewise reflects on the shortness of life in Psalm 89:47: “O remember how short my time is and what a mere fleeting life mine is. For what emptiness, falsity, futility, and frailty You have created all men!”

So, life is short. A mere blip in the continuum of time. But is it futile? Is it empty and pointless?

In fact, the Bible is rich regarding the meaning of life and its purpose—in contrast to modern thinking that we have arrived on this planet by accident, the product of millennia of incremental biological improvements and without any moral imperatives.

The apostle Paul directly challenges any belief that life is purposeless and without meaning. In Ephesians 2:10 he says, “We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works.”

In one sentence he dismisses the post-modern, hedonistic notion that we exist for no purpose or for fulfilling our own pleasure. The Bible is clear that we are created in the image of God and as such there should be a God-like purpose running through all our actions, vocations and relationships.

God’s regard for human life—even for my own greying, ageing personage—is incalculable. Perhaps it’s time to focus less on the ageing and more on the serving.


Doug Burns is an accountant living in Bundaberg, Queensland.