“It’s good to start with the end in mind”: Salt& Light Family Night speakers on thriving in the golden years
by Christine Leow // December 10, 2020, 12:14 pm
The senior years can be golden ones. Panellists on Salt&Light Family Night share tips on how. Photo by RODNAE Productions from Pexels.
Imagine it is the end. Yours. Three years from today. Those you know have gathered to celebrate your life and bid you a final farewell at your funeral.
What would you have liked them – family, friends, colleagues, church mates – to say about you? How would you like to be remembered as a husband, wife, father, mother, son, daughter, co-worker, church member?
This was the visualisation exercise taken from Stephen Covey, author of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, that started the nearly 160 participants off – some from Malaysia and even Australia – on the final edition of Salt&Light Family Night for 2020 (December 8).
The topic centred on living out the golden years well. Nearly half of the participants were in their 30s to 50s. Two in five were past 55. Most were happy in their current season of life – 42% rated their fulfilment a 4 out of 5. More than a third scored themselves a 3.
All were ready to learn from the panellists, septuagenarians Jeffrey Goh and Dr Florence Tan – whose joyfulness and energy were infectious – and millennial and champion of the elderly, Isaiah Chng.
Here are the tips they shared on how to live well, serve well and age well all the way to the finish line.
1. Keep using your giftings
How life ends is something Dr Tan, 73, has given thought to.
“This is something that I would like to have written on my tombstone: Loved by God, having lived for His glory,” she said.
But keeping the end in mind does not mean slowing down or surrendering. “You re-fire for God. Then, you re-tire – put on new tires to keep on going!”
Dr Tan has certainly re-tired since her retirement after 30 years of ministry with discipling organisation Navigators and 18 years lecturing at the Singapore Bible College. She now teaches via Zoom.
She runs two courses of 10 sessions each. Every class is two hours long. So, twice a week, she is conducting Bible classes for students around the world. The schedule is punishing even for a younger person. But Dr Tan is thankful for this.
“This is something I could not have done pre-Covid days. Now, I am able to do it with such an audience from all over the world simultaneously, without having to travel. The Lord has really worked it out very well for me.”
“Develop the habit of doing and not just talking.”
For Goh, 73, whose life verse is Romans 12:11, keeping the pace has meant doing what he has always been doing, even when he is now in his 70s.
He has worn many hats in his time – teacher, army major, church elder, lecturer. Instead of retiring, he embarked on a new career late in life and became a corporate trainer. He is now a motivational speaker with Training Link Resources. Next week, he will be running a workshop for officers at MINDEF on personal effectiveness.
He also teaches the Gospel to seniors in his church. He is still a licensed wedding solemniser, having officiated the weddings of more than 140 couples in his day. He preaches in English and Malay, being Peranakan. Two weeks ago, he preached via Zoom to a church in Jakarta.
“Develop the habit of doing and not just talking,” urged Goh. “Don’t procrastinate. If you want to do something, do it. I am still on fire (for God).”
2. Nurture your health
Trained clinical exercise physiologist Isaiah Chng, 37, who founded two organisations that help people age well – social enterprise ProAge and charity Empower Ageing – is a firm believer of keeping healthy no matter what the age.
He calls it being “lively”.
“As a physiologist, I believe in exercise. I believe that if you want to serve God, you have to be active, vibrant, really engaged in life. That comes with good health.”
This is exactly what Dr Tan does. She swims every day except Wednesdays when the pool is closed.
“It gets the serotonin going. It’s just a good feeling that the day is ready for me and I’m ready for the world, to be very fresh.”
3. Keep learning
Both Dr Tan and Goh admit they can be “dinosaurs” when it comes to technology. But they have boldly forged ahead. In this age of the pandemic, they have mastered tools like Zoom and Microsoft Teams to continue teaching remotely.
“I’m not very tech savvy. So, who do I learn from? Techies and millennials,” said Dr Tan.
For a teacher like Goh who began his career as a “chalkboard teacher” and then progressed to using overhead projects, the VHS and eventually PowerPoint, the virtual classroom is a big leap.
“I am still not very good at doing Zoom. I get my son to help me,” said Goh. “Everything I do, it is by the grace of God.”
Added Dr Tan: “I really look forward to the (later) years because that means I have accumulated years of learning. I’m a firm believer that we never stop learning.
“I tell the seniors that I do training for, ‘The day we stop learning, we start dying’. Like in Isaiah 50:4, we keep on learning, we don’t stop learning.”
4. Value your life’s purpose
Chng has helped hundreds age successfully. Asked for a healthy perspective towards ageing, he shared the FULL method which emphasises purpose – “God wants us all to be full. We can live a full life”.
F – Be fulfilled.
“You can role model potential and you can constantly feel fulfilled to the end. People who are always giving back, contributing – they have a growth mindset.”
U – Unlimited
“People with a sense of purpose will look back and say, ‘Hey, my life is meaningful’. And it all starts from dreaming dreams.
“God has called old people to dream dreams (Acts 2:17) He will give. Once you have dreams, all of sudden you light up. There is a reason to wake up.”
In fact, dreams or a purpose is what many elderly are missing, which accounts for their lack of zeal in their golden years, he said.
L – Lively
This includes keeping active and healthy.
L – Legacy
“Look to build others and strengthen others.”
“There is an urgency, not only the abundant life but the eternal life.”
To underscore this, Chng shared a story of how he once visited an elderly lady dying of cancer in a hospice. Instead of asking for prayers, she beckoned him to her and prayed for him.
“She believed that, as an older person, she could impart (knowledge) to me. There, in that moment, I had such an encounter with God. That is how legacy is built. Today, I still go around telling people about her story.”
For Goh, his purpose has remained unchanged for decades. “I found out what is God’s gifts and talents for me very early in life when I joined the teaching profession. It’s teaching, preaching and evangelism.”
In this season of his life, sharing the Gospel with seniors like himself is his purpose.
“They will only listen to oldies like me. There is a calling for me now as an evangelist at my age to reach out to people my age. There is an urgency to talk, not only about the abundant life, but the eternal life.”
5. Invest in others
One of the Ls in Chng’s FULL perspective on ageing is Legacy, the desire to invest in the lives of others to leave a legacy. This is something Dr Tan lives by.
“I have found this life-on-life (philosophy) to be most satisfying. Making an impact within a small group of people. That’s how Jesus did it.
“I teach missions with the ‘glocal’ idea – going global while staying local! While I’m stuck at home, I’ve been reaching out to international students a few at a time every year, getting connected with them. One of them is staying with me right now for three years and counting.”
“I have found this life-on-life (philosophy) to be most satisfying. “
This is part of a discipleship style that Dr Tan practises which she calls ‘apartment training’. Those she disciples are invited to stay with her for days, weeks, months and even years. Two have stayed with her for four years at a go. They share lives, cook together and even swim together.
As an overseer of cell groups in her church, she has 11 cell groups under her. This year, in spite of the many restrictions, she has made the effort to meet the people under her care, a few at a time.
While she has never been married, Dr Tan has three god-grandchildren, aged nine to 12, who visit her home every week. Along with making them a meal, she goes through Bible verses with them.
“They can review with me 40 verses all at a go,” she reported proudly.
6. Stay thankful
Both Dr Tan and Goh agree that thankfulness is key to living well in old age. “Have a habit of gratitude and not the habit of complaining,” said Goh.
“When I wake up, I hear the birds chirping, I say, ‘Thank you. I’m alive. Thank you. I can hear the birds sing’. When I can go and teach, preach, I thank God.”
“Thank God I’m alive and I am with Him.”
In August 2019, Dr Tan was diagnosed with GIST or gastrointestinal stromal tumours, an uncommon type of cancer that starts in the digestive track.
Just before she went in for surgery, Psalm 139:18 came to her mind – “this idea of every day waking up with God and thanking God I’m alive and I am with Him”.
“Even if I wake up and my body is dead, I am still alive in the presence of God. That would make a difference to living life on earth.”
After giving thanks, Dr Tan goes through several passages in the Bible in her head – Psalm 139, Psalm 27 and Psalm 92 as well as Isaiah 61:1-4. “Just go through it all within 10 minutes to get started in the day.”
7. Enjoy your days
Despite her diagnosis and having to take medication daily as part of targeted therapy to manage the cancer, Dr Tan says she is “really enjoying my days”.
“I am doing the things that I know is my gifting and my calling.
“There has not been too many negative effects and I have been able to carry on with my life. That is something I have been grateful to God for. I have been able to do anything, everything.
“I am a pretty energetic person. My energy level has never gone down. I am really glad for the motivation I get from Psalm 92:12-15: They shall still bear fruit in old age. They shall stay fresh and flourishing. That has kept me going for the last 10 years.”
This zest for life is what Goh has as well. “I am doing the things that I know is my gifting and my calling. So, it is not work … it is enjoyment!”
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