Have you ever looked in the mirror and noticed those age spots dotting your temples? Do you see crow's feet or a receding hairline or a cracking complexion? What about those hairs stiff as piano wire springing from your ears?
One of the ironies of life is when we're young we want to be older, and when we're older we want to be young. Is there ever a time when we're satisfied with ourselves in the here and now? Do our mirrors reflect age-worry or life's regrets?
While aging is normal, trying to reshape mortality's timeline is not. Our response to aging varies widely. If the cosmetic industry is any indication, the search for the elusive fountain of youth is an expensive journey. Every year we spend billions trying to look anything but our age. Creams and lotions, salves and pills, gadgets and gizmos are testaments to one immutable fact: We're aging and we don't like it. And for those who dwell unnecessarily on past mistakes, our mirrors can be the unwelcome faces of regret staring us down each morning and evening.
What if we took a second look in the mirror? Keeping ourselves tidy and publicly presentable is one thing, but the obsession to be someone we're not is another matter. This is not to suggest that putting on makeup is an escape or that we shouldn't look our best, but the world's obsession with looks and fashion can mask the dignity in aging and stifle our connection to God in that process. A preacher counseled, "Better is the sight of the eyes than the wandering of desire: this is also vanity and vexation of the spirit" (Ecclesiastes 9:6).
Isn't it fascinating how the "sight of the eyes" is controlled by the desires of our heart? Moreover, the danger of pining for the past is that we regret the present. That, too, is a variation of vanity.
Hard for children
For our children, life is hard enough as they stumble toward maturity trying to find their way back to God. The last thing they need is the insane competition for public acceptance by worshiping the god of fashion. Just ask any parent whose child now wears a school uniform. Eliminating the fashion envy, and the expensive clawing to stand out like a sore thumb evaporates. Parents can set the example. Are we overly concerned about the outward adornments at the expense of our inner beauty?
Billions are spent on plastic surgery each year in the quest to look younger. Medical science can correct deformities that hinder self-esteem and function, but this is very different from the fashion industry's grotesque facade of hyper-beauty. Beauty is not born in the things we wear nor the preparations we apply. It truly comes from within.
Our obsession with the latest fat-reducing/muscle-building madness is ultimately fruitless without the corresponding self-control and self-love so vital to inner beauty.
In the natural process of aging, the poet provides guidance, "Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be. ... Let age approve of youth, and death complete the same" (Robert Browning, "Rabbi Ben Ezra," Dramatis Personae, 1864).
Paul H. Dunn once addressed the subject of growing older.
"To those in their golden years, age should only be hateful if it means the cessation of growth, the withering of dreams, the silencing of feelings. ... General Douglas MacArthur once observed, "Live with enthusiasm! Nobody grows old by deserting their ideals. Years wrinkle the skin, but to give up enthusiasm wrinkles the soul" (Paul H. Dunn, "Honour Thy Father and Thy Mother," Ensign, Nov. 1983, p. 25).
While mortality is a rocky road fraught with unknowns and detours, it is our proving ground for eternity. The Apostle Paul so poignantly noted, it is "appointed unto men once to die ... " (Hebrews 9:27).
Because death is a necessary step in our Heavenly Father's plan to return home, why not embrace aging as the smoothing of life's rough path? Perhaps growing old is a symbol of life's defining heartbeat — the rhythm of footsteps softly stepping toward heaven's gate.
Recognizing aging as a vital rite of passage to immortality is not the same as believing it and being at peace with it. Some are so obsessed with postponing the aging process that they over exercise, under eat and fret over the natural man. Others take the opposite extreme by indulging in everything as an eat-drink-and-be-merry early death sentence. Still others, soured by regret and past mistakes, give up by refusing to change and learn from those mistakes.
Because aging is the natural time line between birth and death, shouldn't we honor God's wisdom in creating that process? Do we do a grave disservice to the plan of happiness when we dread the January candy cane of age or unduly dwell in the past? The Lord's way is always the way of wisdom. He counseled Joseph Smith in the Liberty Jail, "All these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good" (Doctrine and Covenants 122:7). Said one author, "In the center of our heart is a recording chamber, and so long as it receives messages of beauty, hope, cheer, courage, and faith, so long are we young" (Re-quoted by Elder Jacob de Jager, "Service and Happiness," Ensign, November 1993, p. 31). The mirror should be our friend. When we truly see ourselves as God sees, our mirror will smile back. "For man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh upon the heart" (1 Samuel 16:7).
William Monahan is a 1980 graduate of BYU Law School. He practices law in Gilbert, Ariz. A former Phoenix stake president, he serves on the high council for the Queen Creek Chandler Heights Stake. He is active in Arizona Interfaith and a U.S. Air Force veteran. He is an adjunct professor of business law and ethics at Chandler-Gilbert Community College. He and his wife are the proud parents of seven children and 13 grandchildren.