Aging With Grace: An Interview with Sharon Betters and Susan Hunt
Interview and Images by Dianne Jago
Recently, my seven-year old daughter noticed the random silver strands that contrast the rest of my dark hair. After she pointed them out, I casually commented, “Oh, yes. I know, sweetie. I need to dye my hair again.” Her response was striking and something I’ve often thought about before: “Mommy, why do you want to dye your hair? Don’t you like the way God created you? You should want to keep your gray hairs.”
Although she is unaware of verses like Proverbs 16:31, which says, “Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life,” she offered wisdom that well-surpassed her age.
The older I get, the more I discover that we live in an anti-aging culture. Our department stores are filled with products that promise a youthful glow, and those who want guaranteed results may attempt botox or plastic surgery. We cover our gray hairs, conceal our scars, and want to press pause on what God has set into motion. Beyond the obvious outward appearance changes, we may struggle with other weaknesses that come with age, too. But what does Scripture have to say about aging? How can we glorify God in every season of life?
Authors Sharon Better and Susan Hunt recently released a book titled Aging with Grace, and it’s a message that will bless both the young and the old. In this interview, Sharon and Susan share their heart behind the book. I’m praying that this interview blesses you as much as it blessed me.
1. Tell us about yourselves.
Susan: I’m 80 years old. My husband and I were happily married for 56 years before he went to heaven. We have three children and 13 grandchildren. I served as Women’s Ministries Coordinator for the PCA for several years. I am captivated by the Gospel mandate in Titus 2 that older women are to teach and train younger women to live for God’s glory. It was my privilege to write several books for women on topics relating to a biblical perspective of womanhood and to teach those principles throughout the U.S. and in many countries. I love family meals when kids and grandkids gather around our big table, tending the flowers my grandsons help me plant, and sitting on my porch with a good book or a good friend.
Sharon: I married adventure when I married Chuck. We have enjoyed over 50 years of growing old together with very few boring days. We have four children. Our 14 grandchildren, great-grandson, and another great-grandchild expected in 2021 bring laughter and joy to my heart. Large family gatherings filled with loud storytelling and favorite Lebanese foods, time with my grandchildren, reading historical fiction, and trying to play golf with my husband are four of my favorite things. Through Chuck’s role as a pastor for almost 50 years, I have had the privilege of coming alongside women in the best and worst of times. I’ve also been the beneficiary of women coming alongside of me in the wilderness of suffering when I grieved the death of our youngest child, 16-year-old Mark. After Mark’s fatal car accident, the Lord opened doors for me to write and speak about the power of biblical encouragement to help turn broken hearts toward Jesus.
2. Tell us about your new book, Aging with Grace: Flourishing in an Anti-Aging Culture. Why did you write it?
Susan: Sharon and I are Gospel friends who began talking and praying about questions we were each asking: What does the Bible say about old age? What does it mean to glorify God as older women? How do we think biblically about old age? How do we live covenantally as the older generation?
We were so thrilled with what we discovered as we studied God’s Word that we wanted to invite other women to join us, so we wrote the book.
3. How can older women benefit from a book on aging?
Sharon: At 21 years of age and a Christian for only one year, my husband pastored a small inner-city church. Because my pastor’s wife taught women’s Bible studies, I thought I should, too. Every week, five elderly women sat at our dining room table and allowed me to cut my teaching teeth on them. No doubt they could have taught me much more than they would ever learn from me. But they listened intently as I shared my thoughts on Scripture. I wonder today if they decided together to encourage this young pastor’s wife by showing up every week. These women were life-givers. In the same church were a couple of women who regularly criticized my young husband, even telling me about his perceived faults. These women were life-takers. At 21 years of age, I knew aging faced me with a choice.
Would I grow up as a life-giver or life-taker? What we are as young women will most likely show up in our old age. The time to start aging with grace is today, no matter your age.
I wish I had a book like this when I was 21. Our book is designed for individuals or group study, but Susan and I believe one of the best ways for young women to age with grace is to gather with flourishing older women and have hearts eager to soak up their wisdom gained from a long-lived life. This is one reason we included a story at the end of each chapter written by a woman 70 years of age or older and created five-minute “Aging with Grace – Ask an Older Woman” videos. You can access these videos and more Aging With Grace resources at agingwithgrace.online.
4. What does the phrase “aging with grace” mean?
Susan: Psalm 92, one of the primary Scriptures we use in the book, gives a remarkable promise: “The righteous flourish like the palm tree and grow like a cedar in Lebanon . . . They still bear fruit in old age.” (12–14). Our bodies may become weak and frail, but God’s people can flourish—we can be fruitful and multiply spiritually even in old age. This is not something we can do in our own effort. This is not a self-help book. It is not about becoming a better version of ourselves. This is much more grand. What we hope to communicate in the title is that this is a work of grace as the Holy Spirit transforms us into the likeness of Christ. And get this—there is no age limit on growing in grace.
5. You talk about the purpose and mission of old age. What do these words mean for you in this stage of life?
Sharon: Shortly after the fatal car accident of Mark and his friend Kelly, Chuck and I started MARKINC Ministries. MARKINC is an acronym for “making abundant riches known in the name of Christ.” Our purpose and mission is to call back to those coming behind us, “God is sovereign and you can trust him.” What started as a radio broadcast called In His Grip is now a ministry that offers free resources designed to turn hearts toward Jesus along with Anchored Hope biblical online counseling. At 72 years of age, my mission is still the same as it was over 25 years ago: to offer help and hope to hurting people and reassure those coming behind us that God is sovereign and we can trust him, even in the darkest days.
As my body weakens, my God-ordained purpose to glorify God is unchanged.
I see the Lord keeping the promise of Psalm 92. In this last season of life, no matter how fragile my body, I want to continually set the table of my life in a way that displays God’s gracious love and invites others to taste and see that the Lord is good.
6. How can the church, or specifically the women’s ministry in a church, encourage and equip older women to flourish? And how can they encourage relationships between older and younger women?
Susan: Sharon and I share a passion for intergenerational, Word-based, relationally-driven women’s ministries that disciple women to think biblically and live covenantally—to reflect their relationship with God in their relationships with others.
Over 25 years ago I wrote a book about older and younger women—Spiritual Mothering: The Titus 2 Model for Women Mentoring Women. Paul tells Titus that older women “are to teach what is good, and so train the young women . . . that the word of God may not be reviled” (Titus 2:3–5).
Many resources are available from the Presbyterian Church in America Committee on Discipleship Ministries and MARKINC websites. One of these resources, Titus 2 Tools, provides suggestions to implement a Titus 2 ministry and materials to train Titus 2 leaders. Aging with Grace is an addition to these resources.
7. You profile the stories of some women in the Bible. Of those women, whose story do you resonate with the most?
Susan: I love all of them, but if I have to select one I think it is the story of Mary and Elizabeth because here we see a remarkable example of an older and younger woman. Their relationship is Titus 2 ministry at its finest.
In Luke 1 we read that when Mary was told she would be the mother of the Messiah, she “went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth . . . And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women . . .’” (39–45).
Mary went to an older woman. The older woman welcomed her and spoke life-giving words of affirmation and encouragement to her, and Mary flourished. She sang, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior . . .” (46–47).
Spiritual mothering happens when younger women seek out older women, and when older women encourage and equip them to live for God’s glory by magnifying and rejoicing in God their Savior.
Sharon: My heart immediately goes to the matriarchs of Jeremiah 29. These older women experienced change in every part of their lives when the Israelites were forced into exile by the Babylonians. They wanted to go home, but the Lord tells them they will not go home for 70 years. Think of it, only the youngest and those not yet born would go home. God’s promise faced them with a painful decision in the middle of their surroundings of physical, spiritual and emotional rubble. I especially envision the older women, in shock as the reality of their circumstances sunk in, their grief erupting into wails and lament. But God also gave them instructions for living in exile: plant gardens, marry, give your children in marriage, have babies, and pray for your enemies. These are all symbols of life and hope for a better future. These women had to make a choice for the sake of their children and grandchildren. Would their lives reflect a faith-filled surrender to God’s purposes or would they turn into bitter old women, going to their graves filled with rage toward God? Their story is not unlike mine. Mark’s death created spiritual chaos as I struggled to reconcile God’s love with his sovereignty. Even as I lamented, the Lord held me tightly in his grip and slowly whispered instructions into my ears. Though I could not go back to what was before Mark’s death and I thought my heart would be forever broken, God promised his plans for me are good. Would I trust him? For the sake of my children and grandchildren, I needed to choose joy and live life in the context of God’s promise of Heaven. Someday our children and grandchildren will face a similar crossroads when life turns dark. My prayer is that my trust in the sovereignty of God will encourage them to walk by faith in the pathways on which God places them.
8. What advice do you have for middle-aged women who want to be intentional about aging with grace but don’t know where to begin?
Sharon: Aging with grace is not about doing but rather about being. In Psalm 92 the Lord promises that those who are righteous and “are planted in the house of the Lord” will flourish like the palm tree, will still “bear fruit in old age” and will be ever growing, ever green. This kind of fruit takes a lifetime to grow.
First, be sure you know Jesus. Many people believe they are Christians when, in fact, they are depending on good works to save them. If you are not sure you know Jesus, ask a friend who reflects his love to help you understand what it means to be a Christian. If you don’t have such a friend, spend time in the book of John, praying for the Lord to open your heart to his love.
- Whether you are a new Christian or a long-time believer, plant yourself in the house of the Lord. While attending and being active in a local church is good, that is not what this means. Think of the many who are unable to attend church because of physical limitations. Their righteousness and ours is because of the Lord’s work in us through repentance and forgiveness. The house of the Lord is where he is. If you know Jesus, you are his dwelling place. Revel in such remarkable truth and see every day as an opportunity to better understand what his presence means.
- Our culture tells us aging is bad. God’s word celebrates aging. Camp out in aging Scriptures like Psalm 92 and choose to believe what God says, not the culture. Pray for the Lord to shape your thoughts into a biblical worldview and when you grieve over the loss of your youth, choose to remember God’s promises.
9. What encouragement would you like to share with our readers?
Susan and Sharon: Whatever your age, it is time to begin aging with grace. Our prayer is that the Lord will use this book to encourage and help you. Flourishing happens in community. When God redeems us, he adopts us into his family. We belong. We need each other. We provide a Leader’s Guide for the book so you can read it with other women. The Leader’s Guide has a lesson plan and handout for each chapter in the book, as well as ideas to facilitate the discussion and to cultivate covenant community among the women. There are also ideas to encourage younger and older women to learn together, along with links to “Aging with Grace - Ask an Older Woman” videos and other study helps.