What They Didn’t Say About Long Life

Paul Harvey News this week reported that the four greatest factors for longevity are these: quit smoking, drink only moderately, eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, and exercise. In that case, I said to myself, I’m here for the duration.

But not so fast. There are more factors than these four, surely. I’m not a social scientist–or any other kind of scientist for that matter–but I can name several. Readers, drop your contributions to this list at the end.

Here are my additional top five ways for long life….

1) Obey and honor your parents.

I’ll bet that one doesn’t make any scientific list, but it made God’s. “Honor thy father and thy mother, that thy days may be long upon the earth.” (Exodus 20:12) In Ephesians 6:2, Paul called it “the first commandment with a promise” attached to it.

It’s tempting to be cute here and say that if I had not obeyed my dad, he would have killed me–thus fulfilling this promise. But, this was no joking matter to God’s people in Scriptures.

This is about quality of family life, a key aspect to the fullest enjoyment of life.

When God’s Word lists the most despicable sins the Lord can think of, “disobedience to parents” makes the list. (Romans 1:30)

2) Don’t take foolish chances.

I read somewhere of a soldier explaining his “secret” to survival. “I refuse to believe there’s a bullet out there with my name on it. I have some control over this matter of living or dying.” As a result, he said, he practiced safety in every way he knew and refused to take unnecessary risks.

Buckle your seat belt. Do not speed in your car, and for that matter, don’t go too slow either. Drive defensively (that is, try to anticipate what the other drivers will do and stay alert). Make sure your tires are good and your car is regularly serviced. Do not be distracted while driving by food, phone, or the friends in your automobile. Do not run red lights, don’t tailgate, and do watch out for debris on the road. And don’t be afraid to speak up if the driver of the car you’re riding in is taking unnecessary risks.

Check your smoke detectors. Lock your doors. See your dentist and doctor regularly. Get your eyes checked. Take the prescriptions your doctor has ordered.

Don’t tempt fate; don’t press your luck; don’t be an idiot. Solid stuff like that.

3) Keep working; don’t retire.

This is all about having good reasons to get up in the morning and a sense of achievement when you lie down at night. It may be as structured as a job requiring regular hours and offering a pay check at the end of the week, or as informal and unstructured as taking care of the grandchildren, working in your yard, or volunteering at the local hospital. Or sitting at the computer, staying in touch with the outside world, writing your memoirs, writing for publication about the things you know best.

Someone visited Oliver Wendell Holmes when he was in his nineties. They were surprised to hear he was studying the German language. “Why, at your age?” they wanted to know. “To improve my mind,” he answered.

Keep on growing, never stop. Keep both your brain and your body active. The moment either gets the message you’ll not be needing it any more, it begins to shut down.

4) Laugh a lot.

Everyone knows the scripture that promises, “A merry heart doeth good like a medicine.” (Proverbs 17:22) Laughter is medicine. We now know that when you laugh big and deep and long, the brain releases endorphins into the blood stream, giving you a natural high. Endorphins are called “nature’s healer.”

My dad clipped a little thing out of a magazine and taped it to a door facing, alongside all the other bon mots he had accumulated over the years. (Mom long ago had quit making an issue of that.) “Happy People Rarely Get Cancer.” We used to tease him that, in this case, everyone in this family would come down with the stuff! I don’t know where he found that–and having had cancer, I don’t think it’s a universal truth, by any means. But it may well be a generalization that pertains in most cases.

So, choose to laugh. It lifts your spirits, blesses the people around you, honors God, and relaxes your body.

5) Leave the whole business of the length of your life to God.

“My times are in thy hands” (Psalm 31:15). That is the end of the subject as far as I’m concerned.

My longtime buddy Rick Humphreys prays for me at least weekly that the Lord will bless me with long life to serve Him. I thank him, and usually let it go at that. But I can’t help thinking of King Hezekiah who wanted to live 15 years longer than the Lord had prescribed. God gave him what he asked for, but we can wish He hadn’t. During that life-extension, Hezekiah did two things which turned out to be disastrous for his people. He fathered Manasseh, the worst king ever in the long history of the nation of Judah. And, when a delegation from Babylon dropped by on a fact-finding tour, Hezekiah was so proud of his wealth that he took the visitors into the Temple and showed them the abundance of gold and silver vessels being used there. The visitors took out their notebooks and jotted that down. The king of Babylon would certainly want to know about this! They were right.

A few years later, King Nebuchadnezzar came south with his massive army, conquering everything in his path. When he arrived in Jerusalem, his soldiers entered the Temple and cleaned it out. Thanks a lot, blabbermouth Hezekiah.

The next time you walk through the cemetery, notice the birth and death dates. Some people lived short lives and some lived long. But they all have one thing in common: they’re all dead now. And when they stand before the Lord, the one thing we may know for certain is that the length of their lives will have nothing to do with anything, except for the additional opportunity it provided to serve God and man.

“Lord, teach us to number our days that we may apply our hearts to wisdom.” (Psalm 90:12)

We never know at what point we enter the Departure Lounge. Some will be elderly, some young. Let us be faithful so that whenever the public address announcer calls for us, we will have our ticket and be ready to board.

Having said all that, I think it’s just fine to make plans to stay around for a long time….

A woman wrote to the Reader’s Digest about her 93-year-old mother who was constantly worrying about finances. One day, the writer’s husband did the calculations and assured her, “Mother, you have enough money to take care of you for the next 16 years.” The old lady said, “Oh my. Then what will we do?”

Barbara Walters was interviewing Dolly Parton. “What do you want people to say about you a hundred years from now?” Dolly said, “I want them to say, ‘Don’t she look good!'”

3 thoughts on “What They Didn’t Say About Long Life

  1. I heard a quote one time from Pablo Casals — probably the greatest cellist that ever lived. He still practiced several hours a day when he was an old man. Someone once asked why he bothered, since he was regarded as the best cellist in the world. He replied, “I still see room for improvement.”

  2. I would add one more to your list. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Just pray about it and move on. My grandmother at age 101 was living in her own house and taking care of her own needs. She had severe cataracts and did not want surgery. While she was handwashing her dishes, my cousin and I told her she had missed places, and her retort was, what I can’t see doesn’t bother me. She always just rolled with the punches life dealt her and praised God for every day of her life. Lana

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