“Lord, teach us to number our days that we may apply our hearts to wisdom.” (Psalm 90:12)
“Lord, make me to know my end, and what is the extent of my days; Let me know how transient I am.” (Psalm 39:4)
“They will still bear fruit in old age; they will be full of sap and very green.” (Psalm 92:14).
The Bible has a lot to say about getting old. And most of it is great.
As a child, I would lie awake wondering about the future. For one born in 1940, the turn of the 21st century was several lifetimes away. “In the year 2000,” I thought, “I’ll be 60 years old. Almost at the end of my life.”
When that momentous time arrived, I was scarcely out of my teens. I was anything but old. Surely not. No way was I ready to cash in my chips, to hang it all up. To call it a day. To head for the house. And a lot of metaphors like that.
I was still young and alive and working.
I took retirement at the age of 69. But I kept working. After all, I was (and am) a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. While we may retire from salaried positions, we stay with the calling. As of today–August 25, 2017–I’m a few months into my 78th year (translation: I turned 77 last March 28). Two days ago, I drove in from a week of ministry in the Carolinas. After a deacon training event in Charlotte, a weekend of ministry in Inman, SC, and a prayer breakfast at Fort Bragg, I logged 1,918 miles on my little Camry. Every night, I was in a different hotel. And I loved it. (For those who ask, my wife would have accompanied me but she’s teaching English in a community college. Next Monday, she has a birthday. We’ll be the same age. And yes, we are blessed indeed.)
We’ve laughed at the remark of the army chaplain’s 5-year-old last Monday night. After we’d been to the post exchange for dinner and were saying our good-byes, little Elizabeth said, “Mister Joe. You are… almost dead.” I laughed out loud. “Well, honey–I’m closer than I’ve ever been. But I’m not quite there yet.”
To a child, 77 might as well be 700. I remember the feeling.
Last night, my good friend Joel Davis called from Atlanta. Joel is 85 now. Last January, a few days following our wedding, Bertha and I drove there for his retirement service. This terrific man, my roommate during college (I was the one in college, Joel was working; we shared an apartment a few blocks off campus), had been best man in Margaret’s and my wedding. His godly influence and sterling example had been a gift from Heaven for a 20-year-old trying to find his way in life. During his career as an engineer, Joel constantly served the Lord as a part-time church staff member, first minister of music and later minister of seniors.
So, last night, this unemployed and retired friend said, “I’m taking music lessons.” And proceeded to describe what he’s doing and the excitement of his accomplishments. Did I say Joel is 85?
Anyone celebrating good health as he approaches his 80th birthday–well, it’s only two years and seven months away!–should pause to acknowledge the part medical science and the health-care profession have played in that little accomplishment. I am all too aware that had I lived two or three centuries earlier–before x-rays, anesthesiology, and a hundred other advancements we take for granted–even if I were still kicking, I would be a cripple (I had hip surgery at the age of 9), toothless (man, the stories my dentist and I could tell!), blind (cataract and laser surgery last summer), and an invalid (I take a handful of vitamins every day). Of course, I would also be dead from the cancer that threatened to end my life 13 years ago.
Thank you, Lord, for medical science and the professionals who devote themselves to eradicating disease and seeing to the well-being of those of us who depend on them.
Bertha and I walk. As soon as we moved to this home, we located all the parks with walking trails and selected the one we like best. Almost daily, when I’m at home, we walk the path, holding hands, talking nonstop. We are well aware that to keep our bodies healthy and functioning, we must use them. “Use it or lose it” could be said about many things, including one’s physical strength.
Having started this article, I now find myself asking where I’m going with it? What is the point of this? Short answer: To encourage friends who are complaining about getting old to stop the foolishness and seize the day and make the most of it.
Tomorrow Bertha and I drive to Mobile, around three hours away, where I’ll do a banquet for the wonderful Dayspring Church. The next morning, we’ll sit in on the Sunday School class (at Cottage Hill Baptist Church) taught by my son Neil. He’s asked me to teach Psalm 42 with him. I replied that he should do the play-by-play and I’ll be his color commentator. Translation: I’ll interrupt whenever I think of something interesting to add to his teaching.
Garson Kanin, playwright, told of the time artist Pablo Picasso entered an exhibit of his paintings through the years. They’d been arranged from the earliest to the latest. Kanin says Picasso entered with a lovely young thing on each arm. Someone greeted him, kissed him on the cheeks, and said, “Maestro, please explain something to me.”
“Looking at your work,” the friend said, “your earliest paintings are stiff and traditional and rigid. But as you aged, the paintings become more alive, more vivid, with brighter colors. Your imagination seemed to grow through the years. Please explain that.”
Picasso said, “Oh, it takes a long time to become young.”
That line–“It takes a long time to become young”–is the title of Garson Kanin’s wonderful book about getting older. I recommend it highly.
This week, I’ve had to turn down a number of invitations from churches due to a schedule already filled. What’s going on? I wondered. And then it hit me. The churches know the clock is ticking on Joe, so if they’re going to get me to come and speak and sketch people, they’d better get on with it!
The clock is ticking on all of us. It’s how life is lived. And it’s wonderful in every way.
Seize the day, friend. Take that class, learn that foreign language, go back to school, go help a child, volunteer at the hospital or church or school.
Go for long walks. Have that checkup with your doctor. Take your vitamins. And stay close to the Lord. Visit the library and check out some great novels. Read the entire 150 Psalms and see which ones have your name on them.
Don’t let me hear you complaining about getting old. God is giving you a wonderful gift and you’re complaining? You’ve won the lottery, friend. Think how many classmates of yours are no longer living. How did you happen to outlive them? So, while you’re still vertical and mobile and breathing, while the mind is still functioning and the brain is still active, make the most of it.
In some orchards, the best fruit comes from the oldest trees.
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