By the time they reach sixty most people have around six health problems. Then it’s just a matter of gently coasting around downhill to senility and death. (Christoper Fowler, Oranges and Lemons [London,UK: Penguin, 2020], 88.)
A few nights ago I read the above from a detective novel I was reading. I don’t know quite how to take this. I am in my 60s and I don’t think I have six health problems, or at least no major ones. And I don’t feel myself coasting anywhere. At least I don’t think so. I read the section to my dear wife and she laughed, saying the author must have written the section tongue in cheek. I am sure she is right, The words were from the mouth of a character whose tongue was often in his cheek.
Still, this wasn’t the first time I had read of characters in novels who were in their 60s and described as old. I wonder what are the ages of the authors who wrote the books? Might explain their perspectives.
The truth remains that I am four years short of 70 and in reasonably good health. I am grateful to God for His care but more and more I am wondering how I can be a good steward of the time, any time, allocated to me. I often ponder and pray and ask my friends for wisdom on how I should be investing my life at this stage of my life.
One of my pastor friends replied by asking me if I read my own books. (I had written a book on vocational discernment!) He asked me to keep on doing what I have been doing — preaching the word. That made sense. But now I also wonder if I should be training others to preach as well. I was glad that recently I had begun to help a friend structure his talks. He is a key leader who gets invited to speak a lot and he often has so much to say he is not sure how to package his talks. I am delighted I can help my friend with that.
However, I am beginning to wonder if I am being concerned about the wrong things. Recently, I was praying with a friend when the thought came to me — I believe it was from the Lord — that I was too focused on what I should be doing for the Lord when I should be asking “Lord what kind of person do you want me to be at this chapter of life?” At this chapter of life, indeed at any chapter of life, I should be more concerned for my being than my doing.
What does God want me to be? The answer is obvious — He wants me to be more Christlike (Colossians 1:28). Then the next question arises, what areas in my life need His work so that I can be more like Him? Some preliminary answers emerged from my recent personal devotions:
1. Trust God more for my life and the lives of my loved ones;
2. Be kinder;
3. Be quicker to forgive; and
4. Be more patient.
I am sure there are many more areas in my life that need work but the above four came readily to mind.
So, instead of using up all my bandwidth in pursuit of vocational musings, important as they are, I should take seriously the need to grow up as a human being and as a follower of Christ.
Besides, we are as old as we feel. In a recent article in the New York Times, Emily Laber-Warren reminds us that subjective age — how old we feel, is as important if not more than our chronological age — how many years we have actually lived. She writes:
Scientists are finding that people who feel younger than their chronological age are typically healthier and more psychologically resilient than those who feel older. They perform better on memory tasks and are at lower risk of cognitive decline. In a study published in 2018, a team of South Korean researchers scanned the brains of 68 healthy older adults and found that those who felt younger than their age had thicker brain matter and had endured less age-related deterioration. By contrast, people who feel older than their chronological age are more at risk for hospitalisation, dementia and death.
I am not sure what it means to feel old. Ok, I do notice changes in my physical capacities and there are other hints that I am no longer 50. Otherwise in spirit and mind I want to live life to the full. But I must remember that that means being more concerned for maturity in character than being fixated about what I am called to do. Being before doing — at any chapter of life. And hopefully a doing that flows out of being.