Here’s a hard saying of Jesus. Peter is walking along the seashore with Jesus, post resurrection. They have just had fish and chips for breakfast, al fresco. Peter is still a little embarrassed over the whole denial thing. And Jesus says, “Walk with me.” (By the way this is all recorded by John, the paparazzi, as he follows along behind, staying in earshot of this private conversation.) Jesus asks Peter for the third time, “Do you love me?” Peter responds in the affirmative and Jesus says, “Good. You better. When you were young you dressed yourself and walked where you wanted to go; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” (John 21:18) I imagine John, the busybody giggles. Peter, the strong, independent, leader groans. Jesus shrugs and invents that famous, oft repeated Bible verse, “It is what it is.”
Yesterday I pulled into the parking lot at Branches. I guess I was in a little hurry. I opened the door of the very sexy, very hot, purple Mazda mini-van that I drive. I stepped out of the MPV and then, for some reason, wheeled back around and bent over hard to get something out of the seat. If you are keeping score it is corner of van door 1, forehead 0. For just a second the world reeled around me, the moon turned to blood and the sun became dark. Okay, that’s an exaggeration, but I did see stars and opened a pretty good gash on my temple. Luckily, it was camouflaged by the massive purple goose egg that immediately arose. Now if you remember yesterday’s devo you know that my son Josh, head of his graduating class in medical school, PA extraordinaire, works in our office. He took one look and made this keen observation, “You hit your head on the door.” He made it with a very professional grin on his face.
Jesus says, “Just be prepared for older age. You are going to lose. Some things.” Apparently spatial perception is one of those things. To be honest, I bump my head all the time. The cabinets in my office are covered with my DNA. The shower nozzle in our bathroom has taken a whack or two. There is a light hanging over our kitchen table that has only been there 14 years. I can’t be expected to remember it is there can I? Head knockin’ just comes with the territory.
But there’s something good about losing your spatial perspective. For one thing, you are not nearly as territorial and protective when you can’t keep track of the borders. My neighbor and I have a blast mowing each other’s yard. We can’t remember where the property line is so he mows about half of mine and I mow about half of his. We get a lot more things done at Branches when there is no issue about who started what and who gets credit for it. I am free to just serve others and clean the toilets with a good sense of spatial perspective. Even in my family, being spatially challenged helps. If one of the kids, or even Doris tries to pout and be stand-offish, shoot, I just stumble all over them. They think I’m hugging them up when I’m really just trying to catch my balance.
Another thing you lose with age is your reaction time. Frankly, I saw the door jumping up to get me but I couldn’t get out of the way. When I was young I would have hurtled over the whole van from a standing start, rolled defensively across the ground, and come up in my best Kung Fu stance, ready to take on the rebellious van door that was attacking me. Not now. I see the whole thing unfolding before my eyes and I just, trance like, follow the path of gravity, right down to the point where flesh meets metal and the stars come out to play.
But you know what? The delayed reaction of old age is not a bad thing. When I was young I would get and email or a text. (Okay, I didn’t get a text when I was young. Can you say beeper?) I would get a critical or hurtful response to something I wrote or said and I would fire a response back with blinding speed. The Flash had nothing on me and my ability to return jab for jab faster than a speeding bullet. Now, with some years, my reaction time has slowed considerably. I get the mean note. I think about it for a little bit. I start formulating an answer in my head. I have to go to the bathroom. And by the time I come out I’ve forgotten what I was doing when I went in. Not a bad plan. I am learning not every email needs to be answered, not every jab needs to be jibbed. (I made that up.) The older I get the more I like the 12 Step wisdom that says, “I have nothing to prove and nothing to hide.”
And here’s one more thing I have lost in this aging process. I have lost my voice. When I was young I talked. Loud and often. Honestly, I took great pleasure in hearing myself talk, having the last word, saying the smartest thing, giving the final answer. The problem was I very seldom actually had the smartest thing to say or knew the final answer. Now it doesn’t take very long watching television or even listening to the music in the church to recognize I have lost my voice. Except for final expense commercials and Viagra ads, there is nothing on television that is produced with me in mind. When the network execs have their meeting they do not say, “Hey, let’s design a show for the 60 something old guy with a big goose egg on his head.” We live in a younger world. And that’s okay.
Perhaps the greatest benefit of getting grayer is that I can forget about building my own dynasty and really focus on influencing the people that truly matter, where I can. I love to sit and listen (not talk) to the young counselors at Branches. They are smart, and passionate, and every once in a while they will say, “What do you think about this?” and I can offer a little perspective with a dimmer but richer set of eyes. I watch my kids and grandkids do life. It is no longer my job to dictate their steps. I usually get in trouble when I try. I am “learning” to let them go. (Doris needs prayer in this area.) And I am often amazed at the strength of character they find, and how they get themselves out of even their bad choices when they know it is up to them. Occasionally I am privileged to offer a word of advice. But mainly I stand on the sidelines and cheer. And that’s a good thing.
For those of you that are young, you’re not even listening. ? But hear this. Youth is finite, and often ability or vitality have little to do with losing it. Culture will begin to declare you irrelevant. That is the point where the investment you have made in the Kingdom will pay off. As a great old man used to say, “Only one life, will soon be past. Only what’s done for Christ will last.’
And to those of you with gray hair and knots on your head. There is nothing wrong with allowing the course of time and the grace of God to lead you from mover and shaker to influencer and cheer leader. I am trying not to be overly resistant. I think maybe it is my finest role. So, Jesus says, “When you are old, you will give some things up.” I think that is a good thing. I think that I, and those around me are made better by my willingness to do that. And besides, look at all the cool shirts they pick out for me to wear.