All five of my children are undeniably adults. Still I don’t consider myself even remotely old. Statistically speaking, I am barely past the halfway point in my life story and I intend to approach the remaining chapters with joy and enthusiasm!
However, I do admit to becoming a bit more observant of the journey ahead and I can offer this honest impression: it ain’t all pretty, but it’s definitely interesting. Here are a few of my observations:
Many common characteristics of aging come in pairs. There are similar pairs like gray hair and wrinkles and complimentary pairs like skinny old men and fat old women. There are also certain dichotomous tendencies that seem to emerge. In music such pairings are known as couplets. In chemistry they are anions and cations. They are neither true opposites nor complementary in nature, but share a sort of yin-yang relationship.
For instance, one’s ability to “let go” tends to improve with age. The school of life teaches us through experience that not all battles are worth fighting. We learn that not all issues warrant worry. Not all problems need to be resolved.
The flip side of being more laid back (as if some underlying equilibrium demands satisfaction) is that passion can be more difficult to muster. The same calming of emotion that allows us to be more relaxed also tends to cool the red-hot fires of youth that translate into zest for life. Pragmatism threatens idealism, and cynicism seeks to undermine hope. Probably each of us can think of at least one curmudgeon who has allowed the balance to shift toward those tendencies.
A related loss that I have observed is that dreams can be harder to come by. Standing at the starting line of youth, gazing forward toward a life yet to be lived, all things are possible. But the demands of life often require dreams to be set aside for a time, some laid to rest entirely. Out of necessity we learn to live more focused on what is and less on what could be. I find that aspect of life particularly sad.
Then this morning I revisited a verse that ignited a spark of anticipation within my soul, and reinforced my belief that the story doesn’t have to be written that way.
… planted in the house of the Lord,
they will flourish in the courts of our God.
They will still bear fruit in old age,
they will stay fresh and green. Psalm 92:13-14
God seems to be speaking in this passage of a kind of latent potential that is promised to those who strive to live a life of holiness (rightness) before Him. In a seasonal metaphor for life, this might be the evergreen tree in the midst of a dormant and colorless winter landscape.
The hope in this promise is that old age does not have to be the place where dreams go to die. Even as we age there remains incredible hidden potential within us; seeds just waiting to burst open, releasing their hidden vitality! I decided I want to be that one green thing in the winter landscape—still vibrant and full of life, still producing fruit.
A quick look around tells me that many aging people never tap into this hidden potential. I began to wonder, What then is the key thing to triggering germination of these seeds? Nature offers a dramatic example.
A wildfire is a fearsome act of nature that has potential to devastate entire forests. One of the ironic twists in nature’s plot is that wildfire is also the trigger necessary to release some of her hidden treasures – tiny packets of life lying dormant until the unique dynamics of fire releases them. A perfect example is the giant sequoia of the Sierra Nevada whose seeds lay dormant within cones for years; released only when exposed to the intense heat of a forest fire.
These are not the seeds of youth. They are the reward of vintage faith. Like forest succession, seedlings that grow into the most impressive trees in the forest are not the first to spring up. These are the result of testing, time and patience.
The amazing news is that God wants to release this potential in our lives. It is His plan for each of us to remain vital and productive for the entire journey. As my grandpa Scharer was fond of saying (who by the way, never did become a curmudgeon), “The best is yet to come!”
“Lord, help me to tap into the latent potential within me that is just waiting to be discovered!”