“I am too old to get involved with this. You know, ten years ago I would have had something to contribute, but those days are gone.”
“I’ve got what I think is a really good idea I want to bounce off of you. I was wondering what it would be like if we invited a few folks to a conversation – I think the synergy would be great and I have a ton of energy to commit to making this happen.”
Can you guess which one of the above statements came from a person who is 80 and from a person who is 55?
Conventional wisdom would say that the first statement was made by the 80 year old and the second by the 55 year old. This is understandable, considering much of our present cultural narrative, but you would be incorrect. The 55 year old person has allowed this narrative to become their narrative. The 80 year old, on the other hand, has no intention of letting anyone define her capacity. And for the record, both these folks are in very good health.
I remember when I turned 50 years old I began receiving mail from AARP. I could not have been more shocked. 50 – really?! My grandparents lived well into their 80’s. I assumed, barring the the unexpected, I had at least a third of my life left.
So, we spend a third of our lives being “old” according to the dominant culture, loaded up with baggage from our culture and from ourselves. This tragic misunderstanding of ourselves can cause us to lose sight of all the good gifts God has given us to steward, and to believe the lie that we’ve outlived our usefulness and have nothing left to offer.
Our Biblical narrative tells a different story. Scriptures refer to elder or elders over 250 times. Biblically, an elder is considered as ”having authority by virtue of age and experience.” I hear this similar reverencing of those with age and experience from Native American and many other cultures. Being old does not mean that you have worn out your usefulness, but rather the reverse, that you have even more to offer.
I am truly grateful for the elders in my life, particularly those within ECMN. Their wisdom, experience and very hard work have helped to lay the foundation for much of the missional work we are engaged in.
Oh, and yes, yesterday was my 58th birthday. From my perspective, I am not old. In some cultures, by virtue of being the Bishop, I am an elder. Yet, I have many more experiences and wisdom to be gained before I feel fully able to call myself an elder.
In terms of being old – check in with me when I am 94. 🙂