Aging. Gracefully. Sorta.
Don’t let anyone think less of you because you are young. Be an example to all believers in what you say, in the way you live, in your love, your faith, and your purity. (1 Timothy 4:12)
Lately, I’ve been thinking about getting older. It happens to all of us. At age 57, I’m at that point where I’m not one of the elders, but I’m certainly no longer a young adult. This has me thinking about, well, about how I think.
See, when I was a young adult, there were always older people – people really old, like in their 50’s – who were the ones I learned from. Older people knew more. They had life experiences. They had learned things, and they passed them on to us younger folk. While we may have mocked or rejected their knowledge, we always knew deep down that they had wisdom that we did not have.
Now, however, I’m faced with a new reality: that younger people also have significant knowledge that I do not have. Here are a couple of examples:
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC): I’m not making a political statement here, but I can admit that she knows how to get things done in ways that I do not know. She has had experiences that I have not had. I ignore or reject someone like her, simply because of her age, and I am cutting off knowledge that God has given to our earth. There are young leaders in many areas of our lives who know things that we do not. They hold positions of responsibility now, because they Can.
My sons: My older son, Stephen, teaches me regularly about corporate life today in ways that I could not know on my own. He allows me to see how things are so different than they were back in my own corporate life days (the ‘80’s and early ‘90’s). My younger son, Ben, introduces me to concepts like non-binary sexual identity and helps me understand how there are awful words that aren’t mine to speak aloud, even when I am lamenting such words. He points me to new scholarship on inclusion and diversity which blow my mind.
These kids know things I do not know. If they did not teach me, I would remain ignorant.
Why is that so difficult?
In some ways, it’s difficult because their teaching me involves a change in status. When Stephen and Ben were young (and if I’d known AOC when she was young), I was the one to teach them – and I did teach them many things about life. In fact, my teaching helped allow them the space to become the brilliant adults they now are.
What’s really happening here is all about who is in charge. When I was young, even though I told my parents “I can do it myself!,” in reality I always knew they were in charge. Now I am an adult and have put away childish things – so I should finally be the one with all the answers, right? And yet I find, over and over, that I don’t know as much as I think I know, and that the kids I think should be listening to me are instead the ones I need to listen to. When do I get to be the one with all the answers?
Never. Thanks be to God.
God has not created any of us, at any age, to be omniscient. To know it all. We will never grow old or wise enough to have all the answers. Only God knows all. This is a good, good, thing. If the world depended solely on what Stephanie knew, we’d be in a heap of trouble. For while I can tell you many facts about pet rabbits and Baptist polity and the 12 Steps, there is more to life than that. I know almost nothing about the new math my daughter-in-law teaches, and sometimes I can’t even figure out how to work the TV remote.
God has created all of us with wisdom to have, share, and receive. This includes generational knowledge as our world evolves. We ignore this at our, and the world’s, peril. Whenever one generation dismisses another outright, we are working with a narrow world view and a much smaller life portfolio. When I stay open to new ideas, even when they come from those I once taught myself, I continue to learn and to grow.
I don’t stay open in order to change myself into a young person again – a 57-year-old who tries to act like a 25-year-old isn’t young, just lost. I also don’t stay open to young ideas in order for the kids to think I’m “woke” (aka “groovy”). This isn’t about popularity. I stay open so that I can be who God created Stephanie to be: the learned yet still learning, groovy yet still growing, weary yet wondering, 57-year-old child of God.
To those older than me who I once acted too smart around, and to those younger than me who are pained when I don’t understand the new lessons, I offer myself. I offer myself to continue to learn. I offer myself to be forgiven when I stumble. I offer myself to continue to be molded into the person God longs for me to be. And I offer you thanks for believing in me enough to teach me.
I close with some of the words of a song that was “new” at one time (1973!). It’s not new now, but it still has a word to teach me, and maybe you too: From Bob Dylan:
May God bless and keep you always May your wishes all come true May you always do for others And let others do for you…
May you grow up to be righteous May you grow up to be true May you always know the truth And see the light surrounding you May you always be courageous Stand upright and be strong May you stay forever young.