Then Zechariah said to the angel: How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years. (Luke 1:18)
Do you ever stop to think about what you’re doing as the years go by? Are you simply letting them add on? Or, do you view these years as fresh opportunities in your ongoing maturing process? As you grow older, do you focus on growing or older? On bearing fruit for the Lord? Or, simply on biding time?
Each new age/stage brings its own challenges and difficulties. We can let the years just happen passively or we can choose some positive actions which will give us reasons to get out of bed each morning. Passivity yields to boredom and worry diverts creative energy from being channeled into present behavior. Tension and conflicts can be opportunities or obstacles. It’s our choice. It takes trust in God, and in ourselves, courage, and personal effort to keep our focus upbeat each new day.
To merely age, opens the door to stagnation in our spiritual maturing. As we keep developing our spiritual maturing, we acquire a fresh dependence on God’s assistance, renewed trust, and hope in our own potential. Mistrust and worry contaminate all aspects of life, limit our relationships, and deprive us of living and loving fully in the present moment.
God speaks to us through people, events, and circumstances, and the most important person God speaks through to us is ourselves but we don’t really listen. Through these, God calls us to choose between generativity: continuing to have a loving impact on the world; or stagnation: sitting around, worrying, waiting out our years, taking the line of least resistance, complaining that we “can’t do what we used to do,” and using these as an excuse for not doing anything thoughtful or loving for God and others.
According to psychologists Erik and Joan Erikson, our time of generativity claims the longest stretch of time in our life-cycle: thirty years plus. It’s exhilarating, yet challenging and tough, to devote time and energy toward developing lifelong satisfactory, creative maturing. Yet, if we’re not to rust-out, then we must grow by wearing-out through love.
Some people are more resilient than others. Individual choices made earlier in life play a greater role than genes, race, wealth, and education in determining how we can flourish, be happy, and satisfied as we grow older. These choices make a difference once we realize that we’re in a spiritual-stretching process and not merely an inactive-aging one.
However, unhealthy previous choices and life-upsets need not box-us-in. We can change our focus in order to live a rewarding and satisfying life now and in the years ahead. Previous life-happenings can be catalysts for creative ways of adapting life to new settings.
During a recent Lent, I had to rethink my life’s focus. Little did I realize that when I drove myself to a hospital that my life was about to change drastically. I had promised God that I would spend that Lent in a long retreat. However, He already had one scheduled! The next five months would be spent in hospitals, rehabilitation, and a large medical center. I was near death several times, but thanks to God and prayers of many people, I came through. (I knew I was in Christ’s arms; plus I had incredible care.)
Because of this experience, I’ve had to discover fresh ways to make my life generative for God and others. It won’t be the same as before when I traveled a lot in my ministry, but that’s okay. A Native American proverb says it well:
Trust in the Great Spirit with all your heart. In all you do, know that he is always with you. Acknowledge and talk to him at sunrise. Thank him for every day at sunset and he will make your path straight. (Dancing Feather)
God is a God of surprises. Be open and aware of God’s next surprise for you?