Several years ago, a former basketball coach joined our church. Before long, he started working with our men, some of whom remembered their high school or college "glory days." As I stood beside him once, during a workout, he laughed and said, "This is so funny; the brain remembers the moves, but the body can no longer do them."
I've thought of him and that line so many times over the years. It seems that after 40, the brain-body gap continually erodes into a great yawning gorge.
Living in a youth-obsessed society makes it all worse. The imagery spinning out of our culture presents a kaleidoscopic glorification of rock-hard abs, athletic sexuality, extreme sports and youth-driven entertainment.
Sadly, Christian culture is being "evangelized" by the same youth obsession. Soon after turning 50, I attended a Christian leadership conference. To my surprise, most of the other leaders were under 30. Spiked chartreuse hair, facial jewelry, grunge clothing and heavy metal worship. All of that was fine with me, but I noticed something odd; in workshops, in circles of conversation and in group meal functions, I was invisible. The others looked through me. I was virtually a ghost. They could only see those of their own age group.
It is easy to understand why older people often wonder if God can still use them. The messages flowing from many churches tend to suggest that, after 40, our gifts and capacities shrivel up and blow away. Additionally, by the time people reach middle age, they often lug around a great bag of regrets and another one of sin and failure memories.
Strength and Weakness
Sadly, many "Christian" attitudes about strength and weakness come from contemporary culture, not the Bible.
The fact is that God delights in showing up in human weakness. The Apostle Paul rejoiced in his human weaknesses because they became ports of entry for God's strength. Paul actually wrote that he was "well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ's sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong." (2 Corinthians 12:10 NASB)
Consider those pivotal human characters that God used as portals for His purpose on earth. Abraham and Sarah and Elizabeth and Zacharias were much too old to have babies. Mary, the mother of Jesus, was a virgin. Moses was a murderer (I wonder how he coped with that memory as he aged). Paul was a terrorist. David was much too young to go up against Goliath.
But, their human strength and qualifications were never the issues. I didn't seem to occur to God to use people who were strong in themselves. Abraham "contemplated his own body, now as good as dead since he was about a hundred years old, and the deadness of Sarah's womb; yet, with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief, but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully assured that what He had promised, He was able also to perform." (Romans 4:19-20 NASB)
Heaven on Earth
Jesus taught His disciples to pray for the reality of Heaven to appear on earth: "Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven." That prayer has a particular application to those who feel too old, too regretful or otherwise unqualified to be useful.
The Lord's Prayer reminds me that I am not the issue. It is all about the power and will of God materializing in the earth environment. When His will appears in time and space, that moment becomes a point of Heaven touching earth.
That's how Caleb found the faith to ask for hostile territory when he was 85 (Joshua 14:10). That same Heaven-on-earth reality drove Mother Teresa – well into her 80s – to vigorously care for the poor and ill. And, that's why Gary Henley, a 70-year-old friend of mine, decided against a retirement village. Instead, he and Sharrol sold their home and moved halfway around the world to work with Muslims.
Human age and other limitations are never the issue when God is involved.
Maximizing the Moment
So, how does someone at (or beyond) middle age step into the joyous and pulsating Heaven-on-earth kind of life? Let me suggest some steps for maximizing your moment.
Find the Large View
Remember that you came from God and will return to Him. Your life on earth is a small part of your great panoramic biography. Gospel singer Jake Hess captured a great truth when he sang, "Death ain't no big deal." Someday we will all probably look back on this life as a brief tour-of-duty on planet earth.
So, while we are on earth, we can and should always be ready for new adventures. We really have nothing to lose. And, besides, you can't die until God is finished with you. And, you can't stay beyond what He has already decreed (Job 14:5).
Let the small stuff go
You can be old at 50 or you can be young at 80. Part of the secret is being able to release those things which are always passing away – the small things which are unique to specific life passages (like hair, hearing, fertility, and running four-minute-miles). Few things are more pathetic than athletes who don't know when to leave the game. They are old at 40, when they could be stepping into new adventures and becoming rookies again on other fields of play.
I am always surprised at how much people stop listening as they age. They seem to more quickly and easily retreat into opinions, traditions, and prejudices. When younger people speak, you can see the older ones just tune out and wait for their turn to challenge new perspectives and information.
Honest and attentive listening will always keep people more vibrant, relevant, and engaged. It doesn't cost anything to give a fair hearing to every person, idea, and technology.
Focus on now
We all live in a rapidly spinning centrifuge of life which pulls us away from the moment and throws us into the past or future. That dynamic becomes more pronounced as we age.
But, right now is where we connect with heaven-on-earth. Dealing with what is in front of your eyes will bring the mercy and power of God to the moment. I have found that I never have grace for what has already happened or for what might happen. Help seems to come only for right now.
Be real and authentic
When people look to God for approval and a sense of belonging, they tend to be more real and authentic. But, when they seek approval and connection in the mirror of their environment, they start looking and sounding silly. That's why you have 60-year-old people dressing like young rock stars.
I have walked with the Lord since I was a teenager. Now, I walk with Him in what is probably the afternoon of my life. Life has been good; every season has been beautiful. But, I really think I prefer the afternoon. The pace is slower, the colors more vibrant, the conversations richer, and the possibilities are just as great.
That's because it all rests on Him. That was always true. But, I learned it more deeply while walking with God "this afternoon."
Ed Chinn is an organizational consultant and freelance writer from Fort Worth, Texas (firstname.lastname@example.org). His work has appeared in the Christian Science Monitor, the Washington Post, OpinionJournalcom, and the Fort Worth Star Telegram.