You turn on the TV. There sits a celebrity on a bright red couch, telling the audience about her latest movie. The interviewer decides to dig a little deeper, so he asks,
“If you had the chance, what would you say to your younger self?”
Caught a little off guard, the celebrity then proceeds to offer as much wisdom as rises within her mind. Sometimes, we’re pleasantly surprised by the celebrity’s insight; other times not so much. This question is asked a lot, I think, because we so often regret the missed opportunities of youth. We wish we had made different choices. As George Bernard Shaw once wrote, ‘Youth is wasted on the young.’ (Paraphrase. 1935.)
As I was listening to the latest celebrity, aged almost fifty but looking like she was barely thirty-five, I wondered if a better question might be offered:
“What might my younger self say to me now that I’m over seventy?”
Would my younger self be able to offer any words of wisdom to help me during my final stages of life? I must say, the question brought me up short.
NOW, RIGHT NOW
In 2002, I left UCCF. As I packed up my things, I sat down with a co-worker (who was also moving on) and we reflected on our time serving university students. We discussed Psalm 137, in which the psalmist looks back nostalgically from exile in Babylon to the glory days in Zion. We prayed that our time at UCCF, as wonderful as it had been, would not be the high point of our Christian lives. We didn’t want to look back and consider our days with UCCF as ‘the best time.’ If we did, we would be robbing ourselves of something immensely valuable.
The present. The beauty and wonder of NOW.
So the first thing my younger self would say is, ‘Make sure you keep growing and enjoying what the Lord is doing NOW.’
The second thing my younger self would say is, ‘Don’t accept the myths of old age.’ Here are some.
You don’t make good friends when you’re older
It’s a load of rubbish, isn’t it? This myth needs banishing immediately. We can always make good friends – at any age – and of course we have the opportunity to build on older ones.
You’ve earned a rest
It may well be true that a person’s energy levels dip a little towards the latter stages of life, but that doesn’t mean we stop contributing. Not at all. We don’t stop following Jesus. And since he always gives us ways to bless people, we are always available to serve him through serving others. The idea that older people have no useful function has no place in the Kingdom of God. Indeed, as the popularity of Richard Osman’s widely read novel, The Thursday Murder Club, demonstrates, the over-seventies seem to have gained a new lease of life within our culture. This band of elderly ‘detectives’ managed to capture the nation’s (UK) heart.
Your brain slows up
Older people are often more forgetful, that’s true. And technology is moving so quickly nowadays, it’s hard for the older generation to keep pace. However – and it’s a big however – some evidence shows that while the brains of older people don’t retain information quite as well as the young, the information they do retain is used to good effect. In other words, the elderly may be forgetful, but when they remember information, they use it well. Well processed information sounds a lot like wisdom to me.
WISDOM OF THE OLD
Thirdly, I remember a survey conducted in some Christian care homes. It asked residents what they wished they had done more of. Here are their top three answers:
· Read more
· Prayed more
· Risked more
READ - My younger self would say, ‘Take your book with you and take advantage of those down times to read. On the bus, before a meeting, waiting as your spouse browses in M&S!’
PRAY – There’s no question that the pandemic has caused a great deal of harm. However, it has also given some of us the chance to slow down and pray more. To my younger self, I would say, ‘Pray more – with or without lockdown.’
RISK – A while back, the D-Day veteran, Harry Billinge, gave an interview on breakfast TV. He spoke openly about his faith in Jesus, and though he was surrounded by a thoroughly secular environment, the producers didn’t cut him off. He stepped out in faith, and an audience of millions heard his testimony. It was such an inspiration, and for me, it was a reminder that as we get older, we are sometimes given opportunities to ‘break some cultural rules.’ My younger self would say, ‘Go for it!’
Whatever age we are, life is a gift, an opportunity to bless others. The passing of the years may change us, but whether young of old, each day we’re given is full of promise, full of possibilities.
So let’s live for God’s glory.