Older and wiser, or just older?
All young people are alike; each older person ages in their own way.
That’s not strictly true, but I’m sure you’ve met older (read “40 and over”) people who are open, transparent, innocent but not naive, reminiscent of a tree planted by streams of water, growing straight and tall, with sunlight shining through its branches. I know people like this, who at 60 or 80 are more at peace with themselves and with God than they were at 25 or 35.
I also know people, and I’m sure you do too, who as they age become more closed and muddled, in a sort of stasis. They become less joyful and more internally conflicted as they get older. Rather than growing straight and tall, they grow in gnarled curves, limbs protruding at odd angles.
What makes them different? Why do some people display more love, joy, peace, patience and so on as they get older, while others just seem to get more and more “stuck” — in denial, envy, resentment, or whatever?
At church last Sunday I posed that question to a friend. “When I was young,” he began, “there was an woman in her 70s, who everybody loved to be around. Her name was Mrs. Glass.” According to my friend, who was just a young boy, Mrs. Glass positively radiated joy and life. “My mother, who at that time was in her 40s, told me, ‘When I’m in my 70s, I want to be like Mrs. Glass.'” She aimed at a goal, prayed toward it, and became what she admired.
His answer reminded me of a passage from 1 John 3, where we’re told that when Jesus appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is (1 John 3:2, emphasis added). We’ll be like him because we’ll see him as he is. The next verse says we’re purified by hoping in Jesus, the pure one.
Similarly, Paul tells us that as we behold the Lord, we’re transformed into his likeness (2 Corinthians 3:18).
The takeaway seems to be that focusing on the right things will help us grow in the right direction. But how do we do that? Psalm 1 (also quoted above) gives a couple of clues:
Blessed is the man
who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked
or stand in the way of sinners
or sit in the seat of mockers.
But his delight is in the law of the LORD,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither.
Whatever he does prospers.Psalm 1:1-3
So two clues are:
- being careful of who we listen to and hang out with; and
- being careful of what we spend our time thinking about.
In other words, who and what do we esteem in our hearts? Whose opinions matter to me? Who do I want to emulate?
Who are my heroes? The clever, rich, and powerful? The skillful, competitive, or beautiful? Why not the merciful, the kind, the just?
What do I say to myself when I’m out of sorts or feeling impatient? Do I think about how unfair it all is?
Or do I recite Psalm 139 to myself so I’ll remember the Lord’s presence and his care for me — or “To whom will you compare me / Or who is my equal?” to remind myself of God’s power? Do I ask the Lord to search me, and lead me in the right way?
Our answers will shape our character in the decades ahead.