Lessons from Ageing
written by Rev Gary Heard
Today I celebrate my 49th birthday. It’s a figure which is both surprising and daunting. I well remember as a child thinking that I would turn 41 in the year 2000 – both numbers which seemed odd and implausible to one used to writing the year 1974. A recent conversation with a friend about to turn 50 revealed their deep reluctance to accept the reality, as though it were bad news which didn’t bear contemplation. Yet in the context of the world situation, turning 49 is a real privilege. More than half of those born in the world die before turning 5. The average life expectancy in many countries today is still below 40. To be fit and well at 49 is a real privilege and blessing.
Many years ago, the Psalmist opined, “The days of our life are seventy years, or perhaps eighty, if we are strong… they are soon gone, and we fly away… teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart.” In the second half of life, we pause to reflect upon its value in new ways, and upon the stewardship of time and talents which God has given. Our time upon this earth is brief, but our impact might be much longer – something we have contemplated in at least one respect over the last 24 hours through Earth Hour. The challenge is to recognise the potential impact we can make, and to do it proactively and constructively. I do not make claim to having learnt how to achieve either. The greatest lessons I have learned through the years emerge from mistakes: both of commission and omission. The continuing and unfolding challenge of living out the gospel call which embraced me through Jesus has been a source of hope, joy, conviction and redemption. Though mistakes have been made, I recognise that by God’s grace they are able to be woven into the fabric of my character in the purposes of God. I read the stories of Jesus’ first disciples and find hope and encouragement in their faltering attempts to understand and live out their relationship with Jesus.
Life’s journey of experience has upset a lot of my early theories. However, Mark Twain’s observation underlines the challenge of living and learning well: “We should be careful to get out of an experience only the wisdom that is in it - and stop there - lest we be like the cat that sits down on a hot stove-lid. She will never sit down on a hot stove-lid again, and that is well; but also she will never sit down on a cold one any more.”
When Jesus was preparing to leave his disciples, he gave an abiding and hope-filled promise which is life-giving to this day: When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth (John 16:13). We are never alone in life – the wisdom, love, grace and presence of God goes with us, no matter the circumstances and the history. It’s a lesson I’ve spent a lifetime learning, still a way from mastering, and yet never beyond being blessed by!
March 30, 2008