I've long been fascinated by the saying, older but wiser. It suggests that getting older means getting wiser.
But I have concluded that age and wisdom are not necessarily linked. There are many cases where age does equal wisdom, certainly, but there are also many folks of advanced (or advancing) age who are no wiser than when they were children. Perhaps that's why there's another saying: There's no fool like an old fool.
As I have gotten older, I have thought about this a good deal, and about the "accomplishments" in my life. "Accomplishments" is in quotes because, while a few are positive and praiseworthy, many are not. Perhaps you understand.
When I was in my twenties, I was insufferable. I knew everything, of course, and made decisions based on what would get me what I wanted. There was not much concern for the impact of my decisions on others. Or for their long-term impact on me, my life and my character.
That's the way of a child: I want what I want, and I want it now! It was also my way.
I just read an article on CNN about a problem in recent decades in American society: Many boys are refusing to become men. They are refusing to grow up and take responsibility. They continue to live for themselves. They live like I did, except in very large numbers.
But I'm not a boy any longer. In less than a year, I'll turn seventy. So it's obvious that I'm not a boy chronologically, but I'm also not a boy emotionally or mentally. I've grown up.
As I look back and imagine ahead, the question comes of whether I have lived a successful life so far, a life that has left the world a little bit better for my having been here. And, considering that, what should I be doing in the future, for however long my life might last? How do I want people to remember me, and what should I be doing now to make that happen?
A part of answering those questions is in defining success. Put concisely, I define success - for myself, other people, organizations, or things - as doing well that for which I was designed and intended. My assumption is that someone designed and made me the way I am. It's just too great a stretch to believe it "just happened." So, have I lived a life that meets God's standard of doing well that for which I was intended?
First, we have to consider just what was I designed to do. Considering that God is my designer, and he's in the business of redemption, I have my first clue as to my intended purpose. God is in the people business, and he has said that he wants me to represent him in caring for and reconciling the world to him(Gen. 2; II Cor. 7). He wants me to do the things that Jesus would be doing if he were here (John 20).
So, have I done that? Have I acted as a representative of Jesus? Have I acted as though my life was commissioned by God and sent on a mission in his name?
No. Not even close. I have already written about my early adult life.
But I am no longer what I was. I am no longer the insufferable ass of my youth. And I no longer live for myself as I did then.
As I have gotten older, I have realized that I am not living in some sort of game, where I can make up my own rules. And I have realized that he who dies with the most toys does not win, he's just dead. I have realized that God has called me to be his very junior partner in the family business, which is the business of redeeming people and building the kingdom of God.
And that makes all the difference.
A scholar once said his research of leaders - biblical and secular - showed that about two thirds of those who led well did not finish well. That is, after a life of exceptional leadership, they did something to change the course of their lives, so that the end of their life was one of shame or disgrace.
In my case, the first part of my life was one of shame. But God is so patient, and he finally got through my head with his lavish grace. He finally got me to see the foolishness of my choices and priorities.
And life since has been different.
So now, I'm retired. But I'm not retired. I'm very busy being God's "job-site manager" in the business of redemption and of showing the grace of Jesus to those who don't yet understand.
And it's a great life. It's truly what it's about to be both older and wiser.
I commend it to you.