Yesterday, I read a book by J.I. Packer, entitled Finishing Our Course with Joy: Guidance from God for Engaging with Our Aging. It was a concise book and convicting. Packer’s main point was that as we grow old, we must continue growing, learning, and ministering, living in the present, not getting lost in the nostalgic past.
The nostalgic past?
Packer is not suggesting that we relinquish our memories. But maybe you’ve heard someone wish they lived in a different decade or even another century. Perhaps some wish we lived in a less technological era or lived in a less mobile society—the good old days. Packer is saying we concentrate on the here and now.
Living in the present can be tough. Our current season makes us long for what we call “normal.” Our pastor has reminded us often in the past two years that, as with Queen Esther, we may have come to the kingdom for such a time as this, equipped to be salt and light in this season. All the more reason to live in the present!
Living fully in the present in the fullness of God’s presence
But Packer’s point wasn’t just that we live in the present socially but that we develop the spiritual discipline of practicing the presence of God daily. The idea is to create an ever-deepening receptivity to the abundant love and joy flowing through the Spirit in our lives.
“We can only behave “on the spot,” “at the moment” if we have “ingrained tendencies,” developed character that allows us to behave in the ways that Christ calls us to. We cannot love our enemies unless such enemy-love flows is the “natural outflow” of “true companionship with Christ.” “[S]piritual growth and vitality stem from what we actually do with our lives, from the habits we form, and from the character that results.”Dallas Willard
Patient persistence in the present
In Eugene Peterson’s work on Jeremiah entitled Run With the Horses, he writes about Jeremiah’s persistence, explaining the word “hashkem.”
“That is the secret of his persevering pilgrimage — not thinking with dread about the long road ahead but greeting the present moment, every present moment, with obedient delight, with expectant home. ‘My heart is ready!’” And how did Jeremiah achieve this sublime attitude, this ability to live clearly in the present? He learned it from God himself. Peterson writes, “God’s persistence is not a dogged repetition of duty. It has all the surprise and creativity, and yet all the certainty and regularity of a new day.”Eugene Peterson
I’m reminded of Brother Lawrence’s book, Practicing the Presence of God, first published in 1692. In the mid-1900s, Frank Laubach took Brother Lawrence’s ideas and created a mental game, “The Game with Minutes,” trying to bring God to his mind every minute of every hour. It is demanding, but choosing to practice this exercise on the way to work, washing the dishes, folding clothes, or engaging in any other mundane task builds mental muscles. It’s one way to chase after, to pursue God, developing divine companionship.
Learning and leading
Robert Frost writes of the challenge — the despair of living in the present:
But bid life seize the present?Robert Frost, Carpe Diem
It lives less in the present
Than in the future always,
And less in both together
Than in the past. The present
Is too much for the senses,
Too crowding, too confusing-
Too present to imagine.
Living in the present is not easy; it can seem crowded and confusing, which is more reason to seek out God’s direction and leading. And in seeking, we listen, learn, and let the “doing” of our lives flow out of our relationship with Him, even daily, moment by moment.
How can we be the “artists of every day,” fully engaged even in our waning years? It is not possible if we choose to sit down in our retirement, to spend our days in self-indulgence, and forsake the gifts God has given us for the building up of the body!
Four to offer
As the senior generation, Packer suggests we have four key elements to offer: opportunity, maturity, humility, and zeal. Practically, after retirement, many seniors still have another ten years or more to provide active service. Our schedule has more white space than ever before – an opportunity to redeem the time wisely. And although maturity is not guaranteed by the number of years a person has been living, as seniors, we have experience, potentially the wisdom that comes from those experiences, and years of walking with our God in His word. Hopefully, those same experiences have taught us humility, especially the realization that the longer we walk with God, the better we know him, the more we realize how much we need Him! And last, seniors offer zeal, knowing that our desire to please God grows exponentially as our bodies waste away.
My mouth will tell of your righteous deeds,Psalm 71:15-18
of your saving acts all day long—
though I know not how to relate them all.
I will come and proclaim your mighty acts, Sovereign Lord;
I will proclaim your righteous deeds, yours alone.
Since my youth, God, you have taught me,
and to this day I declare your marvelous deeds.
Even when I am old and gray,
do not forsake me, my God,
till I declare your power to the next generation,
your mighty acts to all who are to come.
I want to be an “artist of the ‘every day,’ to plunge into life and not loiter on the fringe,” living fully in the present in the fullness of God’s presence.
You are in this time of the interim
Where everything seems withheld.
The path you took to get here has washed out
The way forward is still concealed from you.
“The old is not old enough to have died away;
The new is still too young to be born.”
As far as you can, hold your confidence.
Do not allow your confusion to squander
This call which is loosening
Your roots in false ground,
That you might come free
From all you have outgrown.
What is being transfigured here is your mind,John O’Donohue, To Bless the Space Between Us
And it is difficult and slow to become new.
The more faithfully you can endure here,
The more refined your heart will become
For your arrival in the new dawn.
- Finishing Our Course with Joy: Guidance from God for Engaging with Our Aging by J. I. Packer
- Practicing the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence
- Run with the Horses by Eugene Peterson
- To Bless the Space Between Us by John O’Donohue