Youíre Not Old Until You Decide You Are
ďThe outward man perisheth, but the inward man is renewed day by day.Ē -- II Corinthians 4:16.
Grade school Algebra -- two years of it -- was my downfall. I still remember those terrible days, standing before those chalky, literally black, blackboards in 1958, while my Algebra teacher publicly berated me in front of the class because I could not grasp the subject, much less the need for it. I held back the tears but I could feel my face go flush while she used adjectives that in todayís public schools could get her fired in todayís PC climate. The second year Algebra teacher wasnít as mean about it but just passed me out of sympathy because, as hard as I tried, I had no idea what was going on. I developed such an aversion to Algebra, that I wouldnít even open a math book years later. To make it worse, the fact that I could adequately speak two languages by high school only made it worse when a well-meaning teacher said, ďwhy donít you understand it? Itís just another language and youíre good at those?Ē That didnít make it easier for me. By then, the die had been cast and it was going to take a major healing of the memories from some heavy duty charismatics to ever make me forget it. That never happened.
What did happen was that, 30 years later, in 1988, Jeff Freeman, my co-missionary to Utah and a math whiz, worked up an algebraic formula for me to be able to figure foreign exchange. He did it in less than a minute in his head and wrote it down for me to follow. I saw his configurations on the yellow legal pad while he breezed through the formula explaining how easy it was and, once again, thirty years later, I felt the lump come back in my throat! I mean, this was ridiculous -- a grown man, 45 years old, feeling the same exact pain all over again when Jeff got the same mild exasperation in his voice that my dad did in 1958 when he too tried to explain it to me at home. Jeff wasnít being unreasonable, nor was my dad. They just couldnít understand that I absolutely blocked it out and the mere sight of those parentheses, letters and numbers jumbled together with an equal sign that indicated a solution that Iíd never have found if my life depended on it, suddenly caused me to nearly break down. Jeff realized something much deeper was going on, something I didnít even understand, and he backed off. (Thanks, Jeff).
That didnít help my understanding of Algebra, it only brought back the old memories of a teacher who stood me before my peers and called me stupid in front of a 9th grade peers and my dad, running his fingers through his hair as he always did when he got impatient. (Iím even ďtrippingĒ a bit on it as I write this now). Iíd better move on.
Basketball was another bear. I hated it. I still donít ďlikeĒ it and wouldnít cross the street to see it. Hockey and football even less. Baseball was fun and I could always hit the ball for a good line drive, but watching others play it got boring. I guess I was never cut out to play basketball. (Interestingly, my dad, who was an all-star at sports, never did play basketball. His brother, my uncle, explained that it was because he didnít feel he had the coordination for it. Yet he excelled at everything else. (Go figure...)
Enter Micah Lund, 16, from West Wendover, Nevada. I had picked him up at his friendsí place in St. Paul during spring break this year and we were headed home from Cheyenne on the last leg of the trip. We got stuck in a snowstorm on I-80 that morning between Cheyenne and Laramie for at least two hours. Nothing was moving except a very cold north wind that was hitting us sideways. What to do....
I said, ďsay, Micah, this is a dumb request, but I know youíre an honor student and do well with math and finance. (I called him the Alan Greenspan of the West but he didnít know who Alan Greenspan was/is, so my attempt at humor was, once again, lost. Ever notice how good audiences are hard to find these days. But, I digress...) I asked Micah to show me how to do Algebra, not telling him yet of my emotional history with it. He had to keep backing up to make it simpler and simpler until finally we hit a common denominator with him using the most basic terms that even I could understand and then building on that. By the time we got out of the snowstorm and into Sweetwater County, I had learned the basics of Algebra and felt (now donít you fundamentalists get upset when I say this --) as though I had been, well... ďborn again.Ē In fact, he told me that by the time we got home, he had already shown me most of what was in Algebra I on the grade school level -- and I understood it -- 42 years later!
And basketball? Well, ďRulon,Ē the LDS kid for whom Iíve asked prayer the last couple of months, and Jason, who lives here, asked me to shoot some hoops with them the other day. I said, ďnah, thatís OK,Ē as I was going to go back in the house. I was tired of embarrassing myself on the court. I know none of you reading this will know what it is like to have been among the last three or so kids to be picked for a basketball team in junior high. (These days I hear theyíre getting away from choosing up teams in order to protect kidsí self-esteem. While I donít like a lot of the current agenda in American public education, I have to admit that that might be a good thing to go).
You guessed it -- I played. I still donít know the rules, but I learned how to throw a ball, how to catch and move with it and how to block the guy who has it and is trying to shoot for the basket. If these guys arenít lying, I guess I can trust them when they said that I wasnít too bad, seeing as Iíd never done it for the first 57 years of my life. The best part of it, by the way, was my ability to move out on the cement with those guys all that time and keep a good strong steady heartbeat -- only 17 days after I had gone off my heart meds to regulate it.
It was great to finally face down my fears!
I think you know where Iím going to go with this.
The Lord Jesus Christ, if you let Him, renews us day by day on the inside. A lot of what I described, above, had to do with attitude, not ability. Heck! Iíve outlasted guys in the weight room who are 1/3 my age at the gym because I have a mind to do it and have built up to it. But Iím not an athlete and never pretended to be. Itís just that that is my Waterloo and something I decided this late in life to face, head on. And, I got somewhere.
There are some of you reading this right now who are doing that with your spiritual life. Youíve decided that that call of God on your life will never be fulfilled now that youíve hit a certain age and you, well, ...just feel too tired to pursue it. But God is the strength of your life. Iím not into some positive confession thing here, but I do want to encourage you with something that is not exactly Scripture, but it does ring true.
Iím the family historian and archivist. Many years ago I found the family crest for our branch of the Robertses and on it was a motto in Latin that a priest friend translated for me: ďAs I breathe, I hope.Ē I havenít thought of it for years but I thought of it tonight as I was writing this because I realize that it isnít my exercise program or my weight loss or my looks or my money that is making me feel good. It is much deeper and itís rooted in the joy of knowing Jesus. He gives you a purpose for your life, a destination to reach in death and a resurrection He has already accomplished on your behalf as your Goal. He makes Himself the Goal of our life, our demise and our being raised from the dead in His Likeness.
Now if this Jesus is able, by His Holy Spirit, to make alive our bodies as it says in Romans, then we need to do something with the investment other than pine about our aging. Brethren, I do not FEEL 57 -- honest! As I write this, I feel like every day now is a gift from Him and I want to make it count. With that attitude, Iím not going to watch my life slip through the hourglass of boredom and inactivity. Iíve asked the Lord to take me with my boots on and let it be quick -- as He did with my mother, my dad and my brother. Jason, here at the house, works at a nursing home and I think the only thing worse than my former attitude toward Algebra is the thought of living (I use that word advisedly) your last days in one of those places. Please God, not I! I know many of you feel the same way. But for His sake, please start becoming active in this life He gave you today, this very day youíre reading this. Youíre never too old to minister! Never! I still donít see the word ďretirementĒ in the vocabulary of a true man or woman called of God.
He has called you to do something and your age is immaterial after you pass the boundary of wisdom that came from all those years of experience. Why have it go to waste because chronologically you are believing the myth that youíre ďtoo old?!Ē Now, if youíre sickly, thatís another thing, but even the sick can pray -- and thatís a ministry too, a most needed one.
Never, never, never give up! until He takes you Home. When youíll see Him Face to face, youíll realize how much time you frittered away that could have been filled with His life flowing through you that He might touch others. As youíre reading this right now, you can change direction and let His Life minister to you and to others through you.
So, put away your Geritol (OK, you can keep the Depends -- we might rather you did), and let the inner person Heís renewing today come through the outer person that would perish day by day.