Grace of Age---Gift of Youth
I never thought about it too much. Age is what it is. Sometimes I am surprised by how old I am. But I can remember being so much younger and lamenting that I was not older. Obviously, it is easy to want to be something other than what we are. But that is a dead-end street. If I am forty, I am forty. I can act like a teenager, but that is pretty silly. Or I can act like an old guy and that is sad. Age is what it is.
However, age is surely more than chronology. Chronology measures quantity. If I am forty, I have lived “x” number of days. It does not say how well I have lived those days nor how meaningful they may have been. Chronology tells you nothing about the lows I experienced nor the mountaintop ecstasies I have had. Chronology clunks along day by day and year by year. Age is what it is.
We all know that life is not simply measured by number of days and birthdays. I dare say, a more important measurement of life is meaning and purpose. I would rather live a few years well than a long, lousy lifetime. Now we are talking about quality instead of quantity. Quality is more difficult to measure. It does not come in units, like quantity. Quantitatively, a day is a day---24 hours. But qualitatively, a day may be spectacular---and that is only 2 hours of the total 24 hours. Let’s look at an example.
I am involved in a situation at the present that serves as an instructive example. In some ways I am not really involved, but I get to watch things unfold. I am able to see the living of life in both the quantitative and the qualitative levels. The quantitative level is easy to see and understand. A small group of people gathers routinely throughout the week. I am part of that group. They don’t gather just to gather. They have a purpose. They gather together to execute that purpose. But the purpose does not matter right now.
What I would like to note is a different phenomenon. Almost all of the group would be considered young people. They are not high schoolers, but they are nevertheless still pretty young. They have much of life still to live. They are exciting and promising. It will be a joy to watch them blossom and bear fruit in the world. And then, there is an older woman who is also part of the group. Chronologically she does not “fit.” If chronology were the measure, she should leave…or be ousted. Blossoming surely is behind her and she can’t have much fruit yet to bear in the world. Such would the cynicism of chronology suggest.
But I am watching this scenario. It is developing. Chronology is doing its thing. Routinely---step by step---we are brought together to execute our purpose. But there are interesting qualitative dimensions also developing. Often these are more subtle and, even, sublime. They are easy to miss or to dismiss.
One qualitative dimension developing is the interaction of the younger ones with the older person. In the first place, interaction is not required. It is volitional. People are choosing to interact. That is significant. This speaks to awareness and intentionality. Clearly, there is awareness that not everyone is the same. And there is intentionality to bridge that gap of difference. How would I describe it?
The interaction appears to me to be the grace of age and the gift of youth. Let me explain by starting with the youth. Merely being young---a youth---is not itself a gift. What I mean by the “gift of youth” is their relationship with the older person. Clearly, if you have nine younger ones and one older person, the youth dominate. They are likely to drive the conversation. But they become gift when they give attention to the older one. They become gift when they include the other, when they care for the other, and when they make life better for the older one. If you are older, it is not a given that the younger ones will give. Will they become gift to me?
On the other hand, I have watched the older one be grace to the younger ones. The older one has lived much longer, has accumulated much more experience, and chronologically has been worn by the weather of time. But all of us to whom this has happened do not always emerge as graceful. It is just as easy to be jaundiced, cynical, uncaring, and spiteful. Instead of gift, we grump and become a curse.
Without mentioning the word, all this seems so spiritual to me. And it points to the challenge of spirituality. It is a twofold challenge. The first part of the challenge is to learn how to become a gift when we are younger. This is not always easy. Too often, being young makes us takers instead of givers. We have a tendency to grab and not give. We can be greedy and not so gracious.
And we have already pointed out the pitfalls of becoming older---getting some age on us. We can become bitter instead of better. We can become a curse instead of the blessing God wants us to be.
Me? I am right in the middle! And probably you, too!! I am still young enough to be a gift to many others. And I am aged enough to figure out how to be grace---how to be gracious. I ask for God’s Spirit to enable me to be young enough to give and old enough to grace.