by Billy Schmuck, Resonate Pullman member
What is age? What is middle age? Why would college students care? Many people correlate age with experience and experience is surmised to create wisdom. Does this mean that the accumulation of time-lived determines the account balance of wisdom? Since we have all known people wise beyond their years as well as old fools this is surely not the case. So perhaps some experiences are more valuable than others and this creates the difference in wisdom among people of similar age.
We begin life by being given everything; necessities like food, shelter, language, and love. We go on to learn who we are and about the world we live in – not necessarily in that order. We hope that our lives will be invested in something worthwhile, but time marches on regardless. As we live, the path behind us resolves, allowing at least some predictability for what lies ahead: family, career, etc... (I would guess that most college students will find this vista about five to ten years after graduation). Life is varied enough for sudden turns or lost ways, but most of us have clarity of direction for at least half of our lives. What then do we do when the decades begin to stretch before us like rolling plains after the limited sight-lines we had while crossing the mountains of our youth?
If wisdom does not come with time alone, is it experience that should be sought after?Consider the case of people who have gone through similar traumatic events; near drowning for our example. One person may recover to not only hone swimming skills but also learn life-saving techniques. Another may associate water with death and never again be able to take delight in the life-giving liquid. In fact, people learn incorrectly from experience on such a regular basis that there are multiple professions dedicated to helping individuals unlearn false lessons. So then, it is only when the right lessons are learned that causes experience to have value. Thus age only correlates with wisdom by increasing the probability of having experiences leading to learning; right, wrong, or some combination thereof.
How then do we learn the right lessons? I submit that long preparation is for more than just dreaming, but doing; even trying and failing. Good parents know this. They send their child into a situation when he or she is ready to learn, not when winning is guaranteed. Parents give their children a foundation, and are available as counselors, but achievements cannot be given, they are won. Eventually parents are joined by teachers, professors, supervisors, mentors, and most importantly self-drive. Like investing for retirement, preparation is not a one-time event; a diploma is not an arrival. Those who are wise never stop preparing.
If a person new to an instrument practices every day for a year, he can be good and might be satisfied to take casual enjoyment as someone who can play. But what if there is a hunger and thirst to get better and the practice continues year after year – that person becomes a musician. What if, in a spiritual life, a similar unbroken study of scripture is not measured in weeks or months but in decades? What has that person become?
Life after college is not the destination because one has only just finished the initial preparation – a majority of one’s years still lie ahead. Neither is it the medi eval period between the freedoms of childhood and retirement; what a tragic waste of labor that would be. It is simply more life. Life, when you reduce it down, is the same in pretty much all of our seasons. Minister to others as your preparation allows, be humble enough to allow others to do the same for you, and invest in compassion, skills, and wisdom so that you are ready for the next opportunity when it comes along.
It is the investments over time that allow us to bear fruit: an instrument mastered, wisdom sought, a spouse wooed, and houses made into not just homes but missions, refuges, and dojos. The discipline of regular savings into a retirement account, while critical, is very weak without time applied to mature the investment. When we think of time it is either as discrete moments or as passing seasons. The moments are what create memories and change who we are, but it is in the moving time that our form is solidified. The sum of lazy Saturdays, Monday mornings, and dark nights are where we grow wings and put down roots so when the moments come we can fly to the rescue or stand firm with roots deep as the mountains. This is what our middle ages are for: to work while we invest.
It is a sad thing when we see an elderly man doing menial labor because he did not invest for the days when the strength of his hands would fail. But how much more will one’s heart break upon realizing that a child drowned because one did not learn to swim (or knew but never taught the child). To these worldly concerns (which are by no means trivial) a Christian bears a further weight. What if, when we are called to live the gospel toward someone or to give a reason for our hope, we are unprepared? What damning consequences lie therein! This does not mean that one should live a life consisting only of disciplined practice and study. Living with joy, knowing how to rest, and extending love are each an expression of holiness and a preparation no less important.
Finally, after being given everything at birth, each of us will come to an end where everything but our souls will be left behind in death. At twilight our school years will seem but a moment in the span of our life, though they were preparation for much that came later. Perhaps then we will finally grasp how the whole of our life on Earth is just a blink, a moment of preparation for eternity. Eternity which begins not with our last breath, but at our first. An eternity which changed in a crystallizing moment of our first breath of newborn belief - where we were given everything.
PS - I was asked to write an entry on ministry in your middle ages. First came the phase where I was asking “how old do you people think I am?” After that, I did give it some thought but honestly couldn’t see anything fundamentally different. You prepare your heart. You show up. You serve. You share what you have (wisely and responsibly - we all have tools of one sort or another that you don’t just hand out to anyone). If you have kids you drag them along and kill two birds with one stone, or if the task would be a hindrance to them (or visa versa - both conditions which are remarkably less common than younger people think), then you play tag-team with your spouse or a friend. Frankly age doesn’t matter. Season of life doesn’t matter (of course resources like time and emotional energy do impact the method). Maturity does matter - but you only develop that through exercise. Don’t wait for a better time. Learn to roll a cable. Feed one of His sheep.