The Spiritual Gift of Age
by Bishop Peggy Johnson
Proverbs 20:29 says: “The glory of youth is their strength, but the beauty of the aged is their gray hair.” Some spiritual gifts take time to develop in the human soul. The gift of wisdom comes with gray hair. This wisdom is a product of many years of walking and talking with God. This wisdom can only be gained by sitting for a lifetime at the feet of Jesus learning from him. The young can give us many things, but this will never be one of them. Only the foolish believe in instant wisdom or instant knowledge, or even instant discernment. All of these are God’s gifts to the body of Christ through those who have given God time to season their lives.
We live at a time when technology has increased the speed of life and this allows us to squeeze more and more tasks into shorter and shorter periods of time. This is not always spiritually helpful, because technology has made us very impatient with the slower process of life. Spirituality is a very slow process. Moses did not feel the stir of the call of God for justice until age forty. Moses had to wait another forty years to experience God in the burning bush. It was during his last forty years that Moses had the most to share with the people of God. His most spiritually productive years were between eighty and a hundred and twenty. That is a long time to wait. Today we are tempted to write people off as irrelevant by age forty. Those with age become the stones that the builders of our contemporary society reject, but spiritually they are so key.
Our seniors are spiritual gifts to the church and to the world. Those who are younger need them as mentors. Youth have strength, energy and cutting edge technology but they lack the wider view of age. Mentors help those with youth gain a better perspective on life, from someone who has been there and done much. Without this healthy collaboration, the young are doomed to make costly mistakes they could have avoided. Mentors also can encourage the young to invest some of their energy into spiritual practices that may not pay off quickly, but give meaningful dividends in the future.
Another spiritual gift that come with age is practiced skill. My piano teacher was a virtuoso pianist. She knew how to play every famous concerto by memory. She did not gain that skill over night but through many years of study and practice. In fact at age 90 she is still giving concerts. With age you can teach more than theory, but from experience, which brings authenticity and practicality. In the spiritual life this is even more important. It is one thing to talk about how prayer should work in theory, but it is so different when you have a lifetime of experiences to share about how to enter the presence of God and find help and strength in your time of need. It takes time to develop the skill of translating the truth of scripture into living culture. Those who have lived through cultural change have experience doing it, over and over again, decade after decade. This is a learned skill that only those with the gift of age can share from personal experience.
There is a spiritual ease that comes with age. The soul has opened up to God daily to live in God’s presence that it has become second nature. Where the young are struggling to build the muscles of their soul, those who are practiced in the faith, don’t even think about it anymore. As Paul said to the Corinthians, physically we may be becoming less and less, but spiritually we are becoming more and more each day. (II Corinthians 4:16). These saints among us are a source of spiritual power. They are often an untapped source of power. Where the young are often seeking to find the reality of God, gray-haired saints have walked in the reality of God in their lives often for more than half a century. They have an important witness to share of what God can do, has done, and is doing in the world. With many years of experience they know the power of prayer, the importance of worship, the value of personal ministry, and the validity of the Word of God. This is information that takes years and years and years to gain. It needs to be written down. It has great value if it is shared and received.
Ecclesiastes 3:1 says “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven.” Those who are well aged have a purpose, and that purpose is too often neglected. They are a resource that only is spiritually manifested towards the end of their mortal existence. The golden years are not so golden to the generation who is living them. Physically it is difficult to be older. The golden years are golden because of the value they make available to those who are coming after them. So if you are a senior, be generous and let others “mine” your gold, for as it is with all spiritual blessings, their value comes only when we give them away.
Think about these words of Marion Jacket Wilson, who was featured in a recent issue of Christian Living in the Mature Years:
“The general belief is that aging is the end of many things, the destruction of the body and the disabilities it brings.
Few realize the wonder, the miracle of growing old. It’s really a beginning in stories that are told.
Just listen to the legends, the secrets of their youth, the experience in their years, the knowledge in their truth,
Age is the beginning of wisdom, it has lessons to be taught. It holds the key to living discovered by an open heart.”
Check out a wonderful quarterly magazine published by Abingdon Press, “Christian Living in the Mature Years.” To order, call 1-800-672-1789.
The General Board of Discipleship’s “Center on Aging and Older Adult Ministries,” directed by Richard H. Gentzler, Jr., offers resources online: www.gbod.org