“Are you still doing speaking tours?” This was the question asked by a friend while I was on tour this past month. I don’t take any offense at comments like this; in fact I welcome them.
If you don’t know me personally, then you may not realize why people ask me this question. And no, it’s not the first time someone asked me why I still tour and speak. You see, I am 75 years old, and apparently people think I should be at home knitting with the TV on. Actually, I don’t know what they think I should be doing, but traveling the U.S.A. on whirlwind speaking tours is clearly not what they expect.
There seems to be this unwritten cultural understanding that once you reach the age of retirement – about 65 or so – you stop working on anything meaningful. You’ve done your share, you’ve made your sacrifices, and now it’s time to lay down your burdens and go out to pasture. I feel this is an unfortunate tradition.
Part of this belief may stem from the fact that most people don’t do what they love. How many of you have worked for years in a career that you didn’t choose and didn’t love? If you spend years doing something you don’t like, and those same years denying yourself what you truly love, then of course retirement seems like a good idea. How could it not?
But whatever the reasons, it’s true that our culture expects the older, retired citizens to be less involved. Some have no choice due to physical restrictions, but most of us can still be active and do meaningful work despite being retired. And I feel, in fact, that not only can we do this, but we must do this. It’s in our best interest, and the best interest of our society to remain involved, and to make ourselves available to others. We have too much to give to hide away. An old lantern can still burn as bright as a new one.
Imagine if you will a library in a small town. This library begins very small, perhaps only one small room, but grows as people add to it. Some people bring new books. Some build additions and extra rooms onto the library. And still others give their time to run the library. Eventually the library is considered big enough. The townsfolk come out to celebrate, and the mayor of the city places a chain and padlock on the front door, shuttering it forever. The people go home, and the library just takes up space. Nobody can enter it to enjoy the books, and the exterior decays since nobody is taking care of it.
This might be a good way to envision our standard cultural tradition of retirement.
Of course, that would be a terrible waste, wouldn’t it? I may be 75 years old, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have some good books stored within myself. I have been places and done things that you haven’t. I don’t think we should waste the experience and wisdom we have gained through those years of our life, our trials and our successes. I think the next generation needs the hope, wisdom and stability that we can give them as their elders. And I’m not just speaking of funny stories and trite bits of wisdom either.
If we can show younger people how the Lord has been there for us in our lives, how He has never failed us, how He carried us through the tough times, perhaps they can learn from us to trust in His grace in their own lives.
I think many times we don’t share ourselves with others because we think the next generation won’t listen. Or perhaps we feel that we have nothing important to say to them. But if in fact God has helped us, sustained us and encouraged us, then maybe those are the very same words of hope and encouragement that someone else needs, and it would be a shame if we didn’t share them. It would be a shame if we padlocked the library that we carry within ourselves.
If you don’t believe me, I can tell you from experience this is true. In all my traveling and speaking I have met many interesting, spiritually hungry people, and I have found surprisingly that young people are very interested in our stories. It’s like they live in some kind of plastic, artificial world every day of their lives and when we tell them our true, authentic stories, there is something real and powerful that resonates with them. They thirst for the truth of God, they ache to know Him better, and our stories can be the doorway they can walk through – or perhaps even the window they can crawl through.
In addition to my experiences speaking, I have a personal story that relates. When I was a teenager I hit a rough patch in my spirituality. I wasn’t enjoying church the same way I had; I became bored and complacent. One Sunday morning as I walked up to my church, a car drove up right in front of the building. I watched as the driver got out and opened the door for his mother, an elderly woman with many physical ailments. It was very painful for her to get out of the car since she was bent over and it hurt her just to move.
And just like that, the lord spoke to me and said “Why do you think she came to church today?” I knew immediately that no one would have condemned her for staying home, but in her heart she felt something important was happening at church. That’s why she chose to face all the pain of coming to church and why she made the tremendous effort to be there. It was important to her; it was meaningful, and she wanted to do it.
Now I’m sure that old lady never once thought God was using her, that her choice to get up, face the pain, and come to church would change someone else’s life. But in actual fact God was using her, using her to get my attention. God used her as an object lesson, and turned her suffering and pain into a language I could understand. Seeing her helped me to learn that people come to church for a reason, just like they do anything else for a reason, and I needed to find my own motivation to go.
My father, who lived to be 99 years old, was in a retirement home for the last few years of his life. He had been a preacher all his life, but had retired years before. When my son, Kurt, and I visited him one day, we saw him with his bible open on the table before him. We visited with him for a while, then left. As we were leaving, I noticed Kurt had tears in his eyes. When I asked him why, he said it was because Grandpa was still reading his bible, still choosing to be faithful, and Kurt realized how important that was. My father was sure in his last years that he was done preaching, that God had no further need for him, but he was wrong. We can never know how our lives will impact others, and even the smallest action can affect others. But if all we choose to do is play golf or watch TV after we retire, we’re denying the world our experiences and talents, our wisdom and our advice, and we’re not putting ourselves into situations where God can use us. Just because you’re older, or were never a pastor, doesn’t mean God can’t use you to touch others. God can use our smile, our friendliness, our giving hearts, our hospitality, or even our troubles to reach others in ways we could never expect.
And so I speak and travel. I choose to put myself into places where I can be seen by others, and into places where God may use me – even if I never find out about it.
The night after my friend asked me why I was still doing what I do, I found myself reading from the book Joshua, chapter 13, verse one, as part of my devotions, and there was God instructing me clearly, leaving no question in my heart.
Joshua 13:1 – When Joshua was an old man, the Lord said to him, “You are growing old, and much land remains to be conquered.”
Here is God clearly instructing Joshua that, even though he is old, that’s no excuse for not getting up and doing what needs to be done. There are books in the library that need to be tagged and shelved. There is work to be done. So turn on the lights, remove the padlock from the door, and open your library of life to others, so they may benefit from what you’ve learned.