How to Grow Old Poorly

The problem with getting older is that it happens when you’re not looking. There was a time in my life when no sane human being would have classified me as “old.” Now I seem to have reached a point in life where most sane human beings wouldn’t classify me as old—but I’m starting to notice exceptions.

I don’t get carded at restaurants anymore. My campers default to calling me “Mr. Lallier” instead of “Mr. Jeremy.” There are more than a dozen tiny people who know me as some variation of “Unka Jermy.” I just bought a house. I find myself telling younger people about life when I was their age.

Whoa. Sorry. This is supposed to be a Sabbath Thought, not a Sabbath Creeping Existential Horror. And I know, I know—there are those of you reading this and saying, “Oh, come on, Jeremy. You’re still a kid. Why, I remember when I was your age…”

But I also know that some small handful of you are reading this and saying, “It’s not so bad, Mr. Lallier. You have plenty of years left. Maybe even an entire decade or two!” And to you, dear readers, I can only say that when I was your age—

No. Nope. Not doing this. I was making a point, and the point was…

The point was…

Oh. Right. The point was that, whatever side of the spectrum you think I’m on, I’m still getting older. We all are. And at some undefined moment in the future, if all things continue as they have been, I’ll cross a threshold where most sane human beings will call me old. That moment is going to do a number on my psyche, but it’s coming and there’s nothing I can do about it.

But as much as this post is heading into decidedly morbid territory (especially for my brother-in-laws—most of whom are reading this and all of whom, I should point out, are older than me), I did have a reason for steering it this direction. I was digging through Proverbs recently when I came across an intriguing passage:

The silver-haired head is a crown of glory,
If it is found in the way of righteousness.

(Proverbs 16:31)

It turns out the “if” isn’t there in the Hebrew manuscripts. It was added by translators who felt it best conveyed the original meaning of the verse—which fascinates me, because it makes the verse conditional. And it makes sense. There are two ways to get gray hair: You can find it in the way of righteousness, and you can find it outside the way of righteousness.

Only one of those routes is pleasing to God—and only one of those outcomes can be called a crown of glory. Even if the “if” doesn’t belong in that particular verse, the same principle shows up in other passages. The gray-headed deserve respect and deference (Leviticus 19:32), but Solomon notes, “Better a poor and wise youth than an old and foolish king who will be admonished no more” (Ecclesiastes 4:13). Elihu recognized that “age should speak, and multitude of years should teach wisdom” (Job 32:7), but he also understood that “great men are not always wise, nor do the aged always understand justice” (Job 32:9). It’s entirely possible to reach the trappings of old age without learning the lessons God has for us along the way.

So. Which way are you walking?

If you’re young and still getting carded at restaurants, it might seem like you have a few more years to really worry about it, but you don’t. “The way of righteousness” isn’t a lifestyle God calls us to adopt once the gray hairs start coming. He calls us to start living it now—so that by the time the gray hairs do come, you (and others!) can look at them and see the crown of glory God intended them to be. We can’t backfill time—the decisions you’re making now are the decisions you’ll be looking back on one day, though whether that’s with regret or fondness is up to you.

And if you’re already in the gray-haired camp, have you missed the boat? Is the time for doing already over? Is your crown destined to only ever be what it already is?

Far from it. We’re all still getting older, and that’s something to be glad about. You can’t undo the choices of yesterday, but each new day means new decisions—opportunities to repair a lackluster crown or make a good crown even better. That’s true no matter what color your hair happens to be.

The secret to growing old poorly is to ignore everything we’ve covered today. Make bad decisions, tell yourself you’re too young or too old for them to matter, and continue plowing ahead. It’s easy—but it’s not what God wants. Gray hair, found in the way of righteousness, is a crown of glory—a crown God wants all of us to find. Elihu was right: Age should speak, and multitude of years should speak wisdom. Old age is a gift that ought to provide us with insight and experience to share with the increasing number of people who classify us as “old.”

What you’ll have to offer then depends on the path you’re walking now. If you haven’t already found it, there’s a crown of glory waiting for each of us on the way of righteousness.

Let’s go get it.

Until next time,
Jeremy

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