4.17.2011

Christianity is Getting Old


I became a Christian in high school and then grew a lot in the faith in college. Since then, my faith has had to mature, as I have grown older, taken on more responsibilities, experienced more heartache, and lived more life. It is a common trajectory for the modern follower of Jesus.

Complicating matters for me are two personality traits that strongly characterize me. With apologies to those who find the Myers-Briggs Personality Test barfy, I will describe these characteristics in those terms. First, I am a fairly strong “N” (as opposed to “S”), which means I am very future-oriented, ever thinking of what’s next instead of being present in the now. Second, I am a fairly strong “J” (as opposed to “P”), which means I like my plans tied up and settled, instead of preferring to hold them loosely.

As I age, I find that these innate aspects of me bristle against the normal consequences of getting older. After all, there is less and less of my life ahead of me to think futuristically about. It seems to me that the reason why people have mid-life crises is that they realize there is more life behind them than ahead of them. This is frightening to the strong “N.”

Also, with age comes more uncertainties. In high school and college and into early adulthood, my plans and my schedule were pretty controllable. Of course, adding kids into the mix throws that off, and I’ve had to make that adjustment.

But my “J”-ness is also struggling to adjust to other elements of getting older. My mom’s health issues have saddened me, but they also remind me of the messiness and uncertainty associated with aging. When we are young, we don’t think much of medical issues, more than the occasional physical or routine dental visit. As the years pass, stuff starts to hurt, more tests are needed, and eventually things become chronic and all-encompassing.

Recently, a friend of mine, when I asked him about how his dad was doing, answered in a curious way: “He’s not aging well.” My friend went on to explain that his father was always used to doing 101 things at a time, winning accolades and respect and satisfaction along the way. As he grew older, and his body and mind began to betray him, he resisted this natural evolution. My friend told me he prayed a lot that his dad, one of the more spiritually astute people he knew, would learn this lesson of aging well as a Christian believer.

I am not nearly as old as my friend’s dad, but I pray I too would learn to grow old in a faithful and godly manner. For, upon further reflection, the Christian faith is not simply a useful set of principles for use in combating the annoyances of growing old. That presupposes that growing old is inherently bad, or at least inconvenient, and that Christianity is something that can minimize or reverse those negatives.

But Christianity is not the antidote to getting old, or the way in which getting old goes down more easily. No, Christianity is getting old. Christianity is the long journey in the same direction, and however long and arduous and windy that journey is, we know where we are going and who securely escorts us there.

Christianity neither demonizes nor glorifies aging. It just assumes we will all do it. And, with less time in front of us than behind us, it also means less time until we are perfected, and more time to draw from when instructing the next generation that is journeying behind us.

I am not happy with how irked I get about growing old. Being an “N” and being a “J” are not inherently good or bad character traits. But they do make it easier for me to struggle, like my friend’s dad, when faced with the inevitability of aging. Would that I recognize that my faith journey is not about avoiding the annoyances of old age. Rather, it is about growing old with humility that I can no longer do as much, wisdom that I have more to draw from in telling others, and joy that I am closer to the finish line.

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