What do Derek Jeter, Roger Federer, and Tiger Woods have in common? Besides their good looks, productive playing careers, and roles at Gillette spokespersons, they are all suffering precipitous and likely permanent declines in their athletic abilities. As Sports Illustrated columnist Joe Posnanski recently wrote, "age is undefeated." Sure, there are freakish exceptions (hello, Bernard Hopkins!). But, what is marvelous about Jeter, Federer, and Woods is that they lastest as long as they did at the apex of their crafts; that they are breaking down and becoming more uncompetitive is completely predictable and normal.
Of course, we don't want to believe this. But it is true. And it is particularly pronounced in sports, because 1) the body doesn't last as long at an elite level as the mind and heart can, and 2) world-class competition means that the slightest regression can be the difference between MVP and also-ran. We want our heroes' trajectories to be ever upward, or at least never coming back down to earth. But a hit baseball that reaches its top height 400 feet from home plate is not going to travel an additional 400 feet further from that point; its descent will happen far faster than its ascent. And so it often is with us, that as we age, our bodies (and, eventually, our minds and hearts) deteriorate, and it may happen quickly, relative to the many years we've lived before that point.
Well, this may seem depressing, that life isn't forever continuously upwards and that the descent may be sudden and dramatic. And, in fact, many of us struggle with growing old. We try to cheat death, or wander into mid-life flings. But, Posnanski is right: age is in fact undefeated. And so we struggle to find some peace about our impaired states, or else we descend emotionally along with our physical descent.
However young or old we are, there is another thing we can do to prepare for this inevitability and to endure this fate. We can believe in a God who made us, who has a purpose for us in this fleshly body, and who is preparing an eternal body and home for us that far exceeds even our wildest imagining ability. We can trust in a God who tells us that the work He has for us to do, He will supply the strength for us to do it. We can rely on a God who is able to work in spite of (and very often through) our weaknesses, of which we have many and will only have more and more of over time.
My belief, trust, and reliance are found lacking many days. But that same God is at work in me, that even if the body He made for me deteriorates, He is refining in me that belief, trust, and reliance, that I may experience true peace, be useful for His purposes, and ultimately be perfected.