“Old age is the most precious time of life, the one nearest eternity. There are two ways of growing old. There are old people who are anxious and bitter, living in the past and illusion, who criticize everything that goes on around them. Young people are repulsed by them; they are shut away in their sadness and loneliness, shriveled up in themselves. But there are also old people with a child’s heart, who have used their freedom from function and responsibility to find a new youth. They have the wonder of a child, but the wisdom of maturity as well. They have integrated their years of activity and so can live without being attached to power. Their freedom of heart and their acceptance of their limitations and weakness makes them people whose radiance illuminates the whole community. They are gentle and merciful, symbols of compassion and forgiveness. They become a community’s hidden treasures, sources of unity and life. They are true contemplatives at the heart of community… ” ~Jean Vanier, Community and Growth
I will freely admit that the state of athletic entitlement in North America has become something that increasingly disturbs me from season to season. Without regard for simple common sense, coaches are terminated the instant that it appears that they won’t be able to lead a team to the playoffs, whether they be coaches of professional, collegiate, or even high school teams seems to be irrelevant. Americans want to win, and if their team doesn’t, then it must be the coach’s fault.
One of my favorite Christian movies tells the story of a middle-aged football coach at a Christian high school somewhere in the southeastern United States. Though not for lack of effort on his part, the poor coach can’t seem to lead his team to a win to save his life…or his job.
After far too many losses, the parents who comprise the football booster club have begun to meet in secret, calling for his immediate termination and the hiring of a more effective head coach; something that the poor embattled coach catches wind of while locking up the athletic complex late one evening before heading home from a long day’s work.
The very next day, the disillusioned coach is sitting in his office lamenting his condition, when an older gentleman walks in. This particular older gentleman has a long history with the school. Day after day for many years, he has made it a habit to walk the halls of the Christian school while the students are in class, placing his hand upon each of the locker and praying for each of the students as he walks down the hallway. Upon entering the coach’s office, the older gentleman asks for a moment of his time, and then proceeds to tell a story…
“Two farmers prayed for rain, but only one of those farmers went out to prepare his fields to receive it. Now Coach, which one of those farmers do you think really believed that God would send it? Coach…God is not finished with you yet.”
The coach spends a night in fervent prayer, ultimately realizing that his calling was never to win football games but rather to help a group of young men to take one more step toward becoming the people that God had created them to be. The coach changes his philosophy, which changes his methodology, which changes the hearts and minds of the young men under his care. Within a short period of time, a spiritual renewal begins in that small Christians school that branches out through the football team to the others students of the school, their families, and ultimately their entire community.
It has been said that aging is not for the faint of heart. It is so easy to fall into the stereotypical American tendency to locate our identity in our vocation, causing a crisis of meaning when we are no longer able to continue in that vocation…or to continue as effectively as we had once been able to.
If you want to be one who ages with a child’s heart, bearing a radiance that illuminates your entire community, then remember that God is not finished with you yet. God never had one calling for your life. God’s call has always been dynamic…not static…ever changing as the story of your life has been molded by the experiences that have helped you to grow into the person that God has called you to be. God has a calling for you today that is every bit as meaningful and every bit as important as the very first call that you ever heard.
Maybe it is time to stop praying for rain. You can rest assured that God has heard you. Instead, pick up your tools, step out of the barn, and join God in preparing your fields to receive it. If you do, then you will probably be surprised by the unintended everyday holiness that results from remembering what it means to be alive.