Realities of Aging, Part Two

This week, Dan continues his conversation about the reality of aging with his good friend and former president of the Seattle School Dr. Keith Anderson. Dan and Keith discuss what it means to embrace the slower yet deeper pace that accompanies this season of life and ask the important question: How do we prepare to live out the paradox of our bodies growing older while our inner self, as Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5, is being renewed?

Dan opens by asking Keith about the things that have brought him his current taste of the goodness of God as he ages.

Keith responds by referring to a phrase one of his mentors often repeated, of the “slow work of God in our lives.” One of the advantages of being 70, Keith states, is that he has an entire library of experiences in which he has seen what God has done in his life, which then becomes part of the process of pondering how this life will lead to his own death.

While ruminating on the slower pace of life that allows him to listen better and more deeply, Keith reflects on the surprising grace of fallowness.

Keith: “Most people who talk about fallow ground know nothing about how things grow in the ground. They tend to think of a fallow season as being idle, or useless, or wasted – and it is not. The ground that’s fallow is not empty or without life, it’s waiting for what will spring to life next – no farmer would call that land useless. […] Interesting to me is that’s the spirit I find in many older people. Some of course are simply waiting to die, they have given up on wondering about what’s next but are simply longing for what’s next because they are tired or in great pain or simply worn out from it all. The surprising space for fallowness though is land that has been richly productive needing a season of restful waiting for what’s next.”

In 2 Timothy 4, Paul talks about a “crown of righteousness” that is in store for him at the end of his earthly life, which Dan restates as a question for Keith: How has aging brought a deeper longing for Christ’s appearing?

Keith: “I suspect I am more ready to live within the limitations of what my body allows me to do. Not only walls that block me in, it is in limits I’m coming to a place where I delight in the smallness rather than in the busy largeness of my life in the past. And I don’t think that I no longer dream big. There’s a pace that is different and I enjoy living in that slower pace at times. There’s an awareness that I don’t have to be engaged in multiple strategic planning experiences or projects to be thinking about the future or to be faithful to what I think God wants from me.”

Pace means that I have a different speed – I’m allowing myself to go deeper, to enjoy the slower pace in some ways but a deeper pace.

Acknowledging that there are many people who do not age well, Dan reflects on his own parents’ aging, and what was, in his own words, not goodness but rather tragedy of limitation and loss. 2 Corinthians 5 reinforces the idea as Paul writes about the decay of the outer self while the inner self, at the end of one’s life, is being renewed. In a question posed to Keith, Dan asks how we can prepare to be able to bear and live out this paradox.

Keith recounts a time when he took a sabbatical some years ago and wanted to begin by embarking on a three day retreat in silence. A friend, however, challenged him to expand the retreat to seven days. After much back and forth, this friend posed the question, “Keith, why are you so afraid to be alone with the Lord?” Being content in deep silence allows us to hold both contradictions and conflict which, to someone unused to silence, can be quite frightening.

Keith: “It’s not only about what my voice needs to say but what my ears need to hear, and we can only find that in places where we are fallow in silence and listen.”

Dan concludes with a call for listeners to find someone older than themselves and listen, ask, follow, and see what they have brought to this life, especially if they are people like Keith who live out the playfulness and paradox of aging and being renewed.