A Gray Hair Manifesto
Movie westerns traditionally have this iconic scene — the hero slowly rides off into the sunset never to be seen again. As we age, it’s easy to think that’s how our lives will be — we retire and slowly ride off into the sunset never to be seen again. Instead of embracing our age we depart from life, looking for the sunset to retire to. There’s no sunsets in the future for this gray-haired alongsider!
We will all face a sunset. One young leader told me, “I have no models for aging gracefully and productively. You can model for me and others how to serve God and age at the same time.” What a challenge! Living and preparing for life this side of the sunset is something we will all experience. Here are nine principles for living on this side of the sunset.
- Savor God and plan some leisure. In this season of life I want to savor and enjoy the Lord in fresh and unhurried ways. A hurried life is not conducive to hearing the voice of God. I’m learning to live the original meaning of leisure; leisure is not sleeping on the couch but stepping out of life’s busy schedule to think and reflect. I am choosing more leisure time, slowing down life to savor God more.
- Relationships are the ultimate investment. It’s easy to measure our lives by accomplishments and activities. I’m reaching a different bottom line for what’s important — it’s all about relationships. Aging shows me that deep relationships are more important than a busy schedule. When all the dust settles in life, my achievements will fade away but my family and friends remain. Life’s too short to neglect friends. We can always be an alongsider to someone.
- Energy is limited so invest it wisely. Weariness creeps up in my days a lot sooner than before. My agenda usually supersedes the reservoir of my energy. When I accept my energy limitations I will be wiser about investing my energy reserves. Life was always meant to be lived with limitations (Psalm 127:1-2) and this season presents different challenges to a life of limitations.
- Identify what gives lift. My aeronautical engineering friend Ron tells me that “lift” is the force that keeps an airplane up in the air. Lift is what motivates and energizes me to keep the “plane” of life air-born. In this life season, I must think about and choose my lift forces. My time with Peggy, reading, gardening, music, friends, and disciplemaking are the lift forces in my life. The things which provide lift are usually what brings the most joy.
- Opportunities are given not assigned. In our careers and ministries, we typically live by assignment. A lifetime of assignments robs us of experimentation and surprise. I’m looking forward to fewer assignments but more opportunities. We live what author Wendell Berry calls a “given” life; we accept life’s opportunities as gifts of a generous God. I’m looking forward to God’s “given” opportunities rather than assigned opportunities.
- There’s always room for a cheerleader. My friend Stephen had a new insight about the conflict and ultimate parting of ways between Paul and Barnabas over the young disciple Mark (Acts 15:36-40). We assume that because Barnabas drops out of the Acts narrative that he made the wrong choice in this conflict. Stephen sees it differently. Barnabas was the cheerleader — the “encourager” (4:36) — on the sidelines cheering on his protege Mark. Maybe it was his cheerleading that ultimately made Mark Paul’s confident (2 Timothy 4:11) and the Apostle Peter’s scribe. Age should be marked by turning over leadership to younger men and women and then cheering on their success from the sidelines. There’s always room for a cheerleader!
- Learning has no age limits. Ecclesiastes 4:13 is one of my “life” verses: “Better was a poor and wise youth than an old and foolish king who no longer knew how to take advice.” I want to remain a wise youth rather than a successful old man who stops learning. My mentor Dave (now ninety hears old!) learned how to use Spotify and TikTok before his grandchildren did. That’s being a learner!
- Life is about the local. The older I get the more important the local becomes. The local is my neighborhood, my church, my friends. The local are the places and people that I regularly see and invest in; the place and people I share a history with. Long distance relationships are great and valuable but it’s the local that we daily touch and which touches us. We’re alongsiders to people and places in the local.
- Do what you love until you’re not able to do it anymore. When we love God He not only reveals but affirms what we love in life. This love is often found in our service for Him that we most enjoy. The “senior” season of life should reveal the loves God has placed on our hearts. What are the 1-2 key things I want to serve our Lord in — the things I love doing? I want to follow these loves until I’m physically or mentally unable to do so.
Living this side of the sunset has shifted my contribution picture. I’m no longer a player or leader but a cheerleader and elder. Elders influence by life-wisdom and not position, they mentor and model life for the next generation, helping them flourish in life and ministry. There’s always room for another gray-haired alongsider.
Gray hair people of the world unite! We don’t need to ride off into the sunset yet. There’s a whole generation watching how we love and serve God until the sunset.