For the vast majority of my life, I’ve been blessed to be part of congregations that have been multi-generational in nature. When I was a kid, for example, I remember distinctly worshiping alongside and being taught in Sunday School by all different ages of people.
Admittedly, there have been moments, particularly in my late teenage years, when I knew everything. Understood everything. Was passionate about everything. And, in those days, I more than a few times looked down my nose at these older saints and shook my head at their seeming lack of everything I seemed to know about the nature of worship, theology, and the Bible. You know, because I had read two books and listened to Christian music.
Even during those days of dramatic self-importance and focus, the Lord was faithful to use these more seasoned believers in my life. As I am steadily moving toward becoming one of “them,” I’m ever more thankful to be around older Christians. Perhaps many of these characteristics are developed in every person—Christian or not—as they grow older, but I would maintain that there is something distinctly unique about an aging believer that gives an added depth to these things.
Here are a few of the reasons why I not only enjoy but am challenged by just being in relationship with older Christians:
- They don’t seem to have anything to prove.
We spend so much energy on a daily basis trying to justify ourselves. We do it at work. We do it at home. We do it even in casual conversations. We want to make sure we slip in the clever comment at the right time, make sure we cozy up to the right person, make sure we are recognized for our contribution. We live in a near constant state of trying to prove ourselves, ironically, even to people who are not asking us to. We have a compulsive need to justify our very existence.
This, it seems, is something an older Christian has moved passed. At least mostly moved passed. Perhaps that’s just because they are older, but I suspect it is more deeply attributed to the fact that they have lived for some time with the glorious truth of their acceptance in Christ. And, if we’ve have been brought close to God based on the sacrifice of Jesus, then what do we have left to prove anyway?
- They are no longer trying to climb a ladder.
Paul understood well not only how important, but also how difficult, it is to be content. He himself wrote that it was only through the power of Christ that one can truly be satisfied with what they have (Philippians 4:13). We know it, too, because we know that we are all trying to climb a ladder—the power ladder. The money ladder. The position ladder. Rung by rung, we try to climb it, often using other human beings to push ourselves higher. But, the older Christian often doesn’t have any more ladders to climb.
I think that’s because many of these older Christians have lived enough life to know the validity of Ecclesiastes—that there’s ultimately no satisfaction under the sun, and so you must look beyond the sun for real meaning. Oh, it’s good for the soul to be around a person like that—to be reminded that, in the end, all we have is Christ. And, that Christ is the true treasure.
- They are freed from the need of comparison.
I suppose we have always had the tendency to compare ourselves to others. To compare our children’s achievements and behaviors, to compare our personal righteousness, to compare our standard of living. But, the advent of social media amped up the comparison dial to an 11. It’s a truly unique thing to be around a person who can be freely happy for another person without feeling jealousy, bitterness, or entitlement. But, older Christians can do this.
Maybe that’s because they have lived with the gospel for a time. Maybe it’s because they have again and again drunk deeply from the fountain of grace, and recognize that all any of us have is due to the love and generosity of God. Perhaps it’s because they have replaced comparison over the years with gratitude.
- They project emotional balance.
Often, we can be on an emotional roller coaster, not only from day to day, but from moment to moment. Everything is always the best or the worst, and we are left teetering on the edge of the emotional cliff, not knowing what will come next. But, the aging Christian seems to have mostly gotten off this ride. Why is that?
Maybe it’s because, over the years, these Christians have discovered the nature of true joy. They have seen the untouchable and indestructible joy that comes only in walking with Christ who is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Come what may, they know their inheritance is sure, for Jesus is sure, and the more time we spend around people of this ilk, the surer we become as well.
- They don’t take themselves too seriously.
Now, here is a trait I long to embody, for being able to laugh at yourself is a rare quality. But, older Christians have seen the absurdity of life—and the absurdity of themselves. As a result, they don’t take themselves too seriously.
Jesus? Oh, they take Him seriously. And yet there is a personal lightness that comes from walking deeply with Him. They know they will make mistakes, say silly things, and embarrass themselves because they’ve done all those things. Many times. And yet the sun has come up the next day again and again.
They understand that the sun is going to come up tomorrow—and more importantly, the mercies of God will be new again when it does.
Friends, there is such great benefit and joy from spending time around people who are aging with grace and honor in the Lord. Don’t miss out on it.
Michael Kelley lives in Nashville, TN, with his wife, Jana, and three children: Joshua, Andi, and Christian. He serves as director of Groups Ministry for Lifeway Christian Resources. Find him on Twitter: @_MichaelKelley.