Several years ago, out of nowhere, an unwanted epiphany forced itself upon me. Some college buddies and I joined thousands of other Midwestern cyclists for an annual bike riding event near Bloomington, Indiana. While enjoying some carbohydrates provided at one of the many check-points, I looked over at a group of gray beards who were laughing and enjoying refreshments just like we were. “That’ll be us in about ten years,” I mused to my pals. My buddy Pete looked at me quizzically, “Whaddaya mean ten years?” He said. “That’s us now! Those guys are our age!” “No!” I protested. “They’re at least ten years older.” In unison, my three biking buddies authoritatively set me straight. All I could manage to say in response was, “Sobering!”
Over the last several years, scenes like this have been playing themselves out in my life. For example, at a wedding rehearsal dinner a couple of years ago, my wife and I sat at the head table. At one point in the evening, a group of thirty-somethings approached a friend of mine and asked whom that “younger woman” (i.e. Lisa) was sitting next to that “older guy” who gave the opening prayer (i.e. me). In an effort to soften the blow of that event, my Filipino-American wife pointed out that Asian people tend to age more slowly. “Conversely,” I thought to myself, “guys like me apparently age more quickly.” … Sobering!
The next morning, I accepted an invitation from the men of the wedding party to join in a little friendly pick-up game of basketball. At one point, a thirty-something that I was guarding saw the opening, and managed to dribble the ball between my aging legs. With no other alternative, I joined in the chorus of laughter. In another time zone, in a more elastic version of this body, I don’t imagine a move like that would have worked against me. But even if it had happened, I would have stalked that player until I found the opportunity to block his shot, strip the ball…in short…balance the scales of good-natured humiliation. My mind could see what it wanted to do, but the machinery of my body couldn’t keep up. …Sobering!
I don’t know how it happened, but somehow I have become AARP eligible. On the road trip that is my life, I have passed mile marker, “fifty.” In monetary terms, that’s one Ulysses S. Grant, or two Andrew Jackson’s, plus one Alexander Hamilton. A piece of furniture my age is properly called, “An antique.” A car from my era is an “Heirloom.” Radio stations that play my favorite songs are called, “Oldies.” By extension, I am an Antique, an Heirloom, an Oldie. Depending upon how you look at it, I have either entered into “the old age of my youth,” or “the youth of my old age.” Either way, my odometer has passed the half-century mark. …Sobering!
Now, wouldn’t you think that a Ph.D. in counseling psychology, a spiritual life, and a career in helping others navigate life-cycle-challenges would inoculate a guy like me from experiencing something so banal…so sit-com-like… as a midlife crisis? All I know is that somewhere around early summer of my 49th year, I began to unconsciously measure things. “I am almost fifty, what have I accomplished?” Around that time, I periodically found myself engaging in a behavior that I adamantly counsel others to avoid. I was compulsively measuring my life against the cruel yardsticks of others’ accomplishments. After a couple months of this peculiar brand of suffering, I determined that I would contact a colleague of mine and engage in a process of self-reflection. It just seemed to me that with a little counseling, I could discern what it was that God was trying to reveal to me at this new stage of my life.
This Sunday, our church presented us with some readings that were sobering. Both the prophet Daniel (12: 1-3), and the evangelist Mark (13: 24-32) described events that will occur when all that is measurable will fall away. In these readings, it is as if you can imagine Daniel and Jesus asking, “In fifty years, who will be living in your house?” “In a hundred years, will there be anyone left who can remember what you looked like, or what your voice sounded like?” “Will anyone care how much wealth you accumulated?” “Will anyone remember how well you kept your house organized and dusted?”
From the vantage point of our faith, the only things that will remain over the long haul are the things of the soul. Things like faith, hope, and love, and the intentionality that channels soul-force…these are the only things that will last. While we can occasionally glimpse the tell-tale outer manifestations of these soul things, it is only God who can accurately take the full measure of them.
Pre-Advent is more or less the midlife time of the yearly liturgical life-cycle. This is the time when the church asks you and me to engage in a self-reflective process to ponder where our treasure truly lies. Are we pursuing things worthy of this boundless soul of ours or not?