Have you ever found interesting things while looking for something else? You’re digging through a drawer, searching for a receipt, screwdriver, or spool of thread, and find a totally different item you misplaced long ago. Maybe you forgot about it – until you found it.
Spanish explorer Ponce de Leon did something like that in the early 1500’s. It’s said he was searching for the “Fountain of Youth,” hoping to cure his aging. He’d heard stories of vitality-restoring waters, so he went looking for the rumored reservoir. Instead, de Leon discovered what’s now known as Florida.
The Fountain of Youth remains the stuff of folklore, but thanks in part to the adventurous explorer, millions of older people have found in Florida a place to go after their cherished youth has faded. Kind of a newer wrinkle on the old quest.
Ponce de Leon died nearly 600 years ago, but our fascination with youth lives on. The entertainment world exalts youth, trotting out new, fresh-cheeked stars and starlets every year. Actress Jennifer Lawrence, just 23, currently stands tall among celebrated young thespians. This is her day in the sun. Tomorrow, who knows?
In the sports world, champion gymnasts rarely compete past their teenage years; swimmers typically hang up their Speedos in their 20’s; football and basketball stars risk being perceived as relics upon entering their 30’s.
Even in the news media, with the onset of gray hair and age lines, veteran broadcasters and commentators find themselves deferring to younger replacements. Youth must be served!
It seems the modern Church isn’t immune either. Recently I read about an unemployed worship leader who was passed over, apparently because a congregation wanted a younger face leading music and directing the choir – someone more appealing for attendees in their teens through early 30’s. In a separate account, older church musicians were displaced by younger performers better able to connect to the teen and 20-something “market” their congregations were targeting.
As an early enlistee of the so-called Baby Boomer generation, I understand drawbacks of aging. Aches and pains don’t go away as quickly. And you discover aches and pains in places you didn’t even know you had! But I think youth is considerably overrated, sadly wasted on the young.
Recently I found encouragement in author Brennan Manning’s view:
“Youth is not a period of time. It is a state of mind, a result of the will, a quality of the imagination, a victory of courage over timidity, of the taste for adventure over the love of comfort…. A man grows old when he deserts his ideal. The years may wrinkle the skin, but deserting his ideal wrinkles his soul…. You will remain young as long as you are open to what is beautiful, good and great; receptive to the messages of other men and women, of nature and of God….”
I like Manning’s observation that not only is youth a state of mind, but also a product of the will and imagination, courage winning over timidity. Energy may ebb, but zeal for those things that fire our passions can be as strong. We might not be as physically resilient, but can strive to remain mentally agile. Ideals can stimulate and motivate.
As Proverbs 20:29 says, ”The glory of young men is their strength; gray hair the splendor of the old.” We’ve lived hard, worked hard, played hard. We’ve survived adversity in its various forms. Gray hair is like a crown, a badge of honor. We’ve earned it.
One of the drawbacks of youth is you can’t teach experience. We older folks have experience galore – perfect for sharing with those who lack it. And one of the best things we can share is what it means to walk consistently with God. Psalm 71:18 states it this way: “Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, O God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your might to all who are to come.” The wisdom and insights we’ve gained through the years aren’t to be hoarded – pass them along and let others benefit as well.
We’re all going to get old if we live long enough. The alternative is to do what Marilyn Monroe, Elvis and JFK did, die relatively early. They found a “fountain of youth” of sorts – they’re perpetually young in historic photos and videos, and in our memories. But none of us would favor that approach for retaining our youth.
How about this idea: Rather than the elders staring at the young with envy, and the young viewing those older with disdain, why not strive to learn from one another? We all have much to offer each other. And when the young become old, they’ll also have something to offer the next generation.
Robert J. Tamasy is a veteran journalist, a former newspaper editor and magazine editor. He is presently vice president of communications for Leaders Legacy, Inc., a non-profit focused on mentoring and coaching business and professional leaders. Bob has written hundreds of magazine articles, and has authored, co-authored and edited more than 15 books. These include “Tufting Legacies,” “The Heart of Mentoring,” “Business at Its Best,” and “Pursuing Life With a Shepherd’s Heart.” He edits a weekly business meditation, “Monday Manna,” which is translated into more than 20 languages and distributed via email around the world by CBMC International. He also posts regularly on two blogs, www.bobtamasy.blogspot.com, and www.bobtamasy.wordpress.com. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.