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...is not wisdom found among the aged? - Job 12:12 (NIV)
“It’s the end of the world as we’ve known it; Flip-flops prove that.” So says Haydn Shaw in his excellent book, Sticking Points, which I highly recommend. Flip-flops are the footwear of choice for the younger generation these days, especially the Millennials. They love them, rain or shine, in every season.
Jon kicked off a new series last weekend about our generational differences. He talked about learning how to understand, rather than criticize one another. Good word. All worthwhile relationships start with mutual understanding. That requires at least four things from all of us: 1) Stop trying to be someone else’s personal Holy Spirit, 2) Stop trying to be everyone else’s mother, 3) Realize that being “right” isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, and 4) Make a decision to permanently resign as General Manager of the universe... ‘cause that ain’t your job! The sooner we learn that, the better.
On Sunday, Jon talked about The Builders, the generation born before 1945. They lived through the Great Depression, World War II, and the assassination of John F. Kennedy. They danced The Charleston, sang Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, and The Boogie-Woogie Bugle Boy “of Company B.” Many of them grew up on farms where a high work-ethic was critical. Tom Brokaw called them The Greatest Generation. We can learn a ton from them about loyalty, leadership, integrity, honor, and patriotism… but perhaps the most important thing we can learn from them… is wisdom. The Bible says, ...Does not long life bring understanding? (Job 12:12, NIV). In fact, Solomon wrote, Getting wisdom is the wisest thing you can do! And whatever else you do, develop good judgment. (Proverbs 4:7, NLT). So stay tuned. More to come!
The Lord cares deeply when his loved ones die. - Psalms 116:15 (NLT)
Who’s the wisest person you’ve ever known? For many it might be a grandparent. Wisdom tends to come with experience, and most grandparents have a boatload of it! One of the wisest persons I’ve ever known was my late father-in-law, Ray Wesner. He was part of what Tom Brokaw called, “The Greatest Generation.” He went to Heaven five years ago this month.
A WWII Vet, he served on a Navy destroyer which was the first to be attacked by a Japanese Kamikaze pilot. Several of his buddies were killed, yet the ship stayed afloat and he was among the survivors. After the war, like so many others, he came home, married, and started a family. He took a job at Ford Motor Company and retired there 34 years later. Loyalty was everything to him… work, family, church, country, and friends.
Frugality was a core value as well. He bought his first new car in 1949, a Ford Custom. It was always garaged and still looked new when he died. I learned a lot about mechanic work (and many other things) from him, but his greatest gift to me was his daughter, now my wife of 44 years who, in so many ways, is just like her daddy.
I was proud to officiate at his funeral. We buried a body; the soul was already Home… reunited with his mom who died of tuberculosis when he was only two years old. Reunited with his dad who never remarried and raised two hungry kids during the Great Depression. And reunited with so many people he influenced in ways too vast to measure.
When I think of him and so many others from his generation, I stand and applaud and say, "Well done, good and faithful servant. Well done.” I hope you do too.
I thank my God every time I remember you. - Philippians 1:3 (NLT)
Yesterday I wrote about my late father-in-law. Today I’m thinking about the day we moved he and my mother-in-law into an assisted-living facility; how we helped set up their little apartment, just as they’d once helped us set up ours. It was surreal. What happens to time? How can it move so swiftly? Now they were frail, struggling to walk… worrying about all the things they used to tell us not to worry about. Alas, the children become the parents; the parents… children. "Watch that step. Be careful. Chew your food carefully." Words they once spoke to us, now spoken to them.
We went to the dining room that night for their first meal. It felt intimidating, this room filled with 150 other residents. That word, “resident” seemed impersonal, too. You raise a family, pay your taxes, work a long career, lead your church, and set an example for a multitude of people by living a godly life; then you become "residents" in room 129. You once helped so many others, now you must have others help you.
Aging is a perpetual land of uncertainty, an ominous territory characterized by simultaneous hanging on and letting go, as we travel from what was to what’s next. Trying to stop it is like trying to stop the wind. It's a path we’re all destined to take. Indeed, we're already on the trail. The length of the journey becomes clearer only as we travel on.
In some respects, I suppose we always need "assisted" living, but youth makes us too proud to realize that. Age brings perspective; it makes us aware of how little we really accomplished on our own. We learn that nothing that really matters is ever achieved without assistance. Assisted living. “God, thanks for whatever that means to whoever reads this today, Amen.”
Stand up in the presence of the elderly, and show respect for the aged. Fear your God. - Leviticus 19:32 (NLT)
Recently I visited an elderly couple in a nursing home, married 54 years! She was lucid and vibrant; her husband, an Alzheimer's patient, was listless and sadly oblivious to reality. “Early onset”, she said. “We felt like we were in the prime of life, and then, well, his memory just began to evaporate a little at a time.” She smiled at him. In that moment I thought I noticed a smile from him, but not on his lips; in his eyes. “This is hallowed ground.” I thought. “I’m standing beside two very special people, human trophies of commitment and extraordinary love.”
“He’s a gift from God,” she said, “always has been, and always will be. In fact, I love him now more than ever.” I believed her. I was deeply moved.
She told me how they’d met as teenagers, gone to college together, graduated, got married, found jobs and “set up housekeeping.” She told me about their children, “How special they are, each one.” And, the grandchildren? “The best in the world,” she said, “the best.” She held his hand the whole time. I thought to myself, “Their love for one another could be framed in gold and labeled, “Radiance.”
Strange, isn’t it, how we encounter such life-changing demonstrations of indescribable love in such unexpected places… a hospital room, a nursing home, or even more remarkably… on a Cross. I suppose that anywhere there’s suffering, there’s love nearby.
I prayed for them before I left. When I got back to my car, I prayed some more. I said, “Thank You, Father, for elderly couples who never give up on each other… and thank you for Jesus, who never gives up on me. Ah, sweet Grace, where would we be without it?” I discovered it that day… in a nursing home… where I least expected it.
Above all and before all, do this: Get Wisdom! Write this at the top of your list: Get Understanding! - Proverbs 4:7 (MSG)
We began the week talking about wisdom, particularly the wisdom of our elders--The Builders, The Greatest Generation. Their footprints have left deep impressions on my life, perhaps yours as well. I thought it might be prudent to circle back and offer some reflections about wisdom, which Solomon called life’s most important quest. I recently made a list of things that characterize wisdom. Here they are, in no particular order...
Wisdom usually springs forth from experience, yet not everyone with experience is wise. Wisdom knows what to walk toward, or walk away from. It’s knowing who to take seriously, and why. It’s being unreservedly honest about our strengths and weaknesses.
Wisdom is never taking ourselves too seriously. It’s being simple enough to relate to children. It’s understanding the value of listening. It’s forgiving quickly, without drama, and saying, “I love you,” without hesitation.
Wisdom is seeing value in everyone, without exception. It’s rejecting preferential treatment and dealing a death blow to biases, racism, sexism and prejudice. It’s understanding the folly of comparing ourselves with others, and knowing that we’re better together. It’s defining success apart from material possessions, achievement, notoriety, or status.
Wisdom is learning new things; always learning. It’s realizing the vast amount of things we don't know. It’s learning how to respond rather than react. It’s seeing the helicopter view, the big picture. It’s always being kinder than is necessary, learning the importance of generosity, and choosing gratitude as a way of life.
Wisdom is owning our own failures, then rising above them. It’s embracing change, living in the moment, and recognizing the incredible value of pain and adversity. Finally, it’s applying Biblical truth to everyday life, and knowing how to give and receive God’s love. And of course, it’s something that’s impossible to ever adequately define!