The Slow Admission — We’re Getting Older

Tiffany and Ryan help Margaret celebrate her birthday.
Tiffany and Ryan help Margaret celebrate her birthday.

My wife and I were born in 1955 at the peak of the Baby Boom generation. It was the year Rock and Roll went viral, Elvis Presley was king, Disneyland opened, they cured polio, and Rosa Parks took that inimitable seat in the front of the bus. It was a great year to be born and has been a great ride.

We were part of that forever young generation. For a while we said you should never trust anyone over 30. But that posture becomes a little awkward when you turn 30. So, as all of us aged, we started redefining what it meant to be young. 30 became the new 20, 40 became the new 30. We even tried to declare 50 as the new 30, but no one bought it. We fought to maintain the illusion that we were still young and hip and immortal. Even now as conversations about retirement are frequent among our friends, we are trying to recast the image of what that will mean.

So as Margaret and I turn sixty this year, although it sounds wrong and feels quite surreal, I find myself ready to take small steps in telling myself the truth. Although, I still feel like I am hip thirty-something, I am starting to embrace the little pieces of reality that interrupt my pleasant illusions.

I am ready to admit:

  • The idea of staying up all night sounds like torture. Shoot, staying up past midnight doesn’t sound fun. Why would we even want to try?
  • Going out for late-night pizza with friends at 11pm sounds like a dumb idea, unless I want a night of acid-reflux and bad sleep.
  • Going to bed before 10 sounds like a great idea most days.
  • Even basic exercise requires warming up. I can’t just pick up and do something strenuous without preparation unless I want to pay for it for a week.
  • I love being with my grandson, but the idea of parenting a young child is exhausting.
  • Sometimes I forget where I put things I was using just 3 minutes ago.
  • I hate it when someone in the store calls me “sir.”
  • My kids are the age I would like to think that I am. Which clearly means, I am not.

So, as surreal as it is to be turning sixty, it’s time to embrace reality for all that it holds. For all those of my generation who have spent most of the past three decades pretending we weren’t getting older, it’s time to own it. 60 is the new sixty.

But, sixty is not a bad thing. This is the decade of legacy. A decade for giving away the important lessons and insights to the amazing leaders who follow behind us. It is a decade that is bright and full of promise. Barring an unforeseen interruption, we have hopes and dreams and plans and adventures that stretch out way down the road for us. And, maybe, we have just enough wisdom to enjoy each day and all that it brings as it happens.

Legacy of My Life

Hi my name is Gary and I am an achievement-aholic. I was weaned by a success-crazed culture and have refined the trend with my goals and projects. We all joke about it, but there is part of us that still believes, “he who dies with the most toys wins.” We are seduced by the illusion that the legacy of our lives will be measured by the cumulative value of the stuff we create-acquire-build-plan-say-do.

What if the true legacy of our lives is something completely different?

A few weeks ago I was in the Chicago area-my old stomping grounds.  While there I spent a nearly perfect afternoon at a reunion of old friends for whom I had once been their Youth Pastor. We told stories, we laughed, we gagged over how old our children are, and we caught up on different ways God has been at work in our lives. The fact that these “former kids” are now in their 40’s is more than a little frightening. Their age says more than I’d like to admit about my own.

At one point in the afternoon, I was standing off to the side watching these old friends interact with each other. I couldn’t stop thinking about what quality people they had become. Lost in my thoughts, I failed to notice when another friend came up beside me. He put his arm around me and said, “these ‘kids’ are the legacy of your life-it must make you feel proud.” It does.

I think about all the things that we did together back in the day. The camps, retreats, mission projects, outreach efforts, etc. it was all terrific stuff, but none of it was the stuff that lasts. My legacy is not in all the stuff I have done, it is the people God allows me to do stuff with.

In the 21 years since I moved from that town I have been a privileged man. I have had the chance to lead and serve people in a huge variety of contexts in a number of states and a host of foreign countries. I have created programs, designed curriculums, written books, and spoken at a host of gatherings. It has always felt meaningful. It has usually been challenging. And, while there have been some very forgettable efforts, most of what I have done has had some level of influence.

But the legacy of my life is not in all that activity. It is the people of my life who go on to touch and shape the world beyond my reach.

As a leader I have to remember this lesson. It creates breathing room when I am under pressure. It gives perspective when I feel driven by a big project. It reminds me that the things I do actually create the context in which I get to share my life with someone else. It helps me pull up when I am preoccupied with details and demands, because it reminds me that what really matters in all of this is people.

The imprint of my life lives in the people of my life. The same is true for you. And that is our real legacy.