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No time for spiritual retirement
Amber Albee Swenson
by Amber Albee Swenson
June 20, 2022

The Johnny Depp trial and the latest Top Gun movie have shown me, among other things, that my generation isn’t as young as it used to be. Both are, in fact, a slap in the face to those of us who are in the depths of middle age. We just aren’t as young as we might imagine we are.

Moses prayed, “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12). My perception is that we are tempted to go one of two ways. We refuse to accept our age as a factor and keep going full speed ahead with blinders on. We keep doing all the work of the church because we know what we’re doing, and we’ve gotten through the pitfalls of growth and character development. Or we hit a certain point and hang up the apron and start living for ourselves. Either way misses the mark.

In Top Gun: Maverick, Tom Cruise’s character, Maverick, is called upon to teach the next generation of fighter pilots how to face and survive a threat. He doesn’t do that by textbook or simulations. He does it by being in the air with the pilots he’s training.

It seemed to me as I watched the movie that that is exactly what Christians are called upon to do. The apostle Paul always had ministry partners. If they weren’t by his side, he was writing them to instruct them how to face the current threat.

And because it was so important, Paul wrote a letter to Titus, which God in his infinite wisdom saved for us. He tasked older men and women to set an example. Once upon a time, I thought that meant people in their 80s and 90s. I don’t think that anymore. I think he was talking to those of us whose children are grown and have been in the church for quite a few years, whatever age.

Paul urged those older women first of all not just to live for themselves and for a good time (“teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good”) but also to train the younger women (Titus 2). Train them—as in get in the trenches with them. We’ve been there and know how hard it is.

It’s easy to point out the way the younger generation isn’t measuring up, to deride them, roll our eyes, and criticize as we wonder what will become of the world and the church. The apostle Paul saw those threats and admonished those who were older to teach; to be temperate and self-controlled; and to be sound in faith, love, and endurance.

And because Paul knew we needed our own reminder, he added, “At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy” (Titus 3:3-5).

Older and wiser doesn’t mean better. It means saved by grace. It means God mercifully brought us through all our foolish stages. It means the prayers of those who were older and wiser and watching us were answered so that we might walk the next generation through the same growing pains we’ve encountered.

My guess is this is only the beginning of the wake-up calls for my generation. We are just starting to turn the corner. We’ve still got one foot firmly planted in raising our own kids, but the end is in sight. College graduations and weddings will usher us into the empty-nest phase. Instead of solely hanging out with those our age and commiserating about the loneliness and/or celebrating new freedom, we have opportunity to embrace new responsibilities.

I don’t know what that will look like for you, and I certainly can’t imagine what that may mean for me. But I’m sure of this: we must continue to train the next generation to carry the Word of God, to stand for truth, and to live with integrity. It won’t happen by itself, and it certainly doesn’t happen from watching the world.

The apostle Paul concluded his letter to Titus saying, “Our people must learn to devote themselves to doing what is good, in order that they may provide for urgent needs and not live unproductive lives” (3:14)

That suggests the goal shouldn’t be a life of leisure and dropping out of the game. We ought rather to pray for a smooth transition. And even when the transition is complete, we’ll have plenty of opportunity to provide supplies and encouragement and hope to those in the battle.

Roles change. But there will always be work to do. You and I are needed more than ever, whatever our age or experience. There is no time for a spiritual retirement. Instead, we continue to train spiritually and let God use us as long as he desires.

Rest will come, but trust me, I’ve been working with the elderly for quite a while. When they no longer are able, they want nothing more than to be back in the game. We keep going for those who no longer can.