In Praise of Wrinkles

It’s amazing what aging can do. 

Prior to the Wimbledon Women’s Tennis Finals last Saturday on ESPN, former tennis great John McEnroe and retired NBA star Charles Barkley were discussing the upcoming match.  Their conversation turned into a confessional moment.  They both remembered how in their youth they would lose their cool on the court and throw temper tantrums.  Now that they were older they expressed regret at their childish behavior.  Barkley even turned into a wise sage for a moment: “If you live close too close to the edge,” he said, “you’re going to fall over the cliff.  It’s just a matter of time.”

McEnroe is 53.  Barkley will turn 50 next February.  Both have lost much of their athletic prowess.  McEnroe’s hair is graying, Barkley’s belly is bulging (although he is looking quite a bit trimmer than he used to thanks to Weight Watchers).  But it sounds like they have gained something that youth rarely provides.  It’s called maturity.

I’ve been thinking about that word maturity recently.  It’s an idea that isn’t popular in our society today.  Its modern-day synonyms are outdated.  Boring.  Irrelevant.  Fun-killing.  Ours is a youth-worshiping culture.  Our pop-idols, whether they be rock stars or sports stars or movie stars, tend to have one thing in common: they are young.   There are some rare exceptions, but for the most part we relegate aging heroes to the dusty archives of our cultural memory.

Don’t get me wrong.  I like young.  I enjoy being around young people.  I don’t feel my age, and I try my best not to look it, either.  I’m doing all I can to fight off the inevitable effects of growing older.  I’m proud of how I’m staying current with modern technology.  I’ll cling to youthfulness until the calendar pries back my fingers one at a time and forces me to let go.

We all like young.  But I’m observing there is a serious price to be paid by a youth-worshiping culture.  We reject the wisdom that comes from maturity.  We stop listening to the voices that warn us about falling over the cliff if we live too close to the edge.  New becomes better than old.  Fads win out over the time-tested.  Cool triumphs over classic.  And most significantly, childishness trumps wisdom.

You might disagree with me, but I think our society is in desperate need of heroes with gray hair and wrinkles.  I think we need older people to act their age and share with us what long life has taught them.   And we ought to listen better to them.  It might save us all from some unnecessary plunges over the cliff.

“Young people take pride in their strength,
but the gray hairs of wisdom are even more beautiful” (Proverbs 20:29).

So what do you think?

About Pastor Dennis

I started following Christ as a senior in high school. My wife Cheryl and I have been married since 1979 and have three grown sons. I have pastored three churches during 27 years of ministry, including my current assignment in Owego, NY. I enjoy reading, running, hiking, and all kinds of music.
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8 Responses to In Praise of Wrinkles

  1. Carol says:

    I agree with your statements. I too love the young, love to be around them. But I do feel that the older individuals have been put out to pasture too early. And the church dis very guilty of this. Grays are great mentors – but not just sitting there, but working side by side with the youth. That’s what I would like to see more of – the youth inspiring the grays and the grays encouraging & sharing with the youth. Although, I like it when the youth share with me – they do help me see things in a different way. I wish they would see the asset there is in the grays. As a matter of fact, I wish some of the older near grays and grays would see the true worth of the grays – that they are not done when they turn 50 or so. And grays should not be bitter toward the youth – we can learn from them – we can be inspired by them. I like the idea of working side by side & one group not being “better” or even “wiser” than the other. I have come upon some pretty wise younger people.

    • Pastor Dennis says:

      I’m planning on a follow-up post or two about how I see this phenomenon taking place in the church. I really like what you say about cross-generational influence. We seem to have lost much of this in the past with our age-segregated ministries, but I’m encouraged by signs that younger people in the church today are hungry to be mentored by those who are more mature in the faith. I also agree that those who are older need to quit being so threatened by younger people and be more of a welcoming presence. Thanks for your wise words.

  2. Dennis Woods says:

    My wife and I took three children who were “Word of the Day” winners to a putt-putt golf course, followed by ice cream. While we were driving down the road one of the young boys commented on my new haircut. He didn’t care for it because it showed too much gray. He didn’t see me as old, even though I am 55, but the hair color rats me out. If not for being around the young I could focus on the aches and pains, for me physically, that are often associated with graying, because they are definitely for real. But I too refuse to surrender to being old, even if my hair color suggests it. It was a pleasure to be with these kids for 5 hours yesterday, we gained a new perspective on them and they found out even old people with gray hair can still have fun. By the way he told me how to fix it, as seriously as he could, he suggested “Just For Men”. I’m up in the air about that, but didn’t a young girl once convince a President that he would look better with a beard. Hmmmmm, may just have to reconsider. Thanks Dennis you made my day.

    • Pastor Dennis says:

      You’re welcome, Dennis. I think one thing that can keep us young in our outlook is by being around people younger than us. They have so much to teach us if we are willing to admit we don’t know it all!

  3. Polly says:

    I think it goes both ways, it’s a matter of mutual respect. I think our society as a whole suffers from what C.S. Lewis calls ‘chronological snobbery’ thinking that we are superior and more enlightened and intelligent then those who have gone before. As a result it is only natural for youth to scorn the wisdom of those older and grayer than themselves. But, many times, those older(and should be wiser) seem to have a reverse chronological snobbery that makes their ‘wisdom’ less than winsome.
    I remember a couple of years ago you sent some of us a link to an article about doing away with some of the age-segregation in the church. I think that is an idea whose time has come. Looking forward to reading your follow up posts.

    • Pastor Dennis says:

      Yes, there is a lot of “chronological snobbery” in our culture. I’m sometimes amazed at our personal sense of enlightenment that permits us to discard millenia of human wisdom if it clashes with our preferred viewpoint (the whole issue of gay marriage is an obvious example). I think you’re right about the “reverse chronological snobbery” in older generations that sees any perspective other than their own as a threat. Some of that can be found even in the church!

      Thanks, Polly, for your thoughts.

  4. Donna says:

    I agree. I think that age segregation (in schools and churches) has led to people believing their age group is the only one they can and should interact with. We now have several generations of people who have grown up with age segregated schools and churches, and the result of this, over time, is exactly what you are talking about. I choose not to put my children into Sunday School classes because I am firmly against age segregated/family separated teaching. I hesitate to put them into kid’s time during service because I see the value of them learning to sit still and being involved in the entire service. Yet the kids time is also a good thing and it is a mixed age time. I am firmly against youth group because I believe it further breeds problems with teens believing they are different and need something different than adults, which is what they really should be learning to act like. I’d like my children to learn to be involved in ministry with people of all ages. I wish the church as a whole had the same vision. There are family churches out there, but from what I can tell, they are few and far between and are perceived by others to be a strange idea. We wanted separate, and that is what we are reaping, the results of this separation. Nursing homes are full of people all over the country who could be living with a family member, if only that family member valued them more than their business. There are too few people in nursing homes who actually need specialized care that a family member could not be trained to do. Most are there for one of two reasons: their families won’t bother to inconvenience themselves with their care, or they have no family and the churches are not doing their part to care for the widows, the weak and the poor. (I can say this because I’ve worked in one and I’ve seen it firsthand) I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately as I just discovered that an old friend of my parents (widowed) was an only child and had no children, no nieces or nephews, and now she is aging and literally has no family to care for her. She lives alone and I am determined that she not end up in a nursing home. I have taken steps to reconnect with her (she lives 90 minutes away) and plan on being there for her in whatever way she needs. I only say these things to express my desire for a more Godly way of doing things, which is why my husband and I have made the choices that we have. We strive to be different even within our circle of Christian relationships. We are not trying to be different for the sake of being different, but for the sake of being biblical. All of this to say that I agree with what you say. We have much to learn from those who have been walking this path longer.

    • Pastor Dennis says:

      I think that Christians can believe differently about some of the matters you raise, and we can respect those differences. For instance, I believe there is a place for educating children, both in church and school, in groups designed for age-appropriate training. I also see the value in youth groups where teens can form peer friendships — an important task of the adolescent years — in a healthy environment. But I agree that the church can also do much better at bringing families together in intergenerational settings.

      I’m glad that our God is a God of variety — He doesn’t insist on a “one-size-fits-all” approach to Christian living! Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Donna.

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