On Turning 50
Writer Gordon McDonald believes that one's forties are dangerous, uncharted waters that must be navigated wisely. His recommendation to all forty-somethings is a ninety-day sabbatical of deep analysis and reflection, yielding a new course for one's second half.
Having missed that opportunity – for some reason I couldn't talk anyone into letting me take three months off - I now face fifty. The real question is, how did I ever get here so fast? Everyone did warn me.
George Will once said the upside of turning seventy was the assurance of not dying young. Witty, and from an accomplished man who understands the biblical frame of reference concerning age:
The days of our years are threescore years and ten.
Moses, Psalm 90:10 (KJV)
Fifty forces you to think in increments, not epochs. You forgive more easily, love more deeply, cry more often, and understand that a majority of sand is already at the bottom of the hour glass. Thoughts of your relevance and eventual replacement begin to creep into your mind. (Those in their sixties and seventies are surely rolling their eyes, thinking this young man doesn't know what he is in for.)
Truth is, I'm comfortable with this season of life. Wisdom and experience are my new friends; I only wish I had met them sooner. Every day has an urgency about it now, the will to accomplish what lies undone.
Last New Year's Day I sat down with pen and paper and reflected on forty-nine years of living. My discovery: I agree with C.S. Lewis, that one's life is a journey with a series of inns along the way. My road is somewhat typical of what we must all navigate in this journey called life.
My twenties were the years of vision and sowing. My basketball pursuits having ended - 1,000-point scorer, third-team All-American - I began a new course, filled with excitement and uncertainty. Who would I become and who would I live life with? I began working for a Fortune 500 company, married a beautiful woman, had three healthy children, bought our first home, and served in my local church.
My thirties became a time of building: second home, fourth child, starting a church from scratch, entering the ministry.
Reaping and celebration describe my forties: three high school graduations, three college graduations, a wedding, a third home, a brand new church facility, a staff to lead, a granddaughter, and a surprise golfing trip to Scotland (a gift from my children - proof you should have kids while you're young).
As I contemplate my next decade I feel like in many ways I'm just getting started and still have a lot to contribute. However, I'm also aware that those of my generation must begin preparing the way for those who will eventually succeed us.
Working alongside twenty- and thirty-somethings this past year in ministry has truly reinvigorated me. Their passion and new ideas are just what our church needs as we enter our twentieth year. Therefore, this year you will see a greater emphasis and opportunity at Calvary for generations to work and minister together.
At one of our Christmas Eve services this year, a friend handed me the book 20,000 Days and Counting. A highly inspirational quick-read, it chronicles the wake-up call the author, Robert D. Smith, got at age fifty-four. He had stumbled upon a countdown clock to New Year's Eve that year, and upon realizing the widget could be backdated, he typed in the date of his birth. What popped up on the screen changed his life: he had been alive for 20,000 days. His initial thought was, "What have I done with 20,000 days?" This breathed a new sense of urgency into his life, to make every single day from that point forward really count.
Standing at about 18,288 myself, here are the goals I'm setting for 2013 and beyond:
1) Stay curious
2) Read widely
3) Make health a priority
4) Be wise financially
5) Pray more earnestly
6) Spend more time with friends and family
Job said that our days on this earth are a shadow, and swifter than a runner (see Job 8:9, 9:25). I sense I will be writing about turning sixty sooner than I think.
Until that time, I want to embrace every new day with vigor and expectation, knowing it's all I have. I'm grateful for all that God has allowed me to do these past fifty years, and echo the words of G.K. Chesterton:
Here dies another day
During which I've had eyes, ears, hands
And the great world around me;
And with tomorrow begins another.
Why am I allowed two?
("Evening," as quoted in Maisie Ward's Gilbert Keith Chesterton.)
God told Jeremiah, "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; Before you were born I sanctified you; I ordained you a prophet to the nations" (Jer. 1:5).
Christians have a word for this: "calling." The beauty of calling is that the One who calls us longs to be in relationship with us. Our earthy humanness (humanus, from Latin humus "earth"; cf. Hebrew adam "man," from adamah "ground") can only rise to God's purposes when we, each new day, hearken to His voice to step out with Him in the journey.
20,000 days - give or take a few thousand. What will you do with yours?
Pastor Bob recommends:
20,000 Days and Counting: The Crash Course for Mastering Your Life Right Now by Robert D. Smith
A Resilient Life: You Can Move Ahead No Matter What by Gordon MacDonald
Ordering Your Private World by Gordon MacDonald
Halftime: Moving from Success to Significance by Bob P. Buford
The Call: Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your Life by Os Guinness