The loons have arrived in Northern California. Oh I don’t mean those beautiful waterfowl or the snowbirds that migrate south this time of year. I mean those grey mourning doves that return to our neck of the woods every spring. Unfortunately the mourning dove is a morning bird. That is he perches outside my bedroom window and begins to sing his deep-throated song nearly an hour before the sun rises. At first his “cooOOoo-coo-coo” was a pleasant reminder of spring and new beginnings with the change of season (yes we have seasons in California: tourist season and peak tourist season). But after several mornings of mourning dove solos, I started stuffing tissue in my ears to drown out that bird’s incessant blather while wishing that California Fish and Game would move dove season up to April 1st. I hope that bird finds a mate soon; that’ll shut him up.
That dove reminds me that season’s change no matter what. I’m usually not a fan of spring, mostly because it feels like a bridge season; it is no longer winter but neither is it yet summer. Human beings have an unfortunate tendency to resist certain changes of season in our lives. Perhaps you saw the tragic news recently about the 73-year-old reserve sheriff who shot an unarmed suspect who resisted arrest. The reserve sheriff thought he had drawn his Taser when he had actually drawn his pistol. The suspect died. http://www.wsj.com/articles/police-video-shows-deadly-shooting-of-black-suspect-in-tulsa-1428913303 That reserve sheriff might be a great guy with a pure heart, but I struggle to understand why a 73-year-old is in an active policing role. Granted, some 73-year-olds run marathons. On the other hand, some 73-year-olds spend their days in wheelchairs ensconced in care homes. As we age into the golden years we continue to have a strong work ethic, but our work skills might not keep up.
My wife’s grandmother swore she was a good driver into her eighties … until she had an accident that totaled her car. Fortunately no one was injured. Needless to say we did not get her another car. When my mother-in-law began to demonstrate some scary diminished driving skills, my wife and her siblings stepped in to see that her mother no longer drove. As one might expect, my mother-in-law thought there was nothing wrong with her driving. As we age, acknowledging our diminishing mental and physical agility can challenge our pride and threaten our independence as well as our personal sense of value. We want to stay in the game of life as we have heretofore lived it. But what does God have to say about aging and changing roles. Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 tells us that we can expect a variety of seasons to change in our life. Ecclesiastes presents these seasonal changes as a non-negotiable fact. Numbers 8:23-26 describes a mandatory retirement age for the tribe of Levites who acted as caretakers for the Tent of Meeting in ancient Israel’s place of worship:
“Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘This is a special command for the Levites: Every Levite man who is 25 years old or older must come and share in the work at the Meeting Tent. But when a man is 50 years old, he will retire from this hard work. Men who are at least 50 years old will be on duty to help their brothers, but they will not do the work themselves. That is what you must do for the Levites so that they can do their duty.’”
I am NOT suggesting we must all retire at 50. But I do believe that God prefers that we embrace new seasons rather than cling to old seasons. God gives us appropriate things to look forward to in new seasons. Notice that God did not take the 50-year-old Levites completely out of service. He just reassigned them to a less front-and-center role. If we have a problem with that, it may be due to our pride or our fear of becoming irrelevant. Don’t let pride or fear rob you of God’s gift of having something to look forward to. The trick, of course, is spotting the change of season in our life when it occurs … hopefully before we start screwing things up.
Some might accuse me of an obsequious manner when I’m at work. “Obsequious” is a highbrow word for brown-nosing. I resent the implication. After all, it’s not like I mow my supervisor’s lawn on weekends. (She prefers that I wash her car.) Aside from my “obsequious” endeavors on the job, I do indeed appreciate the work itself. Work provides a strong sense of purpose and human dignity. God himself worked when he created our world. God gave humanity work that included purpose right from the start. Rick Warren wrote a famous book titled “The Purpose Driven Live.” Agent Smith in the Matrix told Neo: “There’s no escaping reason, no denying purpose, for as we both know, without purpose we would not exist. It is purpose that created us, purpose that connects us, purpose that pulls us, that guides us, that drives us; it is purpose that defines us, purpose that binds us.” I don’t agree with all of Agent Smith’s assertions, but he does make a valid point about the significance of purpose.
During a Sunday sermon not long ago, I daydreamed about work, purpose, and retirement. (Before you judge me for not paying attention to the sermon you should know that the Bible says old men will dream dreams.) As someone with one foot in the workplace and one almost in retirement, I am beginning to understand how disconcerting it can be when the routine of daily work begins to fade away. For some folks, it gets abruptly yanked away. Advanced age, declining health, organizational restructuring, family issues, a host of reasons can move a person from productive employment to a completely different stage of life we call retirement. It can feel like the death of one’s purpose.
I used to look forward to retirement with joyful anticipation. It would be a chance to do what I want with my time. But the reality of advancing years and creeping problematic health issues that threaten to catapult me into retirement have made me realize how much work is essential for survival . . . or I should say the survival of purpose. Aging has revealed something startling about me: I was not ready to give up on dreams of advancing my career or doing something great in service to God, though the reality of life’s limitations say otherwise. I am not in absolute control of my destiny. The fear of losing purpose is a terrible thing. You see, I felt certain God was taking me in a specific direction . . . the direction I wanted to go. It turns out that was not the case. (Go figure.) Accepting this reality has been a classic study in denial and resistance. Here’s the thing: The more I deny and resist, the more painful it is.
Just because I can’t see what lies beyond a fading responsibility to rise and go to work each day does not mean there is nothing more to do or be, no purpose. In other words, this is one of those times in life where faith is either real or lip service. Ecclesiastes 3 talks about the seasons of life under the heavens. When one season ends another begins, and the new season can be the opposite, or very different, from what we did in the previous. And the thing about seasons is we do not always get to pick when they begin and end. Ultimately, when the time comes to hang up one’s work shoes we discover if we really have the peace in our heart we claim to have as Christians. I believe the purpose we crave will arise somewhere other than at the job site . . . if we have a malleable heart. We are not a piece of unused furniture gathering dust in God’s garage. Or so I hope.