When I was younger and wanted to stay young I read somewhere that the key to youthfulness was to stay focused on the future and not dwell on the past. That was pretty good advice I think, but it has its faults, as do most generalizations. Times have changed and many people, youth included, are interested in their roots, and genealogy has suddenly become important to many people. But, let’s go back to the advice about looking forward.
Old people (this is not used in a derogatory manner since I am one of them!), especially those who live alone and perhaps in nursing homes, do tend to dwell on the past. That’s because they have little it seems to look forward to and that causes them to look back at the enjoyable times of their lives and that keeps them going. Our memories are interesting in that they tend to forget the difficulty and pain that surround a particular event and we remember the good things that tend to recharge our battery. No doubt that thinking of past events, especially at reunions and when we meet old friends, is satisfying and motivating. It is when we sit for hours with our minds focused on past events that shield us from the pain of the present reality that it becomes detrimental to growth and progress in life, which is important in maintaining life.
We can see where living in the present reality is important for career building and for creative work. But when our careers have ended and we become more socially isolated and we do not have work driving us, we tend to lose the desire and perhaps even the felt need of living in the present reality. Sometimes our felt needs lead us astray, no matter what our age. There are at least two reasons to consider and enjoy the past and it has everything to do with living in the present. Reflecting on where we have come from and what has shaped our lives in important since we have a personal history that is connected to the lives and histories of many other people—family, classmates, teachers, mentors, bosses, organizations, etc. I am presently looking through photo albums my mother created when she was a young adult and seeing those photos and the family members and friends of my mother is very enlightening and helps me understand who and what shaped her. Seeing photos of me as a preschooler dressed in a cowboy outfit was also enlightening. I was really into cowboys as a child, although I lived in Ohio and I never saw real cowboys. Roy Rogers, the king of the cowboys, was my hero. I discovered as an adult that he was also born and grew up in Ohio. I did not grow up to be a cowboy because I found other heroes who motivated me, among them Jesse Owens and Jim Brown. But it was when I went to college that I began to find heroes that shaped my life in significant ways. I gravitated toward religion classes and began to love missions and theology. Reading missionary biographies and the lives of theologians became and remain my favorite pastime. The ultimate ideal is the missionary theologian, someone who not only does practical ministry but also can teach and write on a deep theological level and challenges my brain as well as my heart. This kind of person charges my battery and inspires and motivates me.
The last few years have radically changed my life’s work but my calling and vocation remain the same, even though it will have to take a different form. Recently I realized that my calling and work for the Lord will continue forever. I will get to meet my heroes and the multitude of people who serve the Lord from every nation and ethnicity forever and ever. How’s that for a future