Dr. James Emery White | Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary | Thursday, December 22, 2011

I turned fifty on Tuesday.

It’s one of those ages you never think you’ll hit, and when you were young, always sounded so old.

Well, between fielding my new avalanche of AARP membership offers and special discount terms on personal power chairs, I’ve reflected a bit on my new age. 

And it deserves reflection.  It’s one of those unique milestones in life that changes you. 

For example, I’ve found that at fifty, …

You think more about the end of your life than its beginning, the closing chapters instead of the opening lines.  It’s less about starting strong than finishing well.

You don’t think about letting your children go; you realize they’re gone.  And you’re too young for grandkids.  So there is an emptiness that never existed before.

You begin to accept that your body is in a new place, and acts in new ways.  Or maybe more to the point, it doesn’t act in its old ways.

You don’t look at someone in their twenties and tease, “I’m old enough to be your father.”  You understand you are old enough to be their father.

You don’t think about how to buy a house, pay for your kid’s braces or college, or find your place in a career.  That’s all done.  You think about eliminating the mortgage, and how you’re going to retire.

You look at your spouse with a deeper affection than ever before – the kind that comes with realizing you’ve done more life with that one person than anyone else on the planet, and no one could ever take their place. 

You begin to sense that you have finally accumulated some of the most valuable assets of life: not cars, homes, or boats, but experience, wisdom and maturity. 

You become aware how important it is to steward your last twenty or so years in active service.  It dawns on you that it’s not simply retirement that’s looming, but more immediately, the second half of a football game.  And a half is a lot of game left to play, and what always decides the final outcome.

You look at young people less as a threat and more of a treasure to invest in.  Yes, you see their immaturity in ways they can’t, but you relish the thought of pouring into their lives and seeing them develop into their full redemptive potential.  In other words, you want to pass the baton.

You are not as spiritually mature as you thought you would be, but there is much more depth.  You think early on that aging and spirituality are linked – the older you are, the more spiritually developed you will be.  That’s true and false.  There is more depth and significance, but you still struggle – and often in some of the same areas – as you always have.  Depravity doesn’t just go away.  It’s more like a long-term relationship.  You can have friction with your spouse, act in stupid and immature ways, get in fights, and be insensitive and distant - it’s not a perfect relationship – but there’s more depth and weight to it than there was in the early years of marriage. 

Okay, that’s enough.

There is much more that could be written.  I’ve only been fifty a few days, so reflections are early and embryonic anyway and perhaps best kept for later years. 

But I remember how depressed I was when I turned forty.  There was a sense that my youth had officially ended.  It’s easy to put yourself in the “young” category in your twenties and thirties because more is ahead of you than behind you.

Not at fifty. 

But curiously, I’m not depressed about it.  Thoughtful, but not depressed.  In some ways, it’s easier to accept fifty than forty.  Forty was subversive, coming on you before you were ready.  It was a bracing shock from the thirties.  But the forties flow more naturally into the fifties with the fifties feeling more like a finely aged wine than an aborted youth. 

And in an ironic way, it’s even energizing.  Perhaps because you realize you are entering your last best stretch of life, and you want to make it count.

So all to say, I turned fifty on Tuesday.

And I’m in a place where I can honestly say, “Happy birthday to me.”

James Emery White


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