If you want to start a lively conversation, ask someone: “When is life’s most dangerous age?” It would probably center around a physical difficulty, stressful time, illness or death. Not a week rolls by in recent months without a word that some friend, former church member or relative has left this planet. We are definitely in a “Reality Show” all the time, and guess what?—it’s not our show. I’m almost certain that my active, 97-year-old sister would say that the “nineties” are the most dangerous years because she has just had her second fall, the first from playing soccer with her grandchildren (at age 92) and the second one from wearing rubber-slippery boots. She’s in ICU as I write, in Jackson, Mississippi in critical condition. Falling is one of the leading causes of death in this country.
As a father of five, there were times when I didn’t think my first son would live to be grown. He loved taking chances, jumping ditches and inviting other scary activities. Some would say that “middle age” is the most vulnerable time in a person’s life. Realizing that time is limited, some folks will do crazy things out of boredom and the feeling: “Is this all there is?” I believe every age has its emotional dangers—a time in our lives when we are tempted to act out of character, take chances and flirt with temptations. And if we live long enough, “falling” will come easy.
The Apostle Paul put it this way: “Let those who think they stand, take heed lest they fall” ( I Corinthians 10-12). I believe self control will always be considered a virtue. Having boundaries is necessary to a life well-lived. Being aware of the brevity of life and certainty of death should not make us fearful or morbid about life. It is not meant for us “push the envelope” either. It is an invitation for us to be faithful to the values we treasure. It is invitation to do what Jesus suggested when he talks about “living the abundant life”. It is to live and to help live. It is to stay in touch with loved ones and friends.
Author John Powell once wrote that there are only two potential tragedies in life: they are to live and to not love, and to love and to never express that affection and appreciation. (From a column by Fr. Ron Rolheiser, president of the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio)
There is a phrase in the Lord’s Prayer, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil”. God doesn’t lead us into temptation. We seem to find many ways to lead ourselves there.
Someone said, “If you bought a violin today, you couldn’t give a concert in Carnegie Hall tomorrow.” You have to wait, practice, follow disciplines, postpone gratification and work hard. This is especially true in the spiritual life. Feeling close to God may not come all at once. It’s a matter of disciplines—reading, praying, meditating and practicing the faith. This seems to go against those whose viewpoint is: “I want what I want and I want it now”. We can be an impatient people.
Aside from the physical dangers, there are emotional and spiritual pitfalls all along the way. So let me mention a few of those times. One such state of mind is the “cynical age”. This is when life ceases to be fun. Listen to these statements: “I’m fed up with this, so I quit”, “What’s the use in getting out of bed?”, or “Who can you trust anymore?” There may come a time in your life when you begin to doubt the values you grew up with, and even become skeptical about your faith in God. One person—who is agnostic—asked me, “Where was God when 9/11 took place?” I said I believe God gave humans freedom of choice, and God doesn’t interfere with that choice. Someone asked Buddha, “What have you gained from God?” He replied, “Nothing. However, let me tell you what I’ve lost: anger, anxiety, depression, insecurity, fear of old age and death.”
Consider the age of “loneliness”. Almost nothing can take the heart out of you more than the felling of being abandoned. Many times, this comes from our losses and setbacks. No one is immune. The world we live in is often mean, unpredictable and unjust. We keep expecting the world to be fair. We want good people to be safe and happy and bad people to sweat and have a hard time. Many times, the opposite is true, and we cry out, “Life is unfair!”, which—from our viewpoint—it is. Loss is not a respecter of persons. Loss has nothing to do with our idea of “fairness”. Maybe this should be called the age of “why me?” Or, it may be more appropriate to ask, “Why not me?” All of us are vulnerable. “The rain falls on the just and the unjust.” All of us are just a breath away from eternity; one step away from losing all control. This is just the way it is. As a result, many people die without a will or a living will, and this puts a burden on their survivors.
One of the most dangerous ages, it seems to me is the “age of affluence”. Some call it “affluenza”. Success. Fame. Notoriety. It’s “having it made”. It’s obvious that some people cannot take success. It distorts their values, their concept of who they are and they lose all perspective. The wealthy and famous are often victims of their own attitude that they are “the exception to the rule”, and they end up being convicted of something illegal or immoral. I noticed recently that singer and teen heartthrob Justin Bieber is having this problem. It would be good if we could learn from the experiences of others, but it doesn’t play out that way. Jesus talked about the futility of gaining the whole world and losing your own soul.
So may God’s Grace shower you with enough inner strength that you will meet every age with wisdom and a strong faith, a faith for all seasons. As author and theologian, Frederick Buiechner puts it:
“Even the saddest things can become, once we have made peace with them, a source of wisdom and strength for the journey that lies ahead.”