My mom posted this image on my facebook wall this morning. It was undoubtedly the mysterious and ironic workings of Providence that prompted her to do so, because as it so happened I had been contemplating that exact idea for several weeks, off and on. More ironically still, I had been thinking about it at Holy Hour that very morning while wondering what to write about for my upcoming Ignitum post.
So, as I said, a Providence moment. Sometimes even I can take a hint.
Seriously though, that is my exact conception of aging, in gamer metaphor. An 80-year-old ought to be twice as powerful and holy as a 40-year-old, or else what on earth is the point of getting older?
There are two problems with the way our society treats aging. The first is the selfishness of our ideal form of getting old. If you buy into the American dream then it seems like the point of young adulthood and middle-age is so that you can earn enough money to retire and then basically check out and play golf or cruise around the Caribbean, or something like that for a few years. Then hopefully there is enough left over to cover dialysis, assisted living, hip replacement, medications and all the other hundreds of things that contribute to the sky-rocketing cost of aging.
The second problem is the fact that we treat our old people as if they were useless because they no longer contribute to our economy. A huge portion of our generation seems to say, “Yeah, Mom, good job raising us, now we’re busy being successful or something so here’s an old people’s home to live in. Why don’t you make yourself comfortable and play bingo until you die.”
There is an alternative to our American dream’s nightmarish view of aging. I call it, “Leveling up!” but there are tons of other good names for it: “Bad@$$itude,” “The Way of Awesome!” and “Sainthood,” to name a few.
Now I do not want you to think that I am suggesting that there is something morally reprehensible about comfort. It is not a sin to save for and hope for a comfortable retirement after a lifetime of working hard for your family. However, I do want to propose an alternative, because I can’t help but notice that comfort is not and never has been the goal of Christianity. It was never promised to us. Economic prosperity is not an essential part of the Christian message. Our goal as Catholic Christians has always been to become saints, and the path to sainthood does not run by way of comfortable.
Recently I read this quote from St. Faustina.
“Once, when visiting a sick sister who was eighty-four and known for many virtues, I asked her, ‘Sister, you are surely ready to stand before the Lord, are you not?’ She answered, ‘I have been preparing myself all my life long for this last hour.’ And then she added, ‘Old age does not dispense one from the combat.’” “Divine Mercy in My Soul: The Diary of Saint Faustina:” #517.
Old age does not dispense one from the combat! How awesome is that!
Although it is not wrong to have a comfortable retirement, it is more awesome to give that time to the Lord. So here is my alternative suggestion: instead of thinking of retirement as the time when we can finally be done working for a living and start enjoying ourselves, I propose we treat retirement as a second vocational discernment.
Here’s what I mean. When we are young, in our late teens and early twenties, we have to make a decision of what to do with our lives. We choose a life-long vocation such as marriage or the priesthood, and we choose more temporary paths, like education and career. Well, for those who choose a career, there will come a point at which we no longer want to do that career anymore, or no longer have to, or are no longer able to. For the baby-boomers that point was called “retirement.” (Who knows whether there will even be such a thing by the time my generation reaches that age, but that’s another question.)
Instead of thinking, “Great, I don’t have to work anymore, how do I want to enjoy myself,” which would essentially be entering into a second adolescence, what if we treated that opportunity like a second emergence into young adulthood? “Great, I don’t have to work anymore. God, how can I serve you with the rest of my life? I belong entirely to you, all of my time, all of my talents, all of my savings and experience, everything. Use me as you will.
In our age and culture we have an incredible opportunity that has not been given to the overwhelming majority of human beings. A good number of us will have almost two lifetimes to live, compared to people in other places and times who could expect to live probably only 30 – 50 years. We can reasonably expect to live to 50 years, and still have another 20 – 30 years of relatively good health ahead of us! Why would we want to waste that time on being comfortable? That’s like leveling a Paladin up to 50 and then spending the rest of your time going back to kill spiders in Duskwood! (Throwback to my WoW days, sorry).
Start preparing now! Not for retirement, but for your second service. Think seriously about it. What do I want to do with my life? Some possible options include:
- Be that guy that leads the rosary every day before 9:00 A. M. Mass.
- Build and run an orphanage in a poverty-stricken and possibly war-torn country.
- Run an inner city mission.
- Build a garden or small farm and provide high quality fruits, vegetables and meats or eggs to a homeless shelter (that probably won’t be legal by the time I am old).
- Study Greek and Hebrew and becom a Biblical scholar.
- Become a contemplative and spend 40 hours a week in prayer for my salvation and that of my family and the whole world.
- Die a martyr.
Of course I probably won’t be able to do all of them, and I may not even do any of them. God may have other plans, and that is awesome, as long as I am open.
I guess what I am saying is that if you are one of those people fortunate enough to be able to retire and stop working for a living that is not just a privilege, but a responsibility. God wants you to give that time to Him, just as He did when you chose your vocation as a teenager or early-twenty-something.
God wants all of my life, the last twenty years every bit as much as the first. God willing I will not stop leveling up at any point in my life. If I am not holier and more surrendered to Him at age 65 than I was at age 64, then that was a wasted year. If I am not twice as active in His service at 80 as I was at 40, then my life will have been a failure to grow.
Old age does not dispense one from the combat. Nothing does!