The slow work of God

Contrary to what Oil of Olay, Revlon, L’Oreal and countless other cosmetics promise to do, fighting old age is senseless…a futile waste of energy. I see this every time I look at my mom. She spent most of her adult life trying to avoid aging. She spent a lot of money on  expensive ointments and creams that promised to stop–or even reverse!–the signs of aging. I guess they were helpful for a time, because for much of my adult life people asked us if we were sisters. Mom and I were both proud of her youthful appearance.

Eighteen months ago Mom fell and broke her hip, catapulting her into dementia. In that relatively short amount of time, every minute of her 85 years caught up with her. All the lines and wrinkles she worked so hard to avoid have now creased her face and body, and there’s no amount of cosmetics that will make them disappear. In this respect, I am grateful for her dementia as I know she would be distraught over her appearance.

Much in our culture today glorifies youth and disparages age. Yet trying to preserve youth is pointless. The book of Ecclesiastes puts it this way…

You won’t be young forever.
Youth lasts about as long as smoke. (Eccl. 11:10, MSG)

The Book of Proverbs, however, presents a little different take on aging…

Gray hair is a crown of glory;
    it is gained in a righteous life. (Prov. 16:31, ESV)

Youth may be admired for vigor,
    but gray hair gives prestige to old age. (Prov. 20:29, MSG)

I have journaled for close to 40 years. I’ve been thinking recently that I need to do something with all those old journals I’ve kept stored in a box all these years. They take up space. More importantly, I am not convinced that I want anyone else to read my ramblings! I’m closer to the end of my life than to the beginning, and time is a-wasting. Before destroying them, however, I feel the urge to look back and see how God has been at work throughout my lifetime, mentally stacking stones for an altar or two to mark his faithfulness.

During the early years I was inconsistent, sometimes writing every day, sometimes going months without writing a word. There were seasons of intense spiritual growth, every day filled with wonder at God’s goodness. There were other seasons of spiritual stagnation, where my writing evidenced my angst. But as I reflect on these past 40 years, I am blown away by what God has accomplished in me and through me, most of which I was unaware in the moment.

It takes years for God to do his work in us and through us. The best vantage point comes towards the end of life, looking back to observe the slow work of God.

Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything
to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something
unknown, something new.
And yet it is the law of all progress
that it is made by passing through
some stages of instability—
and that it may take a very long time.

And so I think it is with you;
your ideas mature gradually—let them grow,
let them shape themselves, without undue haste.
Don’t try to force them on,
as though you could be today what time
(that is to say, grace and circumstances
acting on your own good will)
will make of you tomorrow.

Only God could say what this new spirit
gradually forming within you will be.
Give Our Lord the benefit of believing
that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete.

-Teilhard de Chardin, SJ; excerpted from Hearts on Fire

Perhaps old age is not something to be avoided after all! aging (2)