I have a fear of growing old.
I was talking about this with a friend yesterday who shares a similar fear. For me, it’s not a huge fear, but it’s there. I’m not really afraid of being unhealthy or dying, or anything like that. I think what I fear most about growing old is being useless. Not being able to really do anything. The way I feel about it is almost, if you can’t do anything, why bother living? You’re just waiting to die. And being in a state like that, not being able to really accomplish anything, that’s my fear.
Like I said, it’s not a huge fear, but it’s something I think about a lot. I mostly think about it in the context of work. Just, I think a lot about where work’s taking me, and what I’ll end up doing in say 50 years. Personally, I don’t really want to retire. I want to be doing something until I die. Just because again, if I’m not accomplishing anything, whatever that means, I almost feel like it wouldn’t be worth living.
This is actually a significant consideration when I think about my career. There are certain careers where you can be active until you’re very old. Like academics. Some reach emeritus status, but if you want, you can pretty much continue your research even if you’re super old. Like one famous guy in the Stanford CS department who looks like Moses, seems a little senile, but he’s still working. You can do that as an academic, I think. Work and be useful until you die.
Politicians can also do this. How old is Strom Thurmond now? 90? At least in his late 80s. Just, incredibly old, but he’s still doing important, influential stuff. He’s not useless. And, I dunno, with politics you can be important at a very old age.
But like, with other careers you can’t do this. For example, engineers. Just, and maybe I’m wrong about this, but you have to progress up, to say management, to stick around for a really long time. Like, you see very old executives. But, you don’t see very old engineers. At a certain age, I think they have to retire. But yeah, I may be wrong about this.
So I spend a lot of time thinking about this, what I should do career-wise so I don’t reach a point where I’m useless. It’s a big fear of mine.
I think there’s something wrong with this mentality. Just, it doesn’t make theological sense to me. That’s something I should mention – this fear isn’t just about secular things. Those are involved. But my fundamental fear is that I’ll reach an age where I can’t accomplish anything for the kingdom. I can’t really evangelize, can’t contribute to ministry, or to the world, or anything like that. And I fear that, because if I can’t do anything for the kingdom, what’s the point of living?
And again, that doesn’t make theological sense. Just, assuming that suicide is never justified, how could it be that any Christian on earth, no matter how decrepit and “useless”, can’t accomplishing anything for the kingdom? There must be a reason God’s left them there, and God must want them to do something. But how does that make sense when they can’t really do anything?
So, what I’ve come to realize about myself is that I have a very works oriented thinking in my faith, with an emphasis on particular works. I dunno, I feel I’m being used by God when I have a direct impact on people. That’s when I feel I’m contributing to the kingdom. But this can’t be the only way to be used and it can’t be the only way to be a Christian. Just, again, the whole old and decrepit thing. There must be a way for them to be Christian even if they can’t really directly impact people.
Here’s another scenario I’ve spent ridiculous amounts of time thinking about. What if I were stranded on a desert island? How am I supposed to be a Christian in that scenario? And again, what I realized thinking about this is that it’s an issue for me because the way I approach Christianity is so works based. It almost seems impossible on first thought to be a Christian when you’re completely alone, because in my mind being a Christian is so fundamentally tied to reaching others. So in my desert island scenario, when there’s no one to reach, I’m not sure what it would mean to be a Christian.
I’ve thought a lot about why my approach to faith is like this. I think there’s two big things. One thing is, I’m gifted. Maybe that sounds arrogant, and I’m sorry if it does, but just, people have been telling me that my whole life. And that’s the rub. Just, when all your life you receive praise for accomplishing things and using your gifts in some way, it’s hard not to equate your value with your accomplishments. It’s not that people only valued me for that. It’s just, I’ve always accomplished a lot of things, and that’s what people praised me for. It’s almost like I never gave people a chance to value me for something besides that. If that makes any sense.
So yeah, dunno if you know this about me (Jieun does), but when I do things I need to get praise for it. My mom tells me it’s my love language. But yeah, that’s one way I am, and one reason I think my assessment of my walk is works/results based.
But the other thing is, I just think that’s how all the churches I’ve been in have been like. They equate how good a Christian you are with works and results, with a particular emphasis on reaching people. If you’re reaching people, you’re a good Christian. The more people you reach, the better, so the best people are pastors and missionaries, who reach lots of people. Billy Graham is valued because he reached so many people, and the numbers of people he’s reached is very often mentioned when talking about him. Reaching people is a big deal.
And you know, that’s good. Not just good – it’s commanded. But I dunno, I still think there’s something wrong with equating being a Christian strictly with reaching people, the way I tend to naturally do. Just, that’s how I get these old, decrepit or desert island quandaries. And that doesn’t make theological sense to me.
So here’s my current thinking about it. I think that when we can, we’re supposed to reach others. But I think there are sometimes in our lives when all we’re supposed to do is love God. That’s it. No reaching other people, whatever that means, or accomplishing things in this world. Just loving Him. We’re not being useless if we’re just doing that and not “accomplishing” anything else. I dunno, that’s just the only way I can make sense of my old and desert island scenarios. I just think our purpose in those situations is just to love God, maintain our own relationship with Him, and that’s it, and that’s what we’re doing for the kingdom.
Uh, maybe that’s obvious to everyone. Or maybe you disagree. But, yeah, it’s something I think about a lot. How to be a Christian when it doesn’t feel like I’m being useful. Maybe that’s why I’ve always been super-involved at church. Just, I need to feel useful. But yeah, logically, there must be a way to be a Christian even when you don’t feel useful, and that’s something I’m still trying to figure out. I just hope I grasp it before I get old.