My family and I just returned from a trip to our native state of California. While it was a nice chance to unplug and vacation, our primary purpose was to be able to celebrate the birthdays of both my wife's and my grandfathers. Born just 5 days apart from each other back in 1920, these men have both lived 97 very full years and are still going strong. They're both healthy. They're both driving their own cars. They're both mentally sharp and emotionally joyful. Really, it's pretty amazing just to even be in their presence.
Longevity isn't something we're use to seeing these days, not just in terms of physical livelihood but also in other areas -- technological relevance, relational stability, career satisfaction, organizational success, church health, spiritual growth, etc. We've gotten use to seeing things come and go on a short timetable. So when I see the sustained well-being of grandfather and my grandfather-in-law, it catches my attention and increases my desire to achieve sustainability. They're anomalous lives make me ask: What can I glean and learn from their experience to enjoy that kind of endurance and longevity in all areas of life?
STRENGTH IN NUMBERS
One of the most obvious features of these 97-year-old studs is their love for family. While they enjoy their time to themselves, I think they especially enjoy being around their loved ones. They take great pride in their children, grandchildren, and now their great-grandchildren. But beyond the pride is a sense of support, the significance found in the presence of others. Even if the numbers of those actually present may be few, the strength of relationship and connection is deeply felt. I know how much it warms my heart to see these men smile over my kids, call them by name, and pull them close for a squeeze. How much more it does for their hearts? There really is strength in numbers, in close connections.
Whether family or friends, one of the greatest factors that moves us forward in life is knowing that we're not alone, that there are others who support us, who are present, who are invested in us.
I know this might sound like a repetition of an idea from last week's post, but the principle is worth hearing again. We can all think back to times when we've flagged in our zeal or thought about giving up on something, times when the though of longevity in an environment or experience was dreadful rather than inspirational. I'd venture to guess those were times we felt more alone and distanced from meaningful relationships, times when we didn't have the support we had in the more up-and-to-the-right seasons. To keep sustaining effort in whatever is important to us requires that we stay connected to people who support us in those endeavors.
SUPERLATIVES ARE SUPER
Over the last several years, I've noticed that my grandpa enjoys speaking in superlatives. As his birthday party drew to a close a few days ago, he launched into a speech in which he said, "This is the greatest moment of my life." A few years back, he said something similar. On another occasion, he was given a large gift he called "the best gift he has ever received." You get the idea. All of us extended family have come to expect some grandiose statement to be made every time we see my grandpa. We laugh and smile at it, but I'm starting to think it's not just something to brush off. I think there's something in his prodigious use of superlatives that reveals an ability to embrace each day/experience as that which can bring new levels of joy and satisfaction. There's value in talking joy, talking faith, choosing words that speak a situation up. It's not just hyperbole or overshooting. It's not just a show or façade to give off a false impression of things.
I really think it's about my grandpa being more and more grateful with each moment and experience, of him taking things in with a greater capacity to appreciate life's joy.
I want that. I don't want to be stuck thinking how wonderful the golden years were back in the day. I want to live life not with my eyes on the rear view mirror but with my eyes enjoying the scenery I'm driving through right now.
I know I go through seasons when my response to the "How's it going?" question is relatively melancholy and critical. Ever been there? You can insert other things into that question: how's the job, how's the church, how's the family, etc. In those melancholy seasons I think I'm being honest and self-aware, but what if it would be better for me to look up rather than look down, to talk faith rather than failure in those moments? If I took more time to reflect in those stretches, I bet I would still find an experience or dynamic to be utterly joyful about and even speak in superlatives about. If that became the default mindset, our ministry experiences, our relationships, you name it would likely be filled with more momentum and less sputtering stalls.
PASSION & PURPOSE
Though more could be said about my grandfathers, I'll wrap up with this simple observation. They're both passionate about certain things, and they lean into those passions in how they plan their calendars, how they converse with others, how they spend their money, etc. For one, it's helping his local church. For the other, it's making music. They're filled with great enthusiasm about these things. They're gifted in these areas. But what's even more beautiful to me about their individual passions is the way they both draw others into experiencing the same passion. It's not just enough for them to enjoy working around the church or making music. Their passions really come to life when they can encourage and even equip others to do it too. And in that way their passions turn into purpose. My grandpa was the one who taught me how to play the trumpet as a 7-year-old...and apparently he taught my aunts and uncles all their instrumental skill when they were young too. He not only enjoyed music, he loved leading others to step into the same joy.
I think there's a level of fulfillment that comes when we see someone else's eyes light up about the same things our eyes sparkle about...and to realize that we had something to do with that discovery. It refreshes our own enthusiasm about that particular thing and actually amplifies it in the process. So in those areas we feel the need for longevity, let's find the things we're passionate about in it and pass it on to others. It's not just a selfish thing to get back to those dynamics that make our hearts beat fast. It's about being purposeful in passing on a legacy that lasts.