The Aging Paradox
“Youth is wasted on the young,” so they say. Anyone old enough to worry occasionally looks back with longing on their younger self. If not necessarily for the life they had, then at least for the physical youth.
But here’s a question: shouldn’t our lives be getting better and better as we get older? Sure, our physical capabilities will decline a bit sometime after our twenties, but as we’ve found in the previous couple of weeks, physical capabilities and even health aren’t the main thing that determines our internal experience. That would be the mind and the heart, and those have every reason to get better with age.
For some of you, I’m sure this actually is the case… but definitely not for everyone! I’m a perfect example, myself. Growing up, I was about as happy as any kid can be, but school was hard for me because I was overweight and because I struggled academically. Even once I lost the weight and looked really good, I ended up miserable just a year into my marriage, and my whole life was falling apart.
The main fact I want to stress today is that age doesn’t work on your mind and heart the way that youth works on your body: as a natural and inevitable function of time. The body declines naturally, but the mind and heart have to be improved diligently, and that starts with finding the right foundation. Even though I had thought of myself as a Christian for my whole life, my focus back then was really very childish.
The next question, then, is how to put that diligence into practice. When I say, “the right foundation,” I believe that it’s in everyone’s best interests to search for the truth as best they can: the truth and the meaning of life. What you find will be up to your own heart and intellect, but the search itself is important. After all, improvement means progress toward an ideal, and an ideal has to be based on some idea of what “better” means.
In my experience, lots of people never go through a true search like this, and just go through life believing what they believed when they were young… which means their beliefs never get any stronger than when they were young. It starts with the courage to embark on a real search, and once that’s done, it means constantly working to put yourself more in line with it. In my case, that meant doing my best to put myself right with God, as defined by scripture—but whatever you believe (or come to believe), I think a genuine attempt will create improvement.
The old paradigm is that age brings wisdom… but that’s only true if you make it true. Age brings experience, but experience is only the raw material of wisdom. If you never establish a solid foundation of belief, then you can’t build anything solid on top of it. In practice, this tends to mean that you never actually accumulate much permanent wisdom, and just end up reacting (or overreacting) to the last bad thing that happened to you. An experienced heart and mind demand that individual experiences each be put in their proper context. You can’t look at the big picture while dwelling too much on any one experience.
Have a blessed, wonderful day!
Dr. Alex Loyd