Sunday, June 18, 2023 | Trey Comstock
I flip another year older tomorrow (assuming you read this immediately after it’s published). I’ll be 37, which I guess sounds old? Objectively, it isn’t. Even if you just play the averages of life expectancy, I’m barely halfway. I have reached the age where my similarly aged peers have begun to complain about aging. Perhaps, this naturally comes with your late 30s. Maybe, appearing to age has become fashionable amongst the Millennial chattering classes. I have no idea. I just know that seemingly out of nowhere, I’m surrounded by people, in their mid-30s to early-40s, talking as if on a steep downhill slide to oblivion.
I’m not sure that I feel it. Yes, I need more sleep than I did ten years ago. A couple rounds of COVID in the past three years have left me with some lingering stuff that doesn’t thrill me. My scores on the broken bones, stitches, and concussions leaderboards keep ticking up. None of them seem to heal as fast, either. I now moisturize my face every day, bother to take my vitamins, wear a dust mask and safety goggles while sanding, and eat salads (on occasion). I get that my body works differently than I did at 27 or 17, that I don’t bounce back as well, and that I should probably repent from my lifetime commitment to being an idiot. Maybe, I spend too much time around people with far more years than I do and see the brutality of real aging. Perhaps, I’ve just been lucky and am blessed with graceful aging. Or, as I’m in a field largely populated by old men, I appear the image of youth in comparison. Whatever it is, I cannot quite go along with the fashionable complaining of the late-30s set.
Sarah gets far more right to complain. In the previous chapter, Abraham tells us that he’s 100, and Sarah is 90. I feel comfortable declaring that old, without risking ageism. Now, put yourself in her shoes. The Lord, in the form of a weary traveler, shows up at your door, and tells you, a 90-something year old woman, “Don’t worry. You’ll have a kid soon!” Biology, reason, and experience tells you that exact event lies miles outside the realm of possibility. You’d laugh too.
They said to him, ‘Where is your wife Sarah?’ And he said, ‘There, in the tent.’ Then one said, ‘I will surely return to you in due season, and your wife Sarah shall have a son.’ And Sarah was listening at the tent entrance behind him. Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in age; it had ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women. So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, ‘After I have grown old, and my husband is old, shall I have pleasure?’ (Genesis 18:9-12 NRSV)
She does end up bearing a son, Isaac, but I can empathize with her in that moment, not holding that baby yet. She fairly concludes that no matter what this Lord/traveler says, the suggestion is laughable.
God makes it happen anyways, despite it literally being impossible. When God has a purpose, age becomes just a number. It makes me think about what it means, when a church feels old and creaky, like its best days past by long ago. Is it age? Or, is it a lack of purpose?
Early in my career, I got in an argument with a church choir. Growing up, I love watching the huge choir, at my home church, process in, while singing. Later, as a teenager, I would join the procession as an acolyte. To me, walking and singing at the same time constituted part of the core competencies of a church choir. Apparently not, this other church choir informed me. They did not process sing because… they were too old to do so. All the people in the choir had lived more years than then 29 year old me, yet I had grown up watching people far older than them process and sing, every week, in a far bigger sanctuary. Age can make a handy excuse, when you don’t want to do something that you’ve never done before.
Each of us face this question any time God shows up with new purpose. Often, those new purposes sound more laughably impossible than learning to walk and sing. They look more pregnancy at 90 levels of impossible. Even people in their late-30s can, apparently, can wave off such tasks as beyond their abilities in their advancing years. In doing so, we underestimate the power of God that comes along with God’s purpose. Sarah does have that kid. Amazing things can happen even in the creakiest of places.
In my recent travels, I got to return to a place that I’ve fallen in love with – the Crosstown Concourse, in Memphis, Tennessee. It started life, in 1927, as a major Sears and Roebuck distribution center for their catalogue business, covering 19 acres and 1.5 million square feet. However, by 1993, in a changing world, the distribution center got shut down, and the building sat vacant and vandalized for over 20 years. In the 2010s, a group of folks from across Memphis found a new purpose for this hulking beauty. They renovated hundreds of thousands of square feet into apartments, art galleries, doctors’ offices, a YMCA, a high school, a movie theater, restaurants, and retail spaces. It became a hub for healthy urban living. The derelict and decaying had shifted back to vibrancy. It took new purpose.
This is my hope for us all. When a new purpose arrives, may we seize the new life rather than claim to be beyond it.