July 28, 2019
What Will We be Like When We’re 99?
Proverbs 3:1-12 and Luke 6:43-49
Rev. Sandra Larson
The Letter to James says: Those who hear but do not do the word are like those who look at their faces in a mirror. They look at themselves, walk away, and immediately forget what they were like. But there are those who study the perfect law, the law of freedom, and continue to do it. They don’t listen and then forget, but they put it into practice in their lives. They will be blessed in whatever they do. [1.23-5, CEB]
We know habits are…habit forming. Yet most of us make excuses. For our habits. One woman reasoned. “I was going to quit all my bad habits. But then I realized nobody likes a quitter.” A man explained to his doctor, “It’s an old football injury. I’ve watched every college game since 1976.”
Most of us rationalize, “I’m a good person. I just have bad habits.”
The huge incentives to develop good habits are that we want to live a good life. Having good habits now will likely be amplified as we age, as well. What Will We be Like When We’re 99? I often visited a man named Don who was a resident in an assisted living facility. Don was obsessed with worry about people stealing from him. He was even convinced that his son and his nurses were taking his money. He even thought that the church was ripping him off. Don had been miserly all his adult life. His stinginess intensified as his mental faculties become more compromised.
In contrast, my grandmother lived on a subsistence farm until she moved into a nursing home at age 89. Because of having lived with so few resources, when my Grandma lived in an assisted living facility, she hoarded every little tidbit she could legitimately acquire and stuffed her closet to overflowing. My grandmother had also been generous all her life, so she frequently escorted people around in wheelchairs to help them get where they wanted to go. Even at age 92, she called it “helping the old people.”
The habits we establish now will likely increase as aging limits our capabilities. So, I strive to be efficient--in part, because aging will likely take its toll on mobility and mental capacities. I hope efficiency and ergonomics will help maximize what I will be able to do as I age.
If we have an active faith life and we are positive, proactive, and exercise regularly, then, when we are older, we are more likely to be able to trust in God’s grace and we are more likely to be positive and proactive.
What will we be like when we’re 99? As we age, our reserve capacities diminish. We have less energy. Our inclination to take initiative declines. Just sitting seems more appealing. What will our priorities be when our capacities are more limited?
St Thomas Aquinas described habits in spiritual terms: A person is good when his will takes joy in what is good, evil when his will takes joy in what is evil. A person is virtuous when he finds happiness in a virtuous life, sinful when he takes pleasure in a sinful life. Hence, the things that we love and what we do frequently tell us what we are.
Proverbs 3 counsels: Let not loyalty and faithfulness forsake you…so you will find favor and good repute in the sight of God and people. Integrity and morality are keys to being truly respected. Jesus made this counsel clear: No good tree bears bad fruit nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit. Each tree is known by its own fruit. Figs are not gathered from thorns, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. In case his listeners did not grasp the meaning of his metaphor, Jesus explained: The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil. Out of what is abundant in the heart the mouth speaks. [Luke 6.45]
Certainly, we are not filled with evil intentions. Yet, each of us has bad habits. How do we reinforce our GOOD habits rather than our BAD habits? Which habits do we want to reinforce? Are we generally generous and kind? Or do we tend to be stingy or mean-spirited? Are we whiners or complainers--so that people learn to avoid us? Do we judge others or gossip so people avoid trusting us? Do WE do most of the talking in conversations? Or do we listen and invite others to talk? Do say the same old thing again and again so that others avoid conversations with us? Do we continue to learn and grow; or are we closed-minded and stagnant? What’s the NEW news?
Jesus spoke about unwillingness to seek new understanding and the unwillingness to recognize and embrace God’s vision. Jesus challenged a crowd, saying, Can a blind person lead a blind person?
Will they not both fall into a pit? [Luke 6.39]
Do we live with integrity or do we stretch the truth and bend rules to fit our wants? Are we mainly positive or are most of our attitudes, words and actions negative? Do we live within an attitude of gratitude; or do we convey a GRRR attitude?
As we age, our social circles get smaller. How will we help people WANT to connect with us? Does whining or complaining win friends? Will judgmentalism or gossiping strengthen friendship bonds?
How can we promote interesting conversations and inspire new ideas that will interest others and perhaps help them grow, too? How will we retain respect and affection from others, even as aging limits our capacities?
Proverbs counsels, first and foremost: Trust in the Lord with all your heart. Honor the Lord with your substance and do not despise the Lord’s discipline—for the Lord reproves those whom the Lord loves.
Jesus explains: Everyone who comes to me and hears my words and does them is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation upon rock; and when the flood arose, the stream broke against that house and could not shake it…because it had been well built. Building a deep foundation on rock takes a lot of purposeful work. What habits build a resilient person? What habits build a strong church? Psalm 37:5 summarizes: Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and the Lord will act.
Jesus said, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ AND: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ [Mark 12.30-31] Do we maintain these habits? Is the focus of this congregation on loving God and loving our neighbors?
Is our personal focus on loving God and loving our neighbors? Do our day-to-day habits reflect loving God? Since the opposite of love is apathy, here’s a test: Has our relationship with God become shallow, even apathetic? How do we practice active, intentional love for God? Intimacy is ‘knowing and being know by the other.’ How do we continue to deepen our relationship with God? Do we make an ongoing habit of getting to know God better through Bible study, spiritual discussions and reading? Do we also make a regular habit of opening ourselves to being known by God through prayer? When we are much older, or our physical and mental capacities diminish, will we be able to rely on a firm foundation of trusting God? I vividly recall a woman in the hospital who had lost most of her faculties —yet she repeatedly sang in a wobbly voice, “Jesus love me this I know…”
Regarding our demeanor towards other people…Do we have habits of prejudice? Do we ignore some people due to apathy? Do we reach out to teens and children or people with disabilities? Do we take initiative to befriend others? Do we take loved ones for granted? Do we love our neighbors as ourselves? What habits of relating to others do we want to reinforce?
Jesus counseled: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Of course, we need to ask: What is our habitual attitude towards ourselves? Thomas Merton reflected, “It does not matter how poor or how difficult a temperament we may be endowed with. If we make good use of what we have, if we make it serve our good desires, we can do better than another who merely serves his temperament instead of making it serve him…. Merton goes on to say: A temperamentally angry person may be more inclined to anger than another. Yet inclination to anger can be turned to good or evil. If the person desires what is good, his temper can become the controlled instrument for fighting evil that is in himself; and focused anger can even help others overcome obstacles. [Thoughts in Solitude]
What Will We be Like When We’re 99? As Proverbs 3 counsels: Let not loyalty and faithfulness forsake you…so you will find favor and good repute in the sight of God and people.