Almost There: Reflections on Turning 59

 

Almost there! Almost 60, but not quite, not yet. Instead, today, I am 59 years of age. Not 59 years old. Not 59 years young. Just 59. But I will say, it is a very good 59.

When I turned 40 - no big deal. In fact, I was glad. I actually thought, now that I am finally 40, I may have some credibility. At that point I had been in full time Christian ministry for 13 years. I had been doing ministry many years before that, but I started full time work in the church at age 27.

When I turned 50 - no big deal. In fact, the decade of my 40s had been so rich in spiritual formation and leadership learning, I kind of laughed about how little I knew when I was 40.

Turning 59 - while it is not a big deal either, I do realize I am thinking about some things in different ways. I am thinking about them for a number of reasons. One is because life is in some transition (more on that below). Another is because my one and only son - Matt graduates from college this year and takes that big step into adulthood. A third reason is because this past year, some of my favorite weddings were for the "children" of my friends! Hmmm. How did that creep up on me? Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I am leading three learning communities devoted to leadership development. A major focus of our time this fall was exploring our life story and building a time line of the defining moments, key influencers, pain points, and vital lessons. Not only did I bring my own time line up to date, but I did an overview of my whole story. That exercise is designed to generate perspective and discernment. 

So, with that said, here are a few of the reflections as I turn 59.
 

ONE:
My years of being married is almost identical with my work career.
 After graduating from seminary, I started full time ministry in 1982 and was married in 1983. When Becky and I spend time with some of our favorite people, we realize we have been married longer then most of them. I do have a few favorite people who have been married longer, but not too many of them, and in most cases - not a lot longer. It is satisfying and refreshing to know the second smartest thing I ever did was marry Becky. The first was "get saved by Jesus." Becky was the next best thing. We have quite a ways to go until we have a 50th anniversary... but that is where we are headed. And it is great. While we, like all couples, have had our challenges, I cannot imagine life without her. Becky is fun, smart, creative, high energy, outgoing and relational, serious and strategic, impromptu and flexible, persistent, determined, and persevering... Becky is a leader, teacher, counselor, mentor... She is the financial guru of the household. Everything I do is enhanced because of her. Oh yes, and she still make this heart flutter...

 

TWO:
25% remains!
If I continue to work full time until I am 70, today I am about 75% done with my work career. I have 25% to go. 33 years down, 11 to go. The large majority of my vocation is now behind me. I have 25% remaining. What will the final quarter of my work life be like? I am thinking a lot about legacy. I think a lot about how to maximize my contributions to God's beautiful kingdom. As I think about what I do, I am grateful that much of what I do is what I love to do, what I have been designed to do, what I have been prepared to do... and therefore, see much fruit coming out of what I do.

I love what I do. My personal and sweeping mission is simple: 

Helping the people I love thrive!
That's it. Short, simple, and vital.

My focused mission is this:
Empowering and resourcing leaders for faithful and fruitful ministry,and  friendship with Jesus, so they finish well and pay it forward to others.


I get to do this every day. It is a great joy and it is an energizing calling and invitation.

 

THREE:
Staying healthy matters more and more.
Until I was 40, I was pretty healthy. I exercises a lot, ate pretty decent. At age 40 we moved to a new location, a new ministry, a new way of life, and a lot of stress. I gained a lot of weight over the next 10 years. At age 50 I was in bad shape. Really overweight. All the important numbers - cholesterol, blood pressure, heart-rate, etc. were "not good." Gordon MacDonald came to our church and did a leadership conference. At that event, one comment he offered hit me, and stuck with me. Gordon said that the decade of our 60s can be the most fruitful and rewarding decade of work and ministry. IF... wait for it... IF our bodies are healthy enough to sustain us. Gordon said so many people by the time they hit 60 are in such bad health, that physically they simply cannot do good work. Mental, emotional and spiritual life requires a healthy physical life. That was one of the "pieces" that fueled a new motivation to get in shape. It took me about two years to get in reasonable shape, and I have generally maintained shape since then. I have a lot of confidence that the decade of my 60s (by God's grace) will have the physical health needed to do good ministry. I have a lot of energy and stamina.

 

FOUR:
Life learning is paying off.
I have been and will remain a life long learner. Many of you know I read a lot. I love reading, but I am also interested in so many things, and I want to be well informed about them. So I read, and think, and reflect, and make connections, and write, and put it in to practice... and then do it again the next day. After many years of putting vast amounts of learning time into spirituality, I have returned to one of my original areas of focus - and that is leadership. Now, if you were to look at my leadership library, I have about 750 books on leadership. I am quite well read in the field. But this year, I wanted to start a new immersion in the literature, and explore some parts of leadership that were less familiar. So this year I have read over 50 books on leadership. 

But the point is this - the stuff I am learning is a blast. I keep on thinking - how could I not have known about this before? How did I get by - not knowing this stuff? And then I think - "wow, here is the difference this will make in my life and in the lives of the people I train." That is why I am so excited about the next ten years. Today, I know so much more, and I know it so much more deeply and connectedly, then I did at age 50. I am more thoughtful, informed, and fruitful leaders today than ten years ago. And every year of the next decade is only going to get better.

 

FIVE:
Richly blessed by God.
I need to say it again - I am richly blessed. God' beautiful grace is the daily factor that changes everything. I am blessed, gifted, graced, befriended, empowered, forgiven, loved, invited, sent . . . The long years of patient spiritual formation have yielded fruit - and yet, there is more fruit to come. More healing, more transformation, more horizons to discover, more depths to explore... With God there is always more. Faithfulness matters. Friendship with Jesus matters. Commitment to the purposes of God matter. Steps of trust, leaps of faith, journeys of hope - this is the stuff of the normal Christian life. When we enter into this way of life with all our heart, it is going to be a wild ride. But, no matter that ride - it is BLESSED.


 

SIX:  
Friends matter a great deal.
I have intentionally sought after friendships and partnerships for many years. I experience the joy of friends who are also missional partners and colleagues. I have them locally and I have them globally. I enjoy my friends. I am challenged by them, stretched, improved, protected, empowered, enlightened and more - by my friends. It is my desire to be the same. Now, with that said - one of my desires is to go much further in being immersed in and embedded in a community of missional friends who love Jesus and who are here to accomplish his Kingdom purposes. Becky and I are more serious then ever about doing life together with friends we love. It is going to be a great next ten years.


 

SEVEN:
Aging is mandatory. Maturing is optional.
As my friend Tim Adour says, "Just saying..." And no need to say any more!


 

EIGHT:
Death and Dying
. As a pastor, I am always attending to matters of life and death, metaphorically and literally.  Family and friends grow older. Health begins to decline. Every funeral I do, whether for a young person or elderly, gives me pause to reflect that one day, I too, will be gone. Which is why at age 59 I was due to renew or upgrade to a new life insurance policy. I may soon be worth more "dead than alive!" As part of our December sermon series, I am speaking on the phrase, "shall not perish but have eternal life." To stimulate my thinking, I reread two old books that are excellent (but which require some thought engagement). Both are by Peter Kreeft, philosophy professor at  Boston College. Love is Stronger Than Death, and Heaven: The Heart's Deepest Longing. Brilliant, poetic, mystical... great stuff for reflection. And as I read and reflect, and prepare to talk about eternal life, I understand that this world, as beautiful and precious a gift it is - is not my final home. There is new earth/heavens that will be my dwelling forever and ever. 


59 years of age. Maybe age 60 will be different! Today feels good.

Brian K. Rice
Leadership ConneXtions International

BrianRice@lcileaders.org