King David reminds us, "The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away." Having just reached seventy, I want to share some thoughts here about the benefits of growing older and lessons I have learned for the rest of the journey.
- I have better motivations: My motivations for sharing my views on holy things are now more pure and less neurotic. No longer do I seek to win the approval of others, nor do I seek to avoid their disapproval. It has taken me seven decades to get here, but I now no longer care about people’s approval or disapproval. Knowing that the time I have left is shorter than I would wish, I now care only to deliver the message, the perspective which I believe has been entrusted me by God.
- I have greater clarity on what my life and mission is about. Although there are other aspects that touch on the Church world, my mission vis-à-vis the Jewish people is now clearer than ever. My task toward the Jewish world is the three stranded cord: strengthening relationship with God in Jewish life through Yeshua the Messiah, with each of these aspects, relationship with God, Jewish life, and faith in Yeshua being constantly developed more and more—an ever-deepening synergistic process. I can attest that there is something wonderful about waking up in the morning and knowing what your life is about. I am there.
- I have greater intentionality about leaving behind a blessing for my wife, children and extended family. It doesn’t take a lot of time to write that letter, make that phone call, listen for a little bit longer to that voice on the other end of the telephone, to give people your thoughts, your attention, and your time as tangible evidences of their worth and your love for them. It costs very little, but is of incalculable worth. I am learning what a privilege it is to pay the small price for the priceless gift of time, respect, attention and love especially to family, and also to friends and to others. Costs are low, benefits, without limit.
- I dare to admire some whom others criticize and say things of which these others might disapprove. I don’t do this to be annoying, but I no longer look for permission to be who God has made me to be and to say what He has given me to say. For example, I greatly admire the Lubavitcher Rebbe, knowing full well that I have friends who consider him to be nothing more than a false Messiah. Well, he was far more than that, and far other than that. I admire him for so much: his intellect, his laser like focus on what his his life was about, his laying aside all rights to his precious personal privacy, becoming a complete servant to his chassidim and his God, always available, always in public, and, except for visiting his father-in-law’s grave, never even leaving a five block radius in Brooklyn, from which he devised and motivated a movement that has touched the Jewish world in an unrivaled manner. I admire him also for his sense of momentum, and for his extraordinary intuitive gift evident in the yechidot, the private interviews, he conducted.
- I dare to say that Jews who believe in Yeshua but do not return to Jewish life are half-repentant, and I get that from believing BOTH halves of Ezekiel 37:24. Jewish repentance requires both receiving God's messengers, and returning to covenant faithfulness. You shouldn't have one without the other! There are those who vilify me for saying such "wrong" things, and for not saying the things they say the way they say them. Well . . . I can live with that!
- I have learned to value collaborative rather than hierarchical relationships. Collaborations are more humane, less given to abuse and misunderstanding, and can be highly productive
- I have set before myself a high goal, which Chassidism calls “bitul nefesh” the total laying aside of one’s personal prerogatives and preferences in the service of God and His people. I want this final stretch of my life to be a gift outpoured to God and to the people he loves. Life has taught me that “looking out for number one” is a great motto, but only if you rightly identify who the number one is. The Shema puts it this way, and I agree: “You shall love HaShem your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength,” while Torah reminds us as well, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” I get this: it is a worthwhile goal.
- I have some projects worthy of my devotion, however large or small the shadow they will cast. Among these:
- The founding of a sort of Messianic Jewish L’Abri, to be called HaB’er of which more will be said at a later date—a place where the three stranded cord will be strengthened in the lives of Jews and intermarrieds
- The Jewish Advantage: A Social Network for Biblical Proficiency. This is a program using Jewish learning methods to advance biblical proficiency.
- Publishing more widely, including a book soon to go to my publisher, “Converging Destinies: Jews, Christians, and the Mission of God,” and others currently in the planning stages
- Networking with congregational leaders and havurot that look to me and to my associates for guidance.
- Blogs and electronic newsletters for various publics, videos even.
- Teaching and speaking to all kinds of gatherings, often on the kinds of visionary matters for which I am known
- Teaching and mentoring the next generation of Messianic Jewish leaders
- Another album of music written in the past thirty years
So, having reached the ripe old age of seventy, I finally have clarity, freedom, and imagination to do all these things just when I sense I am running out of time to do them. But perhaps that’s not unusual at all and perhaps the limitation on our life span benefits us through demanding focus and disallowing endless procrastination.
I intend to take the advice of Dylan Thomas, and of a guy named Paul, following the example of a fellow named Caleb.
Thomas said it this way:
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
I am happy to say that at a time when most people are folding up their tents in an obscenity called “retirement” I am starting new things. How could I not?
And Paul put it this way:
Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained. (Philippians 3:13-16 ESV).
Makes sense to me!
Finally, there is this guy Caleb who had survived the Exodus from Egypt and forty years of wilderness wanderings. When the children of Israel were about to go into the Land of Promise under the leadership of Joshua, here is what he said:
And Caleb the son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite said to [Joshua], “You know what the LORD said to Moses the man of God in Kadesh-barnea concerning you and me. I was forty years old when Moses the servant of the LORD sent me from Kadesh-barnea to spy out the land, and I brought him word again as it was in my heart. But my brothers who went up with me made the heart of the people melt; yet I wholly followed the LORD my God. And Moses swore on that day, saying, ‘Surely the land on which your foot has trodden shall be an inheritance for you and your children forever, because you have wholly followed the LORD my God.’ And now, behold, the LORD has kept me alive, just as he said, these forty-five years since the time that the LORD spoke this word to Moses, while Israel walked in the wilderness. And now, behold, I am this day eighty-five years old. I am still as strong today as I was in the day that Moses sent me; my strength now is as my strength was then, for war and for going and coming. So now give me this hill country of which the LORD spoke on that day, for you heard on that day how the Anakim were there, with great fortified cities. It may be that the LORD will be with me, and I shall drive them out just as the LORD said.”Then Joshua blessed him, and he gave Hebron to Caleb the son of Jephunneh for an inheritance. (Joshua 14:6-13 ESV)
That’s who he was at 85, and who, with God’s help I intend to be at that time. Meanwhile, I’ve got a fifteen year head start on him. So, if you don’t mind, get out of my way. I have work to do!
And many thanks to Myriam Leah Luzatti for the gorgeous picture at the top of this blog post!
Dear Stuart.... You are such an inspiration and intellect in Messianic Judaism. You have always forced me to think. You sometimes produce a visceral response within me but always force me to think deeper. I agree that age loosens our inhibitions of our verbiage, but I do pray that HaShem keeps both of us on His path as we run the good race. You have been a constant throughout my Messianic life. Many blessings to you on this landmark birthday !
Thank you Corey. I am glad for your visceral responses because the matters under discussion are so crucial. Thanks again.
Beautifully stated. I just turned 67 yesterday, and my thoughts mirror yours in many ways. I do finally know why I'm here (at least until G-d shows me another layer) and am comfortable walking it out. Trying to practice "'bitul nefesh' the total laying aside of one’s personal prerogatives and preferences in the service of God and His people" is not easy but is surely the most worthwhile thing I have ever done. I'm not even close to being there, but I have my eyes set on Jerusalem! I will pray for you on your journey.
Stu, you might reconsider calling retirement an obscenity. For people who have not enjoyed the luxury of a career in ministry, it is perhaps a first opportunity to consider lofty ideas and personal goals.
You make a good point, Stef. I agree that retirement at its best is a time when one has the freedom "to consider lofty ideas and personal goals," and when that is the case, it is of course a good thing. I was speaking more personally, of the bugaboo of retirement as cessation of action, as chilling out. That doesn't appeal to me. I think being productive, getting things done, exercising one's giftedness and proclivities is the most exciting thing there is. And on a related note, it is sad when people are obliged to spend their lives doing jobs which take them away from their truest, most gifted and committed selves.
As I was doing my morning reading, Psalm 90:12 was being played in my mind: "So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom." Reading your 70 year reflection was a blessing. Thank you
Don't call it retirement, call it refirement!!