Young Man/Old Man
When I was a kid, we liked to watch the Muppet Show. I think my two least favorite characters on the show were Statler and Waldorf. They were two old men who sat in the balcony while the show was going on and made fun of everything as it happened. They were sarcastic and never satisfied with anything. There was nothing they couldn’t poke holes in or make fun of. I’m not sure what it was about them that I didn’t like; maybe they offended the wide-eyed optimism of my youth, or maybe they were just mean and nasty. All I knew is that I didn’t like them.
Fast forward thirty-five (or so) years and I’m discovering that to some degree I’ve become what I didn’t like as a child. Sometimes I hear myself complaining or comparing, and I can hear Statler and Waldorf in my head; laughing, poking fun, looking down on the hopeful dreams of the next generation. I don’t mean to be this way, sometimes it just sort of comes out. I remember thinking as a child that there certain things I would never say to my children and then when theory becomes practice, I sometimes find those very words coming out of my mouth. Like it or not, I sometimes feel myself becoming the old curmudgeon who sees the flaws in everything, but doesn’t see the promise of the future.
Now here’s where things get really confusing. I see myself as somewhat of a creative personality. I do lots of creative writing for my job. I’m always trying to come up with new and inventive ways to do things. One of my mottos is, “If it ain’t broke, what would happen if I broke it?” I like turning things upside down and seeing what happens. After all, you’ll never know if you never try, right? That’s the kind of thinking that led me to follow God’s call out of the classroom and into ministry. Now, ten years later, I find myself strangely battling between these two parts of me. Like the proverbial angel on one shoulder and demon on the other, I have Statler and Waldorf on my left, and a crazy little kid on my right. It’s a strange mix and a recipe for disaster or greatness.
One of the things I’m learning as I get older is that there’s something to learn from both of the voices I hear. Proverbs 4:1 says, “Hear, O sons the instruction of a father, and give attention that you may gain understanding.” I’m coming to understand that hearing my dad’s voice in my head isn’t always a bad thing. There’s just a wisdom that comes from living life…from having been there and done that. It’s why I have older men in my life to speak wisdom to me as a forty-something year old man. It’s why I build relationships with men who are younger than me. That voice that speaks caution, that voice that knows what’s going to work, that voice that knows what’s not going to work; it’s not a bad thing to listen to that voice.
The problem comes when I let that voice drown out the young man calling out inside me. Paul told Timothy not to let anyone look down on his youthfulness. We can’t forget that youth carries a certain vitality that is just as necessary as the wisdom that age brings. Youth gives us the courage to climb mountains and defeat dragons. It’s full of spark and imagination. When we ignore that voice we become Statler and Waldorf—always making fun; always saying that it can’t be done. We trample the dreams of the next generation.
What I’m learning is that there has to be a balance. Either of these in isolation runs the risk of becoming something ugly. But when we find the middle ground here, I think we find something that looks more like the body of Christ should look. We should always have those men who are older than us who speak truth into our lives. We also should have men who are younger than us that we are speaking to, but in then end none of it matters if we don’t listen. Young men can’t be afraid of the voices of their fathers when they hear them in their heads. I’m discovering that the voice of my dad is often the voice of wisdom telling me to step back, to re-evaluate, look at it from all sides. However, old men can’t be afraid of the little boy still inside of them. That’s the voice that challenges us to keep trying new things; to not be afraid of new ideas; to be willing to see what would happen if… And here I stand strangely in the middle, trying to balance those two voices in my life and hopeful for the future that God brings in this new year.