When we were kids, we could hardly wait for Christmas. Then we yearned to go to school. Next, we put on a uniform and became a Boy Scout, then received the Aaronic Priesthood, or joined Young Women. Soon we held our ticket to freedom – a driver’s permit. Each event marked a milestone in our lives. Next came a mission, then marriage, University, and a profession. Somewhere in the midst we became parents and engaged in the greatest challenges and blessings of our lives.
Fast-forward forty years to our 60th birthday. Our children have left the house; they are married, on a mission or at college. All of a sudden we notice that the clock on the wall has a tick-tick-tick, which we never noticed all those years when the kids were being raised. We have time for one another and time for a nap. The years of amassing money and all that stuff are in the past, and now we’re just taking care of it all. The house and property have suddenly outgrown us and we feel dwarfed like two marbles in an empty shoebox. At some point, we ask a question which we may have never considered in all our lives. What’s next?
What shall we do with ourselves now that the demands on us have reduced? Even our calling in the Church may have become too easy, since there are so many younger members of the ward with more energy who can fill callings. Our grey hair has placed us in the category of those beloved older folks who have so much experience, yet the bishop struggles to give something meaningful to do.
We are faced with some options that we may not have seen coming until they are standing at the front door like a woman selling shoelaces.
Now that we can afford it, maybe we could buy that sexy, designer brand sports car we’ve always dreamed of. If we do, how might we look, driving a rich young man’s car wearing our cardigan sweater, bifocals and grey hair? Yeah, I know. Old. And where on earth would we drive, Walmart? Now that the family has moved out, we are beginning to realize how unnecessary all this stuff actually is, and we are left to care for it like a slave in a coal mine. Stuff. What were we thinking?
Maybe we should get a really nice 5th wheel trailer or motorhome and hit the road. We could travel the coastal highway along the Pacific ocean from San Diego to Victoria Island. But sooner or later, we’d find that we had traded the peace of our home and yard for a crowded campground. Our trailer would be just one more very expensive empty can lying on its side on a little strip of gravel or asphalt, amid all the others. Our evenings would be spent sitting in a folding camp chair under our retractable awning, listening to those two yapping white dogs that every campground has, and the thrum of portable generators stinking up the seaside air with their exhaust. We go to bed in our little mansion and listen to the oversized man in the motorhome next door snore the night away. Humph. Not quite what we had pictured.
Perhaps now we can tour the world and see all those sights we have wanted to visit. Even with an unlimited budget, this option will take even less time to tire of than the others. We discover that everything we wanted to visit was created long before we were born, and the life has gone from it. As we stand on the rim of one more grand canyon, only a few dozen yards from our vehicle, we look into another abyss and wonder what we are doing here. Hmm. The Sphinx is a giant headstone for some spoiled boobie who wasted his wealth and the lives of men to make him somehow immortal – yet he died anyway and nobody knows anything more than his name, and that he was a tyrant in real life. Some legacy. So we pack our bags for the last time and head back home to that tick-tick-ticking clock. And then we unpack all those trinkets, knickknacks and gewgaws we’ve collected on our exotic travels and try to figure where to put all our new stuff. Oops.
Finally, we just decide to retire. We don’t need more money. We might downsize a bit, but we still spend most of our time caring for all this stuff we’ve accumulated. We pay taxes on it, store it, dust it, and don’t often use it. It’s a boat anchor around our neck and we sicken of it.
It may seem that we have entered the twilight years of life. The tree that is our life is losing its leaves, and the branches are lifting their bony fingers toward heaven which seems to be our next stop. Is this it? Is this what people our age do? Do we go quietly into the night and putter away our years trying to stay out of the way of those younger kids who are anxiously engaged in all the noise and clutter of the gathering and striving years? How many years will we need to sit in this dusty corner? What a bummer.
Rather than watch our lives wane away like a dying campfire, wouldn’t it be better to suddenly see a new dawning, a new brightening horizon as we enter our senior years? What if we were really, desperately and anxiously needed again, and that what we said and did actually mattered to someone in a very personal way?
As full time missionaries, we’ve seen this dawning and it has reshaped our vision of the future. We’ve been in the Uganda Kampala Mission for over 15 months now, and our experience has been like the beginning of a whole new day. We feel younger in many ways than when we started. While here, we have cried and testified and loved deeply. As our biological children and grandchildren have missed us, and of course we have missed them as well, we have become the parents and grandparents of a host of new adopted children – not in a legal sense but even deeper. Our souls have reached out to them and they have embraced us. We have used our time and talents to bless others in a far greater way than we ever could have achieved, had we elected one of the other options available to the older generation. There have been countless nights we have come home to our apartment completely exhausted, and fell into a coma-like sleep with a smile on our lips.
We have become closer as missionary companions than ever in our lives. We have associated with other senior couples in what might be called missionary jubilation. We’ve embraced our full time missionary sons and daughters who have come to serve in their youth. And our whole world has enlarged and swelled and brightened.
We have found we yet have something of great value to give. We are not done by any stretch of the imagination, and our primary desire is to spend the rest of our days in earnest service. As the Lord’s grey-haired army, we are on the front lines fighting for truth just as valiantly as our younger missionary comrades, albeit at a slower pace. We have found a genuine need and discovered that we are perfectly fitted to fill it. And that feels really, really good.
What of our family at home? What of our finances, our possessions, our future? Our family has been more blessed in our absence than while we were at home. They have pulled together in a way that seems almost miraculous. We are financially better off than when we left, even though we have paid our own way and received no compensation. We’ve sold almost everything we owned to come here and we could never be more pleased. Talk about liberation! When we return home in only a few months, we will thrill and cry as we embrace our family once again. Then we’ll take some time to stabilize some personal matters. When we are ready, we will launch again to continue promoting the greatest work on Earth prior to the second coming of our Lord.
Acquire. Travel. Camp. Retire. Phooey! We’ve got better things to do. God willing, we have at least another thirty years of living before we leave this planet, and we don’t plan to spend it slumped in a corner playing Canasta and drinking warm milk.
Or do you go along day by day, like a door turning on its hinges, without having any feeling upon the subject, without exercising any faith whatever, content to be baptized and be members of the Church and to rest there, thinking that your salvation is secure because you have done this? President George Q. Cannon 1827-1901. Millennial Star Apr 23, 1894.
To any of our friends of similar age or circumstances, we beg you to please, please consider coming on a full time mission. It will certainly require you to make sacrifices; to trust an aged parent to others, to leave your family and pet for awhile, to rent out or sell your home, and to reduce and simplify and rethink all that stuff hanging around. And as you do so, we can promise you a feeling of relief and release that will give you wings. Not the kind that angels have, but those of eagles. You will find you can yet fly!