Last Sunday Gary Helms had us all laughing as he interviewed himself and handed me a new nickname, Old Man Mullery. As my friend Anthon used to say, “You can call me anything, just don’t call me late for dinner!” and I welcome the good medicine of laughter, especially at my expense.
Having recently turned 60, I’ve had to come to grips with the reality that I really am now too old to have a mid-life crisis. How did that happen? On the other hand, it’s very possible that I’ve still got one-third of my life yet to live. What makes life worth living? What makes for a good life? A good death? These are questions we ought to ponder from time to time. Turning 21, or 40, or 60 is, on the one hand, just one more in the parade of days we call life. On the other hand, moments like these are milestones and they present opportunities to number our days and become wiser (Psalm 90:12). Here are four questions that I trust will help us live for God’s glory and our neighbor’s good.
- Who am I?
Where do I find my identity? Who am I? A recent article in The Atlantic notes that as traditional faith in America has declined, people are looking for new places to find identity, transcendence, and meaning for their lives. One of the big winners is work. The author calls this “workism,” which “is the belief that work is not only necessary to economic production, but also the centerpiece of one’s identity and life’s purpose.” (italics added) This comes as no surprise to anyone living in our success-crazed city. The gospel teaches us that work, beauty, children, or success can never deliver true significance and hope; these things come from knowing who we are and Whose we are. When Jesus’ disciples returned overjoyed from doing the good work of preaching the gospel, he taught them to anchor their hope and joy not in the success of their work but in their identity, in knowing that their names are written in heaven (Luke 10:20).
- How can I finish my race well?
This question isn’t just for older people. Who knows how long they will live? No person on earth has a guarantee of another decade or even another day. Jesus preaches to us to “stay dressed for action” (Luke 12:37) and promises that when he returns, he will bless his servants who are ready for Him. What do I want to be found doing when he returns? How can I live today as though it might be my last, awake and ready, laying up treasure in heaven and being rich toward God? How can I plan ahead wisely while holding my plans and possessions loosely, and posting a guard against covetousness and fear along the way to the end of my race? I want to pray through these things, talk through these things with my wife and people close to me, and make decisions with these questions in view, looking ahead with hope to hearing the Master say at the end, “Well done, Mark.”
- What’s my next assignment?
When I began to understand that to call Jesus “Lord” meant giving him back his rightful rule over every area of my life, I began to ask Him what he wanted me to do with my career. That’s led to a gradual transition from a career in forestry to pastoral ministry. I was about 20 when that happened, and that was the beginning of discovering that life involves regularly asking the Lord what his next assignment is for me. This explains how, in my 50’s, I ended up traveling internationally to equip pastors, and how Lesley recently began substitute teaching at the local elementary school. My career, my retirement, my GPA: are these things ultimately for me or for God? There are good works prepared in advance for each of us (Ephesians 2:10) and for each season in our lives.
- Are you my neighbor?
Graduating from school, having a baby, and retiring: big moments like these are times to pause and give thanks to God for grace received, but also to lift our eyes to look around us and ask God to help us see the neighbors He’s calling us to love. “Sell your possessions and give to the needy” (Luke 12:33) isn’t a line I’ve ever heard at a graduation or a retirement party, but Jesus preaches this to us because he wants us to have tender hearts towards the poor. Where are the people in need that are already in my sphere of influence? Or people farther away I can assist in some way? And what of the greatest need, the good news of Jesus? What of the unreached people of the world, the billions who have no access to an authentic disciple of Jesus? Is there some small part I can play to go, pray, send, support? Whenever life calls for recalibration because we find ourselves in a new situation, these are great times to resist the pull of self-absorption and to instead have a missional mindset.
I hope you find these questions helpful to bring into the big seasons of change in your life. If you’ve got questions you’ve found helpful, I’d love to hear them. And if you’d like to hear from someone who is even older than me, check in with young Gary Helms, I’m sure he’ll be glad to help!
Mark “Old Man” Mullery
 Derek Thompson, Workism is Making Americans Miserable, https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2019/02/religion-workism-making-americans-miserable/583441/, accessed 26 February, 2019.