On September 13, we welcomed Zayden Ezra Byer into the world. And this past week my mom flew from Cincinnati, Ohio to Nampa, Idaho to give us a hand.
After spending ten days together, I said, "Mom, one of the things I like about you is the older you get, the kinder you become." That's not to say Mom was ever mean. She wasn't. But often older age and increased kindness don't run hand in hand.
Many Christians become more cynical and fearful over time. This trend impacts church congregations in a big way. A recent survey by Lifeway Research found that 69% of pastors said there is a growing sense of fear within their churches.
For conservative Christians, this is an especially big problem. I can't tell you how many older Christians I've known who live horribly fearful lives. "The government is horrible." "The economy will collapse." "The next global catastrophe is right around the corner." Unfortunately, I think much of this is linked to the daily media content they consume. In a recent Thread, NYT columnist David French wrote:
If I had to identify one of the worst things about the right-wing media universe, it takes its mostly older audience and turns their golden years--when they should be enjoying children, grandchildren, and the fruits of their labors--into a time of fear, anxiety, and rage. I've seen this happen time and time again. It's worse than sad. It's a grievous wrong.
As I write this article, I'm sitting in a Panera Bread and I see my friend Roger. Despite being an older gentleman with health challenges, Roger is one of the kindest and most hopeful individuals I know. He's always offering to help customers get a refill or clear empty plates from their tables. As he approaches, I'll often hear people say, "Hey Roger, it's good to see you again!"
When he stopped by my table today, I told him what I was writing and asked him to share his perspective. "Roger," I said, "why are you so kind? Why don't you become more cynical?" I loved his response.
After chuckling at my abrupt question, he noted that he'd known a lot of people his age who had fallen into this trap. Then, in his quiet voice, he said, "I guess I've just tried to be a kind person my whole life."
Roger's point made me think about something Carey Nieuwhof wrote in Didn't See It Coming. Carey says,
My theory goes like this: As you grow older, you become more of who you already are. Just like your body stiffens a bit, your personality becomes less flexible. It’s like there’s this war inside you that’s battling for hope—and cynicism will win, or it will lose. But you won’t just be a little cynical or a little hopeful. The die is cast, and the concrete hardens.
If this is true, it's important to start making some good choices that serve us well in our later years.
After watching my mom for over three decades, there are several daily choices she makes that I'd recommend everyone follow.
For as long as I can remember, Mom gets up around 4:30 a.m. every morning to spend time with God. She doesn't turn on the news or get on social media. She sits with God, reads the Bible, and spends time in prayer. She anchors her soul in the hope of God.
This is a good practice to follow (although I'm not sure about the whole 4:30 a.m. part). The older we get, the more time we should have spent with Jesus, and thus the more hopeful we should become.
Because Mom spends so much time reading the Bible, it's not surprising that she does what it says. As Jon Bloom writes, the most repeated command in the Bible is to "be happy." Think about how many verses tell us to "fear not," "trust in God," and "rejoice in him." They're everywhere. We can either choose to obey or ignore them.
Mom has never owned a TV and she doesn't sit around wasting her downtime. She's not engrossed in the latest hot-button issues of the day and doesn't allow fear-driven commentators, advertisers, and algorithms to shape her life.
As a mom of six and grandmother of 18...er...19, Mom focuses her time on those that matter most to her. When we FaceTime her, she never starts by talking about all her struggles and frustrations. She's not all bent out of shape about the 2024 U.S. presidential election, the latest "bombshell" headlines, and other issues outside her control. Instead, she is present with those she loves.
So what about you? Have you felt worried, fearful, or cynical about life? If so, lean into the hope found in Jesus and follow his example. Despite living in one of the most turbulent seasons of human history, Jesus modeled a life of perfect hope and dependence on God.
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