“The Surprisingly Difficult Art of Not Being a Whiny Old Man”


“The Surprisingly Difficult Art of Not Being a Whiny Old Man”

May 25

By Mickey Maudlin | May 23, 2016

The Spiritual LifeWhen I was a young man, I attended a dinner celebrating the career of an elderly and famous evangelical leader. After the meal, the honoree was invited to speak, where he reiterated one of the core themes of his career (a ruthless commitment to “true truth”) and how the current state of the evangelical world fell far short on this commitment and how everything was going to pot.

I left feeling very sad for the speaker, whom I had looked forward to meeting and celebrating. Two commitments sprang from that evening. First, that I had to be careful not to become a fossil to my past but to be an active participant with the ever-changing present. I did not want to become a whiny old man whom younger people feel sorry for. Second, I realized that once I was grouped with the “mature” age bracket (which seemed “way in the future” at the time), I had a responsibility to instill hope and excitement in the generation following and not merely bemoan all the ways the present falls short of the past. I realized that the speech that night was actually a breach of trust by the leader to those coming after. I wanted to avoid that mistake.

Fast-forward twenty-five years to when “way in the future” has become “now.” I still hold to those two commitments, but I have been surprised at how difficult it is at times to stay true to them. For instance, conversations about the vital role of “Instagram” or “WhatsApp” to today’s ministries, or discussions about the latest reality shows or about new ways of accessing these media, and I can soon feel “out of it.” And as I repeatedly hit my head against the institutional church’s stubborn habit of choosing fear over love and worry over faith, I admit to flirting with despair over how everything is “going to pot.”

That is when an internal warning bell goes off, one activated that night many years ago, which tells me that I cannot allow myself to stay in that place. I need help. And so, because of another lifelong habit, I turn to authors for both wisdom and encouragement. Recently, I have benefited greatly from Peter Enns’s reminder that faith is learning how to trust Jesus more than getting everything figured out correctly (see The Sin of Certainty) and from Norman Wirzba’s metaphor of seeing church as a difficult boot camp that is training us to love (see Way of Love). These have helped me stay on track.

But I have been especially encouraged recently by revisiting a past literary mentor, Henri Nouwen. On the twentieth anniversary of Nouwen’s passing, HarperOne has released an anthology of his work. Entitled The Spritual Life, it collects eight of his books: Intimacy, A Letter of Consolation, Letters to Marc About Jesus, The Living Reminder, Making All Things New, Our Greatest Gift, The Way of the Heart, and Gracias.

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