by Bob Allen:
When I look in the mirror, I see age catching up to me. The wrinkles and the sagging skin. I’m not even 45 yet, but the grey is everywhere. It reminds me of Proverbs 16:31, “The hoary head is a crown of glory, if it be found in the way of righteousness.” I have always considered the verse to be an odd one, as are birthday celebrations when you’re my age. It’s as though we’re celebrating the fact that you haven’t died yet. When you’re young, the passing years bring new and exciting milestones: first teeth, first words, first steps, first potty on the big potty chair, the first day of kindergarten, first lost tooth, first armpit hair, first pimple, first date, first kiss, a driver’s license, voting, graduation, drinking legally, the list is exhausting to think about really. But as you get older, the fun milestones are in the rear-view. I mean, my next milestone is my next physical, which I’m not looking forward to in the slightest for a very particular reason.
I suppose I get it. There is something honorable about living beyond a certain point. (I have a dear friend who is around half my age who thinks it will be a miracle if he gets to my age.) But when I really drill down into it, the verse kicks me in the gut.
If the proverb just read that grey hair is glorious, I’d immediately think of the dashing men and captivating women I see with beautiful silver locks that flow and cascade, guys like Greg Berzinsky, spokesperson for Beardbrand (seriously go google him). But the verse doesn’t stop there. It’s more than just having a great head of hair. “…if it be found in the way of righteousness.” In essence, the proverb speaks to a life lived in pursuit of God’s holiness. The exact sentiment of the proverb can be summed up by the title of Eugene Peterson’s A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society. It’s not about mere longevity or wisdom or acumen or success, but righteousness.
“Glorious” old age isn’t about what accolades or possessions you accumulate while you’re alive, both are neutral–neither affirming nor denying a life lived well. Living to age 95 is not inherently a badge of honor either. If those 95 years were spent as a joyless, compassionless, miserly grump, then how is that worthy of praise?
The reality of the proverb hits me in a soft spot because I see age quite literally creeping over me. I used to find people aging and fretting about aging frustrating because it is uncontrollable. The seconds are passing. Like the “Preacher” of Ecclesiastes, I sense the temporal nature, the vapor-like essence of life. When I look in the mirror, I see what age has done to me, is doing to me. My reflection provides a constant reminder that my days are numbered here on this earth. It forces me to consider the precious breaths I have left (hopefully billions of them). So yes, the “hoary head” thing gets to me from time to time because each successive breath I breathe is either to glory or to destruction and I get to choose which way that goes.
You do too. You are now older than when you started reading this. You cannot get that time back. You can decide to put down your phone or close your laptop or however you’re reading this post and make the choice to examine your own life.
You get to live to righteousness or destruction.