By Jennifer Johnson
For years I’ve heard that Grandma Moses began her acclaimed painting career at age 78. I always rolled my eyes when older people (that is, older than me) quoted that fact, assuming it somehow comforted them to think their own chance for “significance” hadn’t passed them by.
Then I turned 40 and began seeing more people posting more lists of leaders and celebrities who had started their most successful ventures later in life: Henry Ford, who created the Model T at 45. Julia Child, who wrote her first cookbook at 50. Ray Kroc, who took charge of McDonald’s at 52. Laura Ingalls Wilder, who published Little House in the Big Woods at 65.
This shouldn’t surprise us—God often does his best work with people “of a certain age.” Abraham fathered Isaac at 100. When he spoke to Pharoah, Moses was 80 and Aaron was there as his sidekick at age 83. Joshua conquered the promised land at 80, Caleb helped when he was around the same age, and—Sunday school flannelgraph pictures notwithstanding—Daniel was well over 80 when he was thrown into the lions’ den.
Even adjusted for the longer life spans we see in the Old Testament, all of these men could have reasonably expected that their most productive years were in the rearview mirror. Instead, God chose then to reveal their life’s work.
This insight has implications not only as I face middle age (and my disbelief about writing that sentence) but also as I think about retirement. Today’s boomers and busters see these leisurely years as their birthright and spend dozens of years saving millions of dollars so they can retire in style. But the Bible seems to suggest another approach to those years. Although certainly we may need to slow down as we get older, the final decades of life might also be the time for us to make our most significant contribution.
It’s too late for me to be on another “40 under 40” list. I am no longer an “emerging” leader. (For better or worse, I’ve emerged.) But just as Opal Singleton began an entirely new ministry with Million Kids after her retirement, I plan to continue growing, serving, and learning for the rest of my life, and I take comfort in knowing my greatest days—or at least my greatest days for God—are probably still on the horizon. (See related article.)
Whether it’s a painter like Grandma Moses or a patriarch like the ancient Moses, I’m no longer assuming these older difference-makers are exceptions. Instead, I think they might be role models for what God expects.