The gospel writer, Mark, tells of an incident in the life of Jesus where he fielded an interesting question about fasting: “Why don’t your disciples fast like disciples of John the Baptist and the Pharisees?” Jesus explained that it was not yet the appropriate time for them to fast since he was still with them. “But the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day,” (Mark 2:20). Fasting is usually done during a time of great distress and personal introspection. Like everything else, it is not appropriate all of the time. “There is a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance,” (Ecclesiastes 3:4).
Jesus’ answer was followed by an interesting observation, which has been the occasion of much discussion and questioning: “No man seweth a piece of undressed cloth on an old garment: else that which should fill it up taketh from it, the new from the old, and a worse rent is made. And no man putteth new wine into old wine-skins; else the wine will burst the skins, and the wine perisheth, and the skins: but they put new wine into fresh wine-skins,” (Mk. 2:21-22). There is an appropriateness of time and events, which nature gently teaches the willing student. It’s important not to get things out of order, but to take them as they come, and to be content with the stages of life as they are.
Consider this principle in relation to what is sometimes called “the mid-life crisis.” A person suddenly realizes that he (or she) is getting older, but they are mentally unprepared for it, and they begin to resist it with all their might. They start dressing “younger,” maybe wearing their hair differently. They may buy a sporty car or attempt a daring vacation. In more extreme cases, they may forsake the spouse of their youth, and run after a younger partner. But all the while, nature continues to gently take it’s course. Eventually, they discover that they have simply been “sewing new pieces of cloth onto an old garment,” and the resulting patchwork is a thorough mess. They have been attempting to pour “new wine” into an old wineskin, and now both are ruined.
Robert Browning penned the following famous words: “Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be, the last of life, for which the first was made. Our times are in his hand who saith, ‘A whole I planned, youth shows but half; Trust God: See all, nor be afraid!” There is a lot of wisdom in those lines, which corresponds to the lesson Jesus taught about garments and wine skins. When we are younger, it’s appropriate to engage in younger activities, which may look out of place and silly at a later time. When our health is strong, our families are young and thriving, it may not be appropriate to fast or mourn. But there is coming a time when old age may befall us. Then is the test of all we have learned from happier days.
If you are blessed to still have the wife of your youth, the companions of former days, and the memories of life’s gracious pleasures gone before, don’t turn them out. Don’t ever trade them for something which looks new and sparkling.
There is a beautiful cooperation in nature when we allow things to take their course according to God’s plan. That isn’t to say we should never work to improve, but neither should we resist the natural flow of our lives as God intended. We should embrace each stage of life which God graciously allows us to experience. And people in various ages should love and embrace those of all others. I enjoy listening to Orson Welles sing the following lines: “There’ll be days to remember full of laughter and tears; After summer, comes winter and so go the years. So my friend, let’s make music together. I’ll play the old while you sing me the new. In time when your young days are over, there’ll be some one sharing their time with you.”
Growing old together requires an inner peace and security, which faith in God alone can give. It obligates us to continue to improve, striving to be all we can be, to never settle for second best or allow ourselves to become indifferent. But at the same time it requires us to remember that God is still in control, that he has not forgotten us at this stage of our lives, and that he loves us as much as always. I hope you will be patient with me, and I with you, as we gently grow old together!
-by Robert C. Veil, Jr.