Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Use it, or Lose it!

Posted by Leona Bergstrom (this is NOT a rerun)


I’ve spent nearly three decades proclaiming my belief that there is something absolutely wonderful about aging. Deep down in my soul I’m convinced God’s creative work in our lives comes to its most magnificent climax somewhere near the end of the journey. I was reminded of that this week as I meandered through the outdoor galleries of a summer arts festival.

One of the artists had placed himself in front of his easel and canvas smack dab in the middle of the walkway. Beside him was his well-worn wooden box of tightly squeezed partial tubes of acrylic paint, some of still oozing drops of magenta and periwinkle and lemon. On his canvas were streaks of color that were just beginning to depict a cloud covered sky at sunset. It had potential, but no real form.

The facts that the painting was in process and that the artist blocked the passage of the crowd suddenly didn’t matter as I realized that I was looking at a Master. His work was breathtaking. So was his long white beard. He was dubbed the Old Painter of the Pacific Northwest. I don’t know if he had painted for years or if it was a later-in-life hobby, but his work had a depth and maturity that comes from two things: skill and experience. He obviously did not just know how to paint a sunset, he knew how to experience one.

I am coming to understand that wisdom is the synthesis of what we know and what we experience. In our younger years we knew a lot. We were well educated, well read and highly skilled. And then life kept happening and our story filled with experiences--some dreadfully sad and others delightfully joyful. The canvas of our lives filled up with swaths of colors and textures as our lives became God’s masterpiece. We began to find wisdom.

I recently attended a public lecture by Dr. Gene Cohen. He is a psychiatrist and a gerontologist, and among his many positions of public service has been as acting director of the National Institute on Aging. He is best known for his research on the aging brain and his findings about creativity in later life (The Creative Age, 2000). Cohen maintains that most of us have not even begun to utilize our brain’s potential and that that later life is about having the inner comfort and courage to try something new. Research shows that acquiring a new skill actually “lights up both the right and the left brain” (Cohen) and we have a new capacity to evaluate, reevaluate, create and re-create. In other words, we have lots more brain capacity and learning a new skill actually increases the potential of the brain. Creative activity really gets it going!

Charles Schultz said it another way, “Life is like a ten-speed bike. Most of us have gears we never use.”

What a great challenge for Christians in the second half of life! We can learn new things, explore new areas of ministry and be creative! We can develop relationships with people of all ages. We can become wise.

The writers of the Proverbs sought wisdom and concluded that it was only truly achieved through knowing God and experiencing life. “For whoever finds me (wisdom) finds life and receives favor from the Lord.” (Prov. 8:35, NIV)

The list of “Late Bloomers” is long and impressive. In fact, much of the world’s great artwork, music, literature and drama has been created by those age 50+.

What new thing will you learn in this season of life? What masterpieces will you create? How will all that you have learned and all that you have experienced come together in new, creative expressions of wisdom?

PS: I’m taking this SO seriously, I’ve just enrolled in Graduate School! Stay tuned.
(Photo by cobalt123, shared via Flickr)

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