“For though the righteous fall seven times, they rise again” (Prov. 24:16).
There’s a guy I see occasionally who’s now in his 50s. I knew this guy when he was in his 30s and I was a kid. I looked up to him and in many ways wanted to be like him. He was an extremely gifted spiritual leader, a devoted father and husband, and a fun all-around guy.
But now, years later, this man has changed; not only in appearance but in other ways. He still has the same wit, the same affection for people. But his words and actions reveal a diminished interest in spiritual things.
I asked one of his family members about him. What had happened to all that spiritual giftedness, the promise so many of us saw?
“He’s just stuck,” the family member said. Years earlier the man had made some personal mistakes that were very hard to recover from.
I’ve crossed paths with other men like this—older men who feel stuck, who no longer know what to do with themselves. I once met a man in his 70s who, years ago, had been an American celebrity. He’d appeared on television with a pony he’d taught to do tricks. In time the show’s popularity faded, and it was finally canceled. Without his former identity, the man became lost, bitter, and broke. In desperation in his 70s, he tried to train a new pony and recapture the magic from another time and place. It was painful to watch.
But not all men have to go down this road. There’s another type of older man out there, a man who ages gracefully, who accepts that former things are gone, who doesn’t cling to his old identity but embraces a new one: patriarch.
These are the Jacobs, the Moseses, the Davids of our day—men who have made mistakes (as all men have) but who don’t let those mistakes determine the rest of their lives. The thing about David—the reason he’s called a man after God’s own heart—is that he just wouldn’t give up. After a promising start David faded too—became an adulterer, a murderer, a lousy father. But he just kept coming back, from darkness into light. “I was young and now I am old,” he counseled in Psalm 37:25. “Turn from evil and do good; then you will dwell in the land forever” (verse 27).
Our world needs older men committed to doing good for the rest of their days.
When I took my first job at the Seventh-day Adventist world headquarters, an older man used to come by my cubicle just to see how I was doing. The man was so unassuming, so humble, that I found myself surprised to learn he was a vice president of the world church: Phil Follett. I felt honored that he would take an interest in me, and the more I heard about him, the more I respected him. Another colleague of mine once described boarding a flight and seeing Phil sitting in an aisle seat, already reading his Bible.
After he retired, Follett moved to Collegedale, where I’d see him crashing around in his old Volkswagen Jetta, always on the go. Five days a week he helped prepare Christian programming for LifeTalk Radio, and loved getting Adventist college students on the air. Phil had a big, big heart for young people—the future of the church he loved so dearly.
A widower of 26 years and cancer survivor, Phil Follett had every reason to feel stuck. Instead he gave and gave until he couldn’t give anymore. When he died last fall, those close to him learned of many other ways he’d been quietly ministering, and many other people whose lives he touched.
God needs modern-day patriarchs to help bring His children home.
Andy Nash is the author of Paper God: Stumbling Through Failure to a Deeper Faith. This article was published February 16, 2012.