Maturing well, not aging

by Barnabas Piper

Posted on Friday, September 11, 2015, at 3:28 pm

Adulthood means leaving behind childhood. We get used to that reality pretty quickly. Youth, on the other hand, sticks around for a while. Even as we age we still feel young or at least remember it well. As a 32-year-old, my favorite childhood athletes have all retired—Cris Carter, John Randle, Frank Thomas, Barry Sanders—or even passed away—Kirby Puckett, Derrick Thomas, Tony Gwynn. It’s an entirely different experience to see the defining athletes of my youth aging and retiring. They’re not much older than I am, yet here they are slowing down and shutting it down.

Even in their twilight, these athletes—Peyton Manning, Charles Woodson, Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant, David Ortiz, Albert Pujols, Serena Williams—stand out for their longevity and continued performance (even with Williams losing her bid for a Grand Slam in the U.S. Open semifinals this afternoon). They’ve lost much of what made them great but have learned new ways to win. They’ve matured and adapted to gain new advantages. That’s the difference between a great athlete and a forgotten one—great ones mature, the rest merely age.

Life and faith last much longer than a professional sports career, and are much more complex and challenging. But there’s something to be learned from great athletes, whether you’re like me, not a youth but not yet old, if you are a youth, or if you left it behind decades ago.

Work ethic: All great older athletes outwork their peers. They take no true off-seasons, for if they did they would lose their edge in mere months. They know that there is no being still, only progressing or regressing. We are the same. If we aren’t working, inertia is working on us. We must develop the ethic and expectations of spiritual, vocational, and relational discipline.

Changing habits: Young athletes can eat gummy worms and pizza for breakfast, hit two home runs, knock back a six-pack, play cards all night, and lose weight in the process. Older athletes get their sleep, eat lean proteins, stretch before games, and drink gallons of water. What habits do we have that undermine our fitness or lead to “injury” of soul? Are we nourishing our thoughts and honing our minds to sharpen them as we age?

Making adjustments: Once they could run fast, jump high, swing hard, and throw long. Now they play angles and use technique to close the athletic gap. They don’t ride talent any longer, but instead perfect their skills and styles to be stewards of what abilities they have left. Are we good stewards with our abilities and spiritual gifts and learning new ways to use them?

Passion to compete: Every great older athlete has the fire to win. They stoke and kindle it, and when it finally burns out, so do they. Passion is not passive. It flares and crackles sometimes and smolders low at other times, but we can and must protect and fuel it. Otherwise we too will burn out.

What athletes apply to games we can apply to faith, family, and work. It will be the difference between maturing and improving rather than merely aging and decaying. 

Barnabas Piper

Barnabas works for Lifeway Christian Resources and is the author of The Pastor’s Kid: Finding Your Own Faith and Identity and Help My Unbelief: Why Doubt Is Not the Enemy of Faith. He and his wife live in the Nashville area with their two daughters. Follow Barnabas on Twitter @BarnabasPiper.

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