“Dance like no one is watching” reads a current motivational saying making the rounds on social media. This is a call to be yourself, to live freely, without worrying about what others think. A worthy goal, but you should be aware that dancing with abandon, literally or figuratively, may have unintended consequences. Which a thinking person picked up on, as evidenced by this hilarious warning:
“I danced like no one was watching, but someone was watching and they thought I was having a seizure and they called an ambulance.” That seems more likely, right? Especially if you have never danced before, and you don’t actually know how to dance, and what you think is dancing in fact resembles a medical condition.
Here’s another motivational saying, a rather ancient one: “The early bird gets the worm.” This is true, as far as it goes. Be the first to grab an opportunity before someone else gets there first and grabs it instead. But I’ve noticed that there is never just one worm. There are enough worms for more than one early bird. It might be okay to hang back a bit and see what happens, which leads to this revision (caution to purists – a mixed metaphor is headed your way):
“The early bird gets the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese.” Indeed. I would rather be the second mouse, wouldn’t you? The second mouse is the beneficiary of the deadly mistake of the first mouse. Which is kind of yucky, but true nevertheless.
I hope you’re not taking me too seriously here. I am truly not waiting for any of my friends to be caught in a deadly situation so I can benefit from their misfortune. And I only dance when doing aerobics in the privacy of my own home, so nobody will need to call an ambulance. I’m merely pointing out the limitations of motivational sayings.
Which leads to this one: “The oldest trees bear the sweetest fruit.” I don’t know whether or not that’s true in the fruit world. It’s a fine metaphor meant to convey the possibility that the oldest among us, being the most mature in character, produce the sweetest spiritual fruit. But it’s not necessarily true, for trees or for people.
Certainly it’s what a seasoned believer in Christ should look like. I don’t mean someone who sails through life without struggling or failing, or who constantly has a clueless, beautific smile on their face. I mean someone who has weathered, or may currently be weathering, the storm, the merciless sun and heat and cold and drought and rain. I mean someone who freely admits that life is tough, and can still assure others younger in the faith and in life that God is the rock to cling to.
To bring it down to daily life, being a sweet old lady isn’t guaranteed. Here’s another famous saying: “Old age isn’t for sissies.” I’m beginning to experience the truth of this one. As I get older, and my body reminds me often of my mortality, and I am disappointed by circumstances and by people, and I watch some hopes and dreams slowly fading, I am tempted to produce bitter fruit, not sweet, in the form of whining, anger, despair, and cynicism. How dreadfully easy it is to lose sight of the fact that you are not here to be comfortable, but to serve Jesus. It’s just so ingrained in us that we deserve to be happy.
Think about it for a couple of minutes, and you’ll come up with a list of people who’ve aged beautifully in their spirits, and a second list of people whose souls have grown gnarled and scabby. Often these are people who’ve had roughly the same experiences, but who’ve chosen opposite ways of responding.
As long as we’re talking about trees, here’s something from the Psalms. This pithy passage is true on its face, with no caveats.
12 The righteous will flourish like a palm tree,
they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon;
13 planted in the house of the Lord,
they will flourish in the courts of our God.
14 They will still bear fruit in old age,
they will stay fresh and green,
15 proclaiming, “The Lord is upright;
he is my Rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.”
Palm trees lived long, stately lives. (Being a short person, I’m happy to have the possibility of stateliness). The cedars of Lebanon were highly prized in the ancient world, like our giant redwoods or centuries-old oak trees. They were used in the construction of sacred buildings. The people of Israel built the Ark of the Covenant from the cedars of Lebanon.
If I am to be like a stately, useful tree, the way to do it is to honor God to the end of my life. To acknowledge that He is the rock, unchanging, even though I am changing.
In this season of life I’ll try to dance like no one is looking. I’ll be okay with being the second mouse. But more than that, I want to lean into the Rock, staying fresh and green, bearing sweet fruit in old age.