Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Book Review: NEARING HOME

I jumped at the chance to review Billy Graham's new book, Nearing Home: Life, Faith & Finishing Well.  It took forever to arrive, and when it did, I was up to my ears in another big title, Lean In.  I laughed, quite sure publishers never imagined these two works being read (then underlined, considered, and swirled around in the same brain) simultaneously.  And yet that's what happened. I think there's something to be said for the contrast that comes from holding the thoughts of a female executive in mid-life up next to those of a male champion of faith who is nearing the end of his time here on earth.  The wildly different perspectives fill in the others' gaps, somehow.  I'm still trying to figure out what that means. (Hoping to have a post about that down the road!)

For now, here are a few things I appreciated about Nearing Home that make it worth considering for your TBR pile:

Graham wrote this book after an interview in 2006 where he was asked to give a statement about death.  He commented that he had been taught all of his life how to die, but no one had ever taught him how to grow old.  I like his point that these two things are different, if we let them be.  Of course, we can be focused obsessively on death from the moment we find our first grey hair, or forget what we were looking for when we open the refrigerator, or hit any one of the 1,001 milestones that signal we've passed life's mid-point and are headed back down to the end of the ride.  But Graham's book suggests the possibility that we can grow old well--with grace and dignity, learning and contributing right up until our time is up.

The subtitle of his book caught my attention, particularly the point on "finishing well."  A few years back I heard a long series of sermons on this topic, and wondered at the time if the preacher was working through his own panic around middle age (a phenomena called "working your stuff out from the front" that gets a bad rap in church circles but I suspect might not be such a horrible thing if done with a bit of honesty and humor).  Anyway, that sermon series raised great questions, but didn't come up with much in the way of answers.  "Keep leading!" the preacher exhorted, "don't stop!"  It made aging sound a bit exhausting.  Not long after, he announced his retirement.

Billy Graham offers a lot more candor.  He shares how surprised he's been by the effects of old age, and that he hasn't liked them much.  But he doesn't deny or resist them. Instead, he shares things he's done to thrive in each new season of life: what God suggests to him, how his friendships have changed, the ongoing state of missing his wife Ruth, now that he's a widower.  And as sad as this might sound, he writes in a way that is filled with hope.

He says:

"At times I can sympathize with most seniors.  The good old days call me back at times, especially when I am with friends who have shared so much. While I choose not to dwell on the past or relive my youth, there are times i long to hike up into the hills with my children or stand in the pulpit to deliver a Gospel message. But the walker, wheelchair, and cane near my bed remind me that chapter in life is past. So I thank God for the memories that have enriched my life but look forward to new opportunities, to experiences that can add some dimension to the present. Our attitudes play a major role in the closing scene on life's stage."

This hit home for me. This past weekend Steve & I grabbed a bite at a restaurant near the water where I waitressed one summer. It reminded me of that year: how excited I was to have left law and be heading off to graduate school, the fun of laughing with friends and having a job that wasn't easy, exactly, but where the stakes were low and the rewards were high, and I knew precisely what was expected of me there, even as I looked ahead to all the unknowns of my next stage of life.

For a moment, I envied our waiter. Did he know what a great position he was in, how good life could be exactly where he is?  And yet what I was really yearning for was that feeling that something new and good is coming now, and the luxury of a few weeks of predictability and fun (not to mention piles of tips!) in the meantime.

But rather than wallow, I took Billy Graham's advice: I thanked God for this memory, and then looked up at the blue sky, letting God know I was in for whatever the next opportunity might be.

No comments: