By John Ortberg
“The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon…” —Psalm 92:12
Sometimes there are 20-year-olds who are cynical and jaded and passive and withdrawn; and there are 80-year-olds who are pliant and hopeful and learning and eager. Age is a moving target. A man I know runs a national super-senior tennis tournament. The finals pitted a 91-year-old player against a 94-year-old. One rally ended with the 91-year-old cracking a crosscourt forehand that the 94-year-old could not run down. “Oh, to be 91 again,” he yelled.
I think our heavenly Father would enjoy that story even more than I did. He retains a youthful spirit. G.K. Chesterton wrote in Orthodoxy that God is like a young child. He keeps making daisies because, like a little child, he never grows weary of making them. The sun keeps rising because every day God, with the appetite of infancy, says to the sun, “Do it again.” Chesterton concludes: “We have sinned, and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.”
So what keeps people young? According to Psalm 92, “The righteous will flourish like a palm tree … They will still bear fruit in old age … They will stay fresh and green…”
The righteous? Really? Not the botox-ed and the liposucked and the massaged and the Viagra-ed? What is it about righteousness that would make someone young?
I thought about this recently on vacation. My family chose me to go to the video store, and I came home two days later with a documentary called “Young@Heart.” It’s the story of the Young@Heart chorus from a New England town and is made up of folks in their 70s, 80s, and 90s. The twist is that instead of singing “Fanny Crosby” or “She’ll be Coming Round the Mountain,” their repertoire ranges from head-banging and heavy metal to acid punk, grunge, and indie. They rehearse forever to master songs like “Schizophrenia” or “I Want to be Sedated.”
They learn. They grow. They care for one another. And—here’s the key—they give everything of themselves for others.
In one scene, they go to a prison to sing to incarcerated men, most of whom are in their 20s. And by the time this choir of ancients is through singing their strange songs, jaded prisoners are on their feet, giving them a standing ovation. Every conceivable barrier is crossed by beauty and love. If you are able to watch it without a tear, you are made of sterner stuff than I am.
The members of the Young@Heart chorus suffer from congestive heart failure and spinal meningitis. And yet they feel so needed. They have such a gift to give to one another and to those who listen. Indeed, they are ready to die for it, and some of them do.
It’s not surprising, really. They live in a community of learning and joy; laughter and giving; life and death and wisdom. And maybe all of these things together, under the power and grace and presence of God, are what go into righteousness. Maybe righteousness is not some stuffy religious word; maybe it is a word of fertility and surprise and generosity.
True, science and medicine can help more people live longer. But I suspect what we really want is the kind of vitality demonstrated by the Young@Heart chorus—the kind that science and medicine cannot give us; the kind that pours itself out for others.