What It Feels Like Being Seventy

No one is more surprised than I am to find I’m now 70 years old. I reached that lofty plateau last March 28 and am still getting adjusted to the thought. Not sure if I will ever quite adjust to the fact that the old fellow staring back at me from the mirror is myself.

People often take pictures of me when I’m preaching or drawing, but it’s a rare photograph I want to look at twice. They just don’t look like me!

I’m still the 15-year-old I was in 1955 when life began to get more interesting. (That’s when I discovered girls and cars and adult work on the farm!)

Age 70. That’s 7 years more than Martin Luther lived. It’s 39 more than David Brainerd was given and 13 more than Jonathan Edwards.

You’d think I would have accomplished more than I have, given all that extra time. To my everlasting shame, I haven’t.

Looking back a few years, I know now that I fully expected some things to be true at this age than are the case.

–I would have thought I’d feel more like an adult than I do, and less like a teen. No one told me how septuagenarians are supposed to feel, but I’m betting it’s not like this.

–That I would be able to look back on 7 decades, including 48 years in the ministry, with a greater sense of accomplishment than I do.

–If you had asked me years ago, I would have told you that by now I should fully expect to have under control all my appetites, my strange sense of humor, my delight in a new car or new clothes, and my preference for a good novel over a book on Christian theology. But I don’t, not nearly enough.

–To have more inner peace. Mostly, I do have peace. But sometimes when I wake up in the small hours of the morning, the anxieties are raging for no reason that I can think of. Everything inside me says, “It shouldn’t be this way.”

I would have expected to be an adult by now. To be mature, settled, satisfied, and Christlike. Instead, I’m not even close…

Instead, I feel that I have just started on this pilgrimage, that only now could I really benefit from a theological education, and how weird it is that now that I’m retired, I’ve finally learned how to assemble a sermon.

Instead, I sometimes think I’d like to return to the seven churches I served and apologize for my shallow sermons, selfish antics, and feeble attempts to lead them Godward.

Instead, I look in the mirror and hardly recognize myself. Surely I don’t look my age, I think. My wife fills her divinely given duty of assuring me that I do indeed, that I am much like my Dad who died in 2007 at the age of 95.

I tire more easily than before. Long drives–I put over 2,000 miles on the little red Camry in 7 days recently–take a lot out of me and require more time to recuperate.

One of the most interesting features of being 70 is watching my three children enter middle age. At this point, they are all well into their forties. I was their ages only two weeks ago.

At this stage, no matter how well one has taken care of himself, medical doctors and tests and examinations and health insurance become much bigger factors. The recent bloodwork our family physician ordered revealed that I’m in great shape. There was not a single thing on the lengthy report that concerned him. And yet….

I see my E-N-T doctor regularly for the visual checkup on the cancer from 2004. All is well, he assures me.

The dentist has become a vital part of my existence as my teeth have decided to start breaking or chipping, and the “permanent” bridges installed just a few years ago begin malfunctioning. I’m wondering how much longer I will be able to afford keeping my own teeth.

The gastroenterologist is on speed-dial (colonoscopy last year, and dilation of the esophagus at least annually).

The nice lady who married me 48 years ago and gave me those three terrific kids, has her own medical situations. So, I’m often chauffeuring Margaret to appointments and sitting in on sessions with her doctors.

I retired just one year ago, and it’s a good thing I did. With all the rounds of doctor’s visits we’re making these days, I no longer have time to hold down a job.

The grandchildren are growing up. That’s wonderful and awful at the same time. They made delightful little children. Now, the oldest is 21 and the youngest is 8. They are still my pride and delight, but I do miss them as toddlers. I miss having a baby fall asleep on my chest on Sunday afternoon when my son’s family comes over. I miss their laughter while jumping from one bed to another.

The other day I overheard a 5-year-old and her grandmother in McDonald’s and longed to relive those experiences with my little ones.

People say when the great-grandchildren arrive, that part of life returns for a time. I hope so, and can’t wait. On the other hand, grandchildren, I’m perfectly willing for you to take your own good time on this. Don’t let Grandpa’s impatience rush into you life; it’ll come at its own pace.

One of the most pleasant surprises for me in retirement was how busy I’m staying. Not growing roses or working in the yard, though. (Although my rose bushes do need attention; the yard I leave to others.)

–Being a preacher, albeit an unemployed one, I am pleasantly surprised to be receiving invitations to preach. My spring and fall schedules are as filled as I can comfortably handle. (The preaching schedule can be seen at www.joemckeever.com, right side of page.)

–Being a cartoonist, the invitations come in regularly to draw for this magazine or that church’s function. The Baptist Press website (www.bpnews.net) has run my cartoon each weekday for years and continues to do so. They have nearly 2,000 available free of charge for churches.

–Being a teacher, I was pleased that New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary invited me to become an adjunct professor. This past semester I team-taught (with Professor Loretta Rivers) a masters level class to 25 present and future ministers.

–Being a humorist, I’m excited to get the occasional invitation to speak at this leadership banquet or that senior adult rally. I tell very few jokes, but mostly relate my own stories of churches and Baptists I’ve known over the years. We get people out of the audience to caricature, and work in some inspirational stuff to challenge everyone. I have more fun than anyone in the room.

–Being a writer, I love when an editor asks for an article, especially on something I’ve never done before. I love to learn new things. At this moment, in addition to my blog, I’m writing a series of articles for the North American Mission Board’s “Baptist Men Online.” They give writers missionaries who are resources for assigned topics, we interview them via the internet, and write the articles. Each month’s assignment calls for four “mission focus” articles, four “personal development” articles that tie in with the same subject, four “accountability sessions” articles, and one for the monthly meeting plans. It’s a huge assignment and is stretching me. I’m halfway through and loving it.

The joke these days, when people ask how I’m enjoying this phase of life, is to say if I’d known it was going to be this much fun, I’d have gone straight from ordination into retirement. That’s a half-truth, of course. Had I done so, I would also have starved back then.

Almost any retired preacher would agree, I suppose, that no matter how busy he is staying in post-career ministry, if it were not for Social Security and his annuity with Guidestone Financial Resources (our denomination’s retirement investment agency), he would be in deep trouble.

Some two years ago, when I began looking toward the date of retirement, with the economy of this country in a nosedive, I found myself getting jittery. One day during a prayer time, the Holy Spirit seemed to say to me, “I am your portion.”

I recognized that as the Lord’s original promise to Aaron and the Levites when they entered the Promised Land. The other tribes were dividing up Canaan, but the priestly clan had no acreage portioned out to them. God assured them that He was sufficient for them. “The Lord said to Aaron: ‘You shall have no inheritance in their land, nor shall you have any portion among them; I am your portion and your inheritance among the children of Israel” (Numbers 18:20).

David picked up on that theme and gave us the spiritual application. “O Lord, you are the portion of my inheritance and my cup….” (Psalm 16:5)

One year into retirement, I understand. The Lord has indeed been my portion, far more than I have needed, everything I could have desired or asked for.

I am blessed indeed.

Consider this piece my psalm of thanksgiving to Him. As Israel said when planting the rock named Ebenezer, “Hitherto the Lord has been my help.” (I Samuel 7:12)

In other words: “So far, so good.”

6 thoughts on “What It Feels Like Being Seventy

  1. May God give you 70 more years to delight us with your humor, mature us with your wisdom and enlighten us with your insight. Retirement has not diminished the the asset you are to the kingdom of God.

  2. Joe,

    I stopped here for a blessing on my 70th birthday, read every word, and gave a sigh of ease as I have never had my own life purpose so revealed. You said, “But sometimes when I wake up in the small hours of the morning, the anxieties are raging for no reason that I can think of. Everything inside me says, ‘It shouldn’t be this way.'” I suppose this happens to all of us who await His return. There is a restlessness that we can’t put our finger on. We fill up our lives with doing and being, always feeling compelled to do more. Guess this is what is termed ‘occupy till I come’ even in the middle of the night. Surely the joy that awaits far exceeds the pressure we heap upon ourselves as we listen to hear his cry, “Come up hither!”

    Being 70 has its rewards. We’re nearer home. Come quickly, Lord Jesus.


    Wanda Jane

  3. My children are a little older than yours, but none of them had children until they were over thirty, then they produced 7 in 7 years and then added one more a few years later. Our two oldest are 20 (cousins weeks apart) and the youngest is 10. We have photos of babies sleeping on my chest while I was napping on the couch.

    I have been meaning to tell you about a study I heard about on the news about researchers finding, or maybe they were looking for, a DNA marker in people who live over 100 years. I had been thinking of telling you that because your father lived to be 95 and your mother is still healthy at 94. Unless you get hit by a bus or something like that you should live to be over 100 years. My maternal grandmother

  4. Joe, Stop looking in the mirror. Age is no barrier to love. Spread it. And remember the words of Emily Dickinson, poet (1830-1886) “We turn not older with years but newer every day”

  5. You don’t look your age anymore than Garland McKee looks his. The key for both of you, I think, is that you encourage people to evangelize daily. He made a pledge years ago to speak to someone about Christ every day. He encouraged others to pledge to do the same. His Mother prayed for years for him to get back close to home (Greenville, MS) and God sent another Greenvillian, Bill Causey, to bring him to Jackson as Evangelism Director got the MB Convention Board. He has since retired, but if you didn’t know him get to it. He’s in Madison, MS

  6. Hi, Bro. Joe. I’m the guy with the clarinet at Grace. We appreciated your message on Unity and Harmony. Your article, “What it feels like being seventy” is an excellent expression of what I feel like being seventy-five – but have never tried to express it. God bless you as you continue to do His will.

Comments are closed.