This article was originally published by Mennonite World Review

King: Good job!

The going was slow, but I was meditating on how fit I felt compared to when I started biking again the week before.

Michael A. King

Some sort of whooshing commotion blew up on my left. Before I knew what it was, I heard “Good job!” On she sped. When I crested the hill, she was already far ahead, bike light flashing in the distance like a rocket’s red glare.

How to feel? Affirmed? Ashamed?

Just a week before I had an appointment to make sure I understand Medi­care. Just the day before I checked our online phone account to see why our landline had been ringing almost, it seemed, every minute. I found some 40 calls. Most were marked “Spam?” and followed by variations on the word Medicare. Many want to benefit from my aging body even as I need to make sure to handle insurance carefully, since my heart may need a new valve.

Good job! I pondered again how to feel. I was tempted to pedal harder and prove how effectively I was retaining my youth no matter my body’s age and condition.

I thought about a generation earlier encountering Carl Jung’s idea that an aspect of the first half of life is developing ego, skills, mastery. Key to the second half is falling into soul and spirituality, with ego taking a servant role. We need ego, the “I” that helps direct our activities and commitments. We also need openness to heights and depths that give ego the marching orders toward meaning and purpose ego alone is too shallow to seek.

I thought about Jesus and his teachings that to gain our lives we have to give them up, that except a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies it can give no fruit, that the first shall be last and the last first, that rather than amass power for its own ego-driven sake, a true leader kneels before those served and washes feet with a towel.

When I was younger I did seek to live out such insights of Jung and Jesus. But the paradox of pursuing this while developing a career and presence in the world posed complexities and confusions about how to integrate ego with soul. So many of the tasks of life’s first half run more with the grain of ego — its inclinations simultaneously bolstered by a culture idolizing the pursuits of wealth, status, privilege and power, which are ego’s delights. Now Christians court presidents and even Anabaptist-Mennonites long committed to basin and towel are often concluding the time has come to claim our places at the tables of influence and pre-eminence.

I thought about the final years of my parents, who, though passionate Christians and believers in Jesus’ teachings, found it hard (as do I) to embrace the reality that at the end there is no reprieve from the body’s failings.

Good job! I decided to smile. I decided to embrace the encouragement. Oh, I’ll still bike and walk and hope doctors and medicines keep me young-ish and vigorous for years yet. But maybe my cyclist encourager generously intuited that, in fact, at this stage, being a failure in contrast to her prowess is a success.

You’re getting old, I hear her say. You’re falling behind the younger pack. It becomes ever clearer that, as Psalm 103 reminds, we bloom like flowers of the field and vanish with the wind. Still you’re climbing on. Good job, Michael!

Michael A. King is publisher of Cascadia Publishing House and blogs at Kings­­view & Co.,

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