By Rev. Dr. Richard Gentzler, Jr.

When I was a child in the 1950s and asked by an adult, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I remember saying I wanted to be a cowboy like Roy Rodgers or the Lone Ranger. Sometimes, I answered that I wanted to be a baseball player like Mickey Mantle or a football player like Y. A. Tittle. I even went through a phase when I wanted to be a lawyer like Perry Mason. These childhood hopes and dreams never came to fruition.

Life doesn’t always turn out as we had hoped or planned. But, even without fulfilling childhood hopes and dreams, I’ve been living an exciting and wonderful life. I never doubted God’s presence in my life, nor waned on my ambition and determination.

One of my favorite stories about life is by Rev. Gregory Knox Jones:

“The story is told of a golf course in India. Apparently, once the English had colonized the country and established their businesses, they yearned for recreation and decided to build a golf course in Calcutta. Golf in Calcutta presented a unique obstacle. Monkeys would drop out of the trees, scurry across the course, and seize the golf balls. The monkeys would play with the balls, tossing them here and there.

At first, the golfers tried to control the monkeys. Their first strategy was to build high fences around the fairways and greens. This approach, which seemed initially to hold much promise, was abandoned when the golfers discovered that a fence is no challenge to an ambitious monkey. Next, the golfers tried luring the monkeys away from the course. But the monkeys found nothing as amusing as watching humans go wild whenever their little white balls were disturbed. In desperation, the British began trapping the monkeys. But for every monkey they carted off, another would appear. Finally, the golfers gave in to reality and developed a rather novel ground rule: Play the ball where the monkey drops it.

“As you can imagine, playing this unique way could be maddening. A beautiful drive down the center of the fairway might be picked up by a monkey and then dropped in the rough. Or the opposite could happen. A hook or slice that had produced a miserable lie might be flung onto the fairway. It did not take long before the golfers realized that golf on this particular course was very similar to our experience of life. There are good breaks, and there are bad breaks. We cannot entirely control the outcome of the game.” ¹

While Jones explains his thoughts on why we suffer and how we can hope, I believe there is another important lesson from this story.

The wisdom of age comes when we recognize and know how much of life is actually not under our control! When we are young, we carefully maintain an illusion of control because it gives us comfort and security. As we age, we realize that the greatest security comes, paradoxically, when we let go of our illusion of control and simply allow. When we hold on tight to our insistence that we know what is best, we miss all the other possibilities. How can God bestow great gifts on a closed mind? Open your hearts as well as your minds — open and allow.

When we settle on one way of seeing the world and are not open to other possibilities — even if they make us uncomfortable — we can become rigid, judgmental, and closed-minded. We all know someone who refuses to budge in their beliefs. And we don’t need to just look at politics — religious narrow-mindedness has plagued Christianity for centuries.

The French novelist, Marcel Proust, said, “The real action of discovery consists not in finding new lands but in seeing with new eyes.”

We live in a world that judges our success or failure by speed and achievement — no matter whether they are worthy or not. Many of us have been so busy making things happen in our lives — raising a family, being someone who was respected in our profession, getting an education, making money — that we have had little time to think about the value of what was happening.

As we age, we realize that both the good and bad that happen to us are not always within our control. Yes, we can make decisions — the outcomes of some are good and successful; others may lead to harm and failure. We recognize that we are not always in control of life’s events or the outcomes of some actions that life offers.

If we aspire to grow to be a wise elder, we will recognize that the wisdom of age does not simply happen by living many years and having many experiences. It involves acknowledging and accepting that life requires resilience, flexibility, patience, and sharing this knowledge with others. Perhaps the most important aspects of bringing wisdom to our aging are to:

  • Be open to whatever we experience
  • Welcome our unique life experiences as a great mystery
  • Do our best as we experience life’s transitions and the effects of transformation

As we begin 2024 and a New Year, I encourage us to pray and act in ways that drowns out our cynicism, discouragement, and pessimism that sometimes comes when we have faced a life of challenges, struggles, and unmet goals and dreams.

The wisdom of age becomes reality when we recognize the opportunity we have as older adults to deepen our sense of purpose in life and engage in more authentic relationships with others, oneself, and what is sacred in our life.

¹Play the Ball Where the Monkey Drops It by the Rev. Dr. Gregory Knox Jones (HarperOne Publishers, 2001)

Dr. Richard Gentzler, director, oversees ENCORE Ministry’s mission of providing older adult ministry resources, leader training, and consultations. For more information, email Gentzler at or call 615-400-0539.