Making My Next Ascent

Michael Metzger

It took me almost ten years to discover what the meadows of my 60s is about. I’m now 68, prepared to begin the ascent to the meadow of my 70s.

In 2016 I wrote how ascending meadows is a metaphor for maturing, coming toward the fullness of salvation. I was 62 and had ascended five meadows (my 20s, 30s, 40s, and 50s). I had learned how, in ascending, we can look back and see what our previous meadow was about. We also see how the optimum window of opportunity for ascending is between the age of 28 and 32, 38 and 42, and so on, every ten years. Miss it and your faith plateaus.

Which brings me to 2023. I’m 68, beginning the ascent to the meadow of my 70s. And in so doing, I’m discovering what the 60s is about: fervency. But not fervency as most imagine it. I referring to fervency as the opposite of sloth. Now there’s a word we hardly hear anymore.

Sloth is number four on the list of the Seven Deadly Sins. Aquinas defined it as “sluggishness of the mind which neglects to begin good.” Sloth is a certain weariness with toilsome work and, quite often, the tiring world. Slothful people groan at the notion of beginning something arduous, resisting the demands that come with loving God and neighbor. They opt instead for escapism or apathy.

I feel this in my 60s. Slothful people talk about bucket lists—travel, fine cuisine, golf, and so on. These aren’t bad necessarily. But they often indicate a weary resignation from the perseverance required to keep working at seeking the good of all. Sloth seeks to scale back, settle down in a comfortably cozy Christianity. That’s not for me. At 68, I’m opting for fervency, largely because of lessons I’m learning as I ascend. Here are four.

Unlearning. Mark Twain said education consists mainly of what we have unlearned. We don’t come to faith tabula rasa (clean slate). We come with incorrect or incomplete preconceived notions about God, faith, salvation. We must unlearn them. As Teresa of Avila (the mystic depicted in the The Ecstasy of Teresa statue) ascended in levels of prayer, she learned “the soul takes great delight in her unlearning.”[1] This is a delight I hardly hear in older Christians. I first noticed this in my 40s. Christians my age would describe their faith as they did in their teens and 20s. If 20 years into your faith you’re still describing Jesus, the cross, and salvation as you did 20 years ago, you haven’t matured in the faith. You haven’t unlearned what you should have unlearned.

Confessing. Unlearning means confessing where I’ve been wrong. I learned some of this from G. K. Chesterton, who wrote, “We do not really need a religion that is right where we are right. What we need is a religion that is right where we are wrong.” I’ve been wrong about many things, including salvation, the cross, and so on. As I’ve unlearned, I’ve come clean and confessed.

Delaying gratification. Bucket lists are the things you do before you die. Fervency is just the opposite. It’s pouring out your life as a drink offering before you die. So you often delay gratification in this life. It’s taking pilgrimages over playing tourist (imagine travelling the universe in eternity without having to check bags). It’s knowing we’ll enjoy the finest cuisine at the wedding banquet with Christ. We’ll live in the biggest mansion ever.

Recognizing passion is not fervency. In ascending I’ve come to appreciate what the Carmelite nun Thérèse of Lisieux wrote: passion is not spiritual fervency. Scripture depicts passion as intense suffering or sexual climax (i.e., sexual arousal in animals or people advised to marry rather than burn with passion). No one cannot sustain either for any length of time, which is why passion is not fervency. Fervency is persevering in seeking the good of all, ascending above the sluggishness of the mind which neglects to begin good as we get older.

I close with two considerations. The first has to do with taking sloth seriously.

Thirty years ago, American novelist Thomas Pynchon wrote: “Unless the state of our souls becomes once more a subject of serious concern, there is little question that Sloth will continue to evolve away from its origins… when time was a story, with a beginning, middle and end. Belief was intense… The Christian God was near. Felt. Sloth—defiant sorrow in the face of God’s good intentions—was a deadly sin.” Do we who are getting up in the years treat sloth as a subject of serious concern?

The second is what’s behind sloth. C. S. Lewis captures it in a chilling passage in The Screwtape Letters. The worldly-wise Screwtape is advising his nephew Wormwood, a novice demon in charge of securing the damnation of an ordinary young man. But this young man instead comes to Christ. In retaliation, Wormwood is advised to “steal away a man’s best years not in sweet sins but in a dreary flickering of the mind over it knows not what and knows not why, in the gratification of curiosities so feeble that the man is only half aware of them… but which once chance association has started them, the creature is too weak and fuddled to shake off.” Sloth. The seeds are sown in our 20s. The weeds appear in our 60s if we don’t ascend. Which is why at 68 I’m fervent for Christ, making my next ascent.

I hope you’ll do likewise in whatever level of ascent is coming next for you.


[1] Teresa of Avila: The Book of My Life, translated by Mirabai Starr (New Seeds, 2007), 111.


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  1. This is a timely and prophetic message. Abraham is our exemplar who began his spiritual pilgrimage at 70. We waste our best minds and wise life experiences by sending our seniors out to pasture. The concept of retirement is nowhere in the Scriptures. Our bodies in variably slow down, but this is no excuse for not giving our all as we can until our last breathe. The last chapter has the benefit of a keen awareness of time, which help us not waste it, make better priorities, dig deeper to make a small difference for Christ and his kingdom with the knowledge, connections, and experience we have gained from a lifetime of walking with Jesus. Let us heed the Psalmist’s wisdom, “Help us to remember that our days are numbered, and help us to interpret our lives correctly. Set your wisdom deeply in our hearts so that we may accept your correction…. Only you can satisfy our hearts, filling us with songs of joy to the end of our days…. Replace our years of trouble with decades of delight. Let us see your miracles again, and let the rising generation see the glorious wonders you’re famous for…. Come work with us, and then our works will endure, you will give us success in all we do” (Psalm 90: 12, 14, 15-17). Three Advil, a cup of coffee, an open Bible and another day of a senior adventure begins. The meaning of Isaiah 42:3 takes on a person embodied meaning, “A bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick will he not quench.” May our limps be strong and our flickerings bright. Come, Lord Jesus, come.

  2. “Fervency is persevering in seeking the good of all, ascending above the sluggishness of the mind which neglects to begin good as we get older.” Amen. With retirement comes more free time but also more opportunities to waste it sitting in our rocking chairs. I can’t do all the things I used to do but I can mentor younger men and look for opportunities to serve where I can.

  3. I’m 78 and seeking to ascend fervently to the meadow of my 80s. Thanks for the encouragement and the kick in the pants.

  4. Thank you, Michael, for such a good reflection. I think sloth sums up what might also be labeled spiritual complacency, as in the warnings in so many passages, Deuteronomy 4:9; 6:12; II Chronicles 26:16; Hosea 13:6. Thank you for being an encouragement to the rest of us.

    Jerry, you seem too young to be 78. I remember your work from when we were younger.

    Russ Pulliam

  5. Thank you, Michael, for such a good reflection. I think sloth sums up what might also be labeled spiritual complacency, as in the warnings in so many passages, Deuteronomy 4:9; 6:12; II Chronicles 26:16; Hosea 13:6. Thank you for being an encouragement to the rest of us.

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