Growing up, I had the unfortunate stereotypical view of what older men were like. To me, the older a man got, the grumpier he was. There was plenty of support for this notion in the men I knew in my neighborhood, church, and especially my family. Well, my step-dad always seemed grumpy to me as a boy. I bet I seemed pretty grump to my children. It surprised me when my step-dad mellowed a lot when he got older. He was a really good Grandpa around the time I was a crabby Pa.
I’ve also surprised myself at how much I’ve calmed down as I’ve gotten older. In my case, I think it has a lot to do with maturity. When I was younger, I was overly passionate about a lot of things that I’ve come to realize are not as important. I’ve learned how to more wisely pick my battles.
When I think about the process of my stepfather becoming a more peaceable person, I think it had a lot to do with life buffing the irritability out of him. He suffered a lot of disappointments as he got older and I really think it made a difference in his tolerance for things not going his way all of the time. By the time he passed away a few years ago, he was a real delight to be around. I was more surprised than anyone.
In the deadly funny monologue, Bill Cosby: Himself, Doctor Cosby responds to his children’s enjoyment of their grandmother by saying, “That is not the woman I grew up with! That is an old person trying to get into heaven!”
I don’t remember my stepfather being particularly concerned about getting into heaven. He said he was a Baptist but never went to church and never talked about religion. I think the real changing factor with him was maturity and adversity.
One critical event that created a bit of stress for me was when I leaked to the world through the internet that I experience same-sex attraction. While most of the places I haunted on the internet, LDS forums, were supportive, other places accused me of all sorts of things.
I found myself having to defend my faith, choices, and marriage to people whose narrow worldview didn’t allow for a happily married, gay Mormon. At first, I responded in a fairly contentious way.
It is the same with me as with my stepfather. Over my lifetime, or at least since becoming an adult, I’ve had a few run-ins with adversity, everything from injuries to financial problems. Right now, I’m dealing with pain issues related to degenerative joint disease and diabetes. I am maturing out of my grumpiness.
In my younger days, I think I had a little too much of a warrior’s attitude. Solving problems by brute force and intimidation was my modus operandi. I have the physical presence to get people to cooperate.
It didn’t take me long in the early days of discussing my same-sex attraction on the internet to realize that a softer, more tolerant response was more persuasive. Since those times, I have begun to feel that I have more in common with those who have made other choices than I first wanted to admit.
It isn’t all rosie now that I’ve mellowed out. There are still a lot of people out there who don’t like me or what I have to say. It has been particularly disappointing when people can’t love me and disagree with me at the same time.
Probably more like Bill Cosby’s mom, I’m also becoming more and more mindful of my standing with God. I’m not trying to be nice as a way to earn my way into heaven. Rather, I’m learning a hard lesson about what it means to be like Christ.
I’m learning this not through how Christ is more tolerant of other people but through how tolerant Christ is of me. I’m learning it through how readily he loves me even when he disagrees with me and how willing he is to reach out to me when I’m the least willing to be reached.
It has always been true of me that I have had an affinity for Jesus. I have always felt loved by him, even in the depths of my worst behavior. I have always desired the day when I believe with all my heart that I will see his face.
There was a time when I thought that the way to accomplish it was to be his staunch defender, taking on everyone I thought to be his foe. Now, I understand it to be what the apostle Paul taught when he said, “Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord… (Hebrews 11:14)”
In former days, I would have said that the part about no man seeing the Lord was linked to being holy and not to following peace with all men. Now, I think that holiness IS following peace with God and with all of God’s children. It is in the warning by Jesus himself that however we treat another is how we treat him.
I believe that holiness and following peace with all men is found through obedience to the two great commandments to love God with all our heart and our neighbor as ourselves.