Young Men and Fathers
I recently spoke with two men in charge of a competing Bible software company. One was about the same age as myself, and although he can be affable enough, whenever I talk to him I feel as if he's trying to spar with me—or at the very least as if he's circling the ring. This man is gifted, successful, and almost certainly far wealthier than I am. Yet every time I spar . . . er, I mean speak . . . with him, I always feel like he's trying to prove something. Even as he bemoans the animosity which some of his competitors have toward him, everything he says and does gives off the impression that he is trying to take over the world.
The second man I spoke with was about the same age as my father. This conversation felt very different. This man was friendly, relaxed, and complimentary. Also successful in business, this man almost certainly has a competitive side, but if he does he did not show it with me. I asked him questions about his business, and he was frank and open with his answers. I never felt like he was trying to hide anything or engage in competitive posturing.
Why must I be on guard with the young man when I can be at ease with the older one? I suspect it's because the older man has nothing to prove—or at least nothing to prove to me. He appears to be more interested in running a successful business than in taking over the world.
In the upcoming Orange Bowl, my Florida State Seminoles will be playing the Penn State Nittany Lions. The two oldest and winningest coaches in college football will clash for the first time since the 1990 BlockBuster Bowl. (I was there for that game, which FSU won.) Yet both of these football legends have faced challenges in recent years. Paterno's program was in the dumps for several years, and in spite of all Paterno has done for Penn State, there were those who were calling for him to retire. Likewise, Bobby Bowden has been criticized in recent weeks because the Seminoles took a late-season tumble, and while few people were calling for his job (just yet), they were doing plenty of armchair coaching and second-guessing.
In spite of the criticism, both coaches have shown the ability to bounce back. When their fans were doubting them, they were steadily addressing problems and making adjustments. Paterno's team has come roaring back this year, and the Seminoles managed to upset Virginia Tech to win the ACC Championship. These men have been coaching long enough to know that sometimes you're up and sometimes you're down. And while everyone else was panicking and trying to fix things that weren't necessarily broken, they were addressing the things that really were broken.
Whether or not age brings wisdom, I think it certainly brings perspective. The young men to whom the apostle John wrote were all about the battle with Satan, and we need young men who are gung ho to engage the enemy. But we also need "fathers" who have "come to know the One who is from the beginning"—those whose faith is not centered around the fight, but around the One who has already achieved the victory. In business, in football, and in our spiritual lives, we need to move beyond the "zeal without knowledge" which so often characterizes "young men," in order to become "fathers" who know that there is something bigger than the battle itself.