Recently I was given an incredible gift. I had the opportunity to spend four hours with Andrew Young. His list of accomplishments is long. To list only a few, he was a pastor, a close associate of Martin Luther King, Jr. during the civil rights movement, a U.S. Congressman from Georgia, and was appointed by President Jimmy Carter to be the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. Also, he was the Atlanta mayor instrumental in bringing the 1996 Olympics to Atlanta.
During our afternoon conversation, he talked and I listened. I learned so much about life and leadership. In this series of posts, I will share what I learned from this man of God. He is a great leader who has made history multiple times. To read the rest of this series, visit paparelli.com and subscribe.
“There is a discipline to getting old,” said Andrew Young.
This 87-year-old statesman was sitting right in front of me, talking about growing old. I have asked many people who are older than I what advice they have as I approach my late sixties.
Some said, “Just keep going.”
Others said, “I don’t know what to tell you.”
One said, “Keep doing the Lord’s work until you just can’t do it anymore.”
Another said, “Do the things you always wanted to do while you still can.”
The majority were speechless.
But Andrew Young didn’t even need to be asked. It was on his mind in our meeting, and he shared the following with me.
“I just came back from two weeks at the Pritikin Longevity Center in Miami. They had me eating all kinds of healthy food. It was tough to get used to early in my visit, but as the days passed, I really started feeling better. I learned a lot about health and diet there. I want to continue to live by these new principles,” he explained.
“You know what I learned?” he asked. “I learned leaders should go somewhere once a year where they focus on nothing but their health. It is important.”
Then he talked about Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter.
“I was always amazed how Jimmy and Rosalynn stayed so fit. They are the same weight they were when they graduated high school. Can you imagine that?
“When I was ambassador to the United Nations, Jimmy invited me to eat lunch at the White House. We talked for a while and then lunch was served. It consisted of half a tuna sandwich with a slice of pineapple on a lettuce green and an unsweetened iced tea. That’s how Jimmy Carter ate all the time. He is 95 years old today. He had both knees replaced at 90 and beat brain cancer at 94.”
These stories really hit home for me.
Last month I turned 66. These two men are two and three decades older than I am. I’ve been sitting around thinking, I’m old. This meeting with Andrew Young and the stories he told schooled me. I realized I need to adjust my thinking and my priorities.
- First, it is important for me to stop talking old or I’ll start living old. My friend Pastor Elijah of Uganda always takes me to task if I talk like this. He says, “You are not old. You have reached the age of wisdom, and you need to share this wisdom with our nation. Maybe when you get to 80, then you’ll be old.” Even that’s not true for Andrew Young nor for Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter.
- Second, I need to be available for God’s next purpose in my life. He has a big plan, and I am just a small part of it. I can elect to step back and not participate, or I can be attentive and step into the unknown and do the job he has for me to do. I was told by a wise friend, “You can be sure God will use everything you experienced in life and all you accomplished in life for His glory.”
As I listened to Andrew talk about his health priorities, I thought, But he doesn’t have prostate cancer.
Then he said without me saying a word about cancer, “After my second term as mayor of Atlanta, a large Atlanta law firm offered me a free office. There were hundreds of lawyers in that firm. It was about that time I found out I had prostate cancer. In talking to the other lawyers, it seemed that every one of the lawyers over 60 had prostate cancer, too. I treated it. It wasn’t that bad. And here I am today at 87.”
After our talk, something in my perspective changed. There is a discipline to getting old.