One winter's morning in 1988 I sat in the office of the BBC's Head of Talks, in Broadcasting House, London. We were discussing what he described as the "imminent retirement" of the world-famous radio and television personality Alistair Cooke. This BBC department was responsible for the airing of Cooke's weekly "Letter from America."
"It's just time for him to move on," said my former colleague, who happened to be a keen cricketer. "He's had long innings. We'll announce it at the 80th birthday bash we're planning for him in New York."
"You can't do that!" I protested in disbelief.
"Because he's still got so much to give us," I said. "You can't retire goodness."
For another 16 years, and right up until shortly before his passing in New York last week, Alistair Cooke continued to enrich the lives of an estimated audience of 22 million radio listeners throughout the world with his 13-minute dispatches. Not even the upper echelons of the BBC, it seemed, could disregard the essential appeal of the man - his warmth, good humor, and narrative skills.
Cooke said he liked to talk about "things that touch everybody - touch a bishop and touch a farmer." And in doing this, he added a compassionate yet robust sanity that never faded.
But my gratitude to this extraordinary man, whom I met only once, goes beyond the balanced insights and perspectives he provided on news events of the day, serious and lighthearted. For me, his 58 years of commitment to this broadcasting project exposed some of the flaws in the conventional wisdom about prescribed lifespans and restricted usefulness.
Who says that with the passing of years we have to expect physical and mental deterioration? Who says we have to retire when we reach 65, or 75, or, like Cooke, 95? Certainly not God, insist people of faith.
What I've learned from a regular study of the Bible is that the flow of goodness from this infinite, eternal God, who created us, is constant. It cannot be diminished or lose its regenerative, healing power. And because we are made in God's image, there can be no diminution of our capacity to keep on expressing God and valuing the goodness we've experienced.
Monitor founder Mary Baker Eddy wrote in "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," "Each successive stage of experience unfolds new views of divine goodness and love" (page 66). These stages don't include any dwindling of resourcefulness or resources. Divine goodness is not contingent upon age, job status, or public recognition. It flows abundantly from a heavenly Father who knows and understands our needs even before we confide in Him - before we come as close to Him as we can, through prayer.
"For I know the plans I have for you," says God in Jeremiah's account in the Bible, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future" (Jer. 29:11, New International Version).
The Bible tells us over and over that God believes we can do the task He has given us, and He will be with us all the way. From this, I believe we can safely conclude that as long as God sets our agenda - and goes with us as we fulfill His mission - we can have boundless hope.
God's innate and shareable goodness infuses our lives with steady direction. It gives us the ability to recognize and explore the meaning of His purpose and to let Him establish "the work of our hands," as the Psalmist put it (Ps. 90:17).
Nowhere in the Scriptures can I find even the gentlest hint of a plan for retirement from the work God gives us to do. The tasks and opportunities are as endless as the nature of God Himself.
This suggests to me that nothing can curb the abundance of God's goodness, which is freely available to everyone - at any age. And nothing can deprive us of the lasting spiritual rewards that are ours when we successfully communicate that goodness to others. In fact, it's easy to get so joyfully caught up in our own "broadcasting" projects that there's no time even to think of retirement!
The King of Love my Shepherd is,
Whose goodness faileth never.
Christian Science Hymnal