I’ve always loved this concept—beautifully detailed in Philippians 2:1-11. The passage summarizes much of what Jesus was like, characteristics that place him on a pedestal of admiration, someone his followers—me included—try to emulate.
It has occurred to me recently that, because I’m an older adult now, I might have a special vantage point for putting this “mind of Christ” idea into practice. Perhaps you will understand my logic here.
St. Paul seems to be describing empathy in its basic form: Having enough humility to be able to see others as they see themselves. I agree with that characterization, but also wonder whether something more might be operating in the empathetic minds of older adults like me.
Something that happens regularly: As I observe people, I find myself imagining how they might be thinking. There are visual cues, of course: Clothing, mannerisms, facial expressions. I ask myself questions like: What were they like as a child? What motivates them to accomplish something good? How is life treating them? Whom do they love? What’s good about their lives? How’s their health? What do they hope for right now? How do they make wise decisions? These questions gather quickly into bundles of appreciation for what it might be like to be any of these people.
Another set of thoughts occurs to me, coming to mind because of my having lived this long. I realize that, were I to talk with any one of them, I could bring the perspective of having perhaps thought the same thoughts when I was younger, encountered similar difficulties and prospects. A conversation could proceed with my thinking: I may have been where you’re at, friend.
Granted, every one of us lives out our days in ways that are specific to our backgrounds, contexts and capabilities. At the same time, the human condition—one very familiar to Jesus—also takes most of us around the same trees, thinking parallel thoughts, reacting to similar general circumstances. As an older adult, I may very well have encountered enough of these unnamed-and-unappreciated others to be able to see in them what Christ Jesus also saw in the people around him: Beloved beings created by a loving God.
The Philippians passage doesn’t suggest an older adult viewpoint in taking on the mind of Christ. I think there is one, though, and it starts with the same kind of self-emptying Paul talks about—a kind of finely tuned humility. As an elderly person, I try to look back into the experiences that have shaped me over decades. (Perhaps I’ve come through joys and sorrows that others are just now facing.) I try to find in honest reflection about my past some of what might be helpful in valuing almost any other person. I try to recall possible connection points, possible similarities that could help me understand others.
Equipped with these thoughts, I try to approach almost anyone with respectful curiosity about their present state of being. I can begin any conversation with some assurance that I can find something in common with that other person. I want to learn from this person, be glad about their place in this world and be thankful that there are wonderful people like this who are roaming the world as signs of God’s grace.
I hope to keep finding—and holding onto—the mind of Christ.