I recently attended a clergy retreat nestled up against the entrance to Saguaro National Park. It was the first time I’d ever experienced this part of the desert southwest. With spring blossoms and bird migration, I was drinking in the beauty (and some facts) like a thirsty sponge.
I discovered that the saguaro cactus only grows in this part of the United States. It is generally recognized by the arms that grow from its prickly tubular trunk. Another factoid I discovered is that saguaros do not start out with appendages. Up until the time a saguaro produces a limb, it looks like a gigantic prickly cucumber.
What truly amazed me is the length of time it takes for the cactus’ signature branches to appear. According to park officials, the average saguaro does not grow “arms” until it is between 50 to 70 years of age. In areas of lower precipitation, it may take up to 100 years before arms appear.
But as I reflected on my newly acquired knowledge, I realized cacti aren’t the only living organisms on earth capable of growth as they age. People are, too. Having just celebrated my 61st birthday the week before my Tucson retreat, I was living proof that it’s never too late to grow and reach. It was not too late to grow in my understanding of the world around me.
In my new position at Covenant Shores Retirement Community, I see the capacity for growing “arms of understanding” on a daily basis. Those who are learning how to embrace social media. Those who are reaching to grasp new technologies. Those who are just discovering that their maturity of years qualifies them to speak into the lives of younger people and that those younger actually want to hear what they have to say.
Moses was 80 years old before God deemed him ready to lead the Israelites out of Egyptian bondage. The first 40 years of his life were invested in being trained in leadership in the courts of Pharaoh. The second 40 years provided him with knowledge of the Sinai wilderness, where he would be called to shepherd God’s people. By the time he turned 80, he was ready for a new assignment.
Perhaps we all need to learn the lesson of the cactus. There are opportunities to grow and reach regardless of our age.