Senator Mitch McConnell’s announcement Wednesday that he’s stepping down from his Republican leadership role was delivered from the floor of the United States Senate – his professional home since 1985.

“As Ecclesiastes tells us, ‘To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under Heaven,’” the Kentucky leader said.

“One of life’s most underappreciated talents is to know when it’s time to move on to life’s next chapter,” he continued. “Father time remains undefeated.”

Regardless of your party or your politics, there’s no denying that God has given everyone a finite number of years this side of eternity. But ask anyone when youthfulness ends and old age begins, and you’re bound to get different answers.

Back in the 17th century, life expectancy in the United States hovered in the thirties – and forty percent of people living in New England didn’t even make it to adulthood.

By 1950, the average American could expect to make it to 68. Today it’s 78.

Of course, it’s one thing to talk lifespan – and another to consider how old is too old to work or serve your country, whether in elected or appointed office.

Mandatory retirement ages are generally illegal in the United States, but they do exist and vary by profession. The Federal Aviation Administration requires airline pilots to retire at the age of 65. You won’t find Air Traffic controllers older than 61. FBI Agents are required to retire by age 57. For the United States military forces, it’s first day of the month following their 64the birthday.

There’s no such mandatory age for the president, Supreme Court justice, nor a United senator or member of the House of Representatives.

The Bible is silent when it comes to retirement or the question of how old is too old to work. Solomon wrote, “Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life” (Proverbs 16:31). The Psalmist seems to echo the lament of those who may feel ignored and irrelevant: “Do not cast me off in the time of old age; forsake me not when my strength is spent” (Psalms 71:9).

We often hear people of a certain age dismiss the significance of a specific number when it comes to the number of candles on their cake. Instead, they talk about how young or old they feel.

“How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you are?” once quipped Satchel Paige, a black ballplayer who was deliberately silent about his advancing age. His decorated career on the mound spanned five decades.

Moses would seem to add some credence to such a perspective. We read in Deuteronomy that Moses was a hundred and twenty years old when he died, yet his eyes were not weak nor his strength gone” (34:7).

Many will argue the real problem is that not everyone’s cognitive functions are as sharp as Moses’ – and they’d be right.

It’s not about the candles on the cake – it’s about clarity and cogency of the mind.

When it comes to age and service, Americans are wise to demand leaders of sound judgment, sound character – and a sound mind.

Senator McConnell made clear that he was stepping down from his leadership role – but not down from his seat as Kentucky’s senior statesmen.

We extend our congratulations and prayers to Minority Leader McConnell for his service, commitment, and plans moving forward in this next chapter of his life.


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