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On Age and Agency: musings on a pinterest quote

By Linda Hoffman Kimball

“You’re never to young to learn and never too old to change.” Russell M. Nelson


Pres. Russell M. Nelson famously said, “You’re never too young to learn and never too old to change.” This must be true because I found it on Pinterest in lovely lettering. As a quarterly blog theme, it’s a fun and challenging truism that gooses me out of my comfort zone.

What is one never too young to learn? Quantum physics? I would think so, but, hey, check out these board books for babies!

As a high schooler, the toughest courses for me involved math. Geometry wasn’t so bad, but algebra and trigonometry strained my brain. My older sister believes that’s because, when we were growing up, girls were not encouraged to “do” math. My husband, who majored in applied math at Harvard, says that I could do math, but I have built up calcified prejudice against it in my brain and that’s what makes it tougher to access.

I don’t know if I buy that.

I do have a knack for things artistic. I’ve been drawing since I could hold a crayon in my pudgy fist. I would never tell someone for whom that kind of thing is a frustrating challenge that they must persevere until they can reproduce a recognizable Mona Lisa. As the articulate phrase goes: “ya gotta wanna.” (I do, however, recommend this book for thwarted artists who want help getting over brain pathway hurdles.)

Today tiny babies understand the concept of swiping right before they grasp the meaning of “no.” Is it really possible for an elderly person to build a website? Yes. It is. But it takes determination, time, patience and lots of supportive tutoring. And they gotta wanna.

I think President Nelson’s phrase comes down to the conflicting mental attitudes of “scarcity or abundance.” Little children learn things they want to learn so fast and apparently effortlessly. Then comes junior high when they have to plan their schedules and must decide between sports and music or the arts. Then in high school, it feels like the abundant choices of youth get narrowed through the scarcity of time to fit a predetermined number of credits…and more obligations heap upon us. It only gets more constrained from there on.

Having “electives” to select among could be viewed as the smörgåsbord of life – options, options everywhere! But can what appears to be abundance be scarcity in disguise? Is it “more and to spare”? Or is it “so many choices, so little time!”?

I think the deep meaning of President Nelson’s quote is rooted in the very act of choosing. Primarily it begins with WHOM we choose. Then it is in owning what we choose.

Every step along our mortal journey we can to be conscious of Whom we have chosen. Then, accepting “supportive tutoring” from Him, we make our earthly choices. For the Pinterest populations, perhaps we can decide to go out for field hockey, but we can find a way to still take piano lessons if we value that enough.

As I age, I’m aware of the scarcity of time. I supposed I could refresh my trig skills. But life is short, and I don’t want to. But perhaps I’ll learn some new artsy techniques.

This we must not forget: for many people, the choices of others dictate restrictions on our lives. The bad actions of previous generations, lawmakers who don’t share our values, a dysfunctional and racist/sexist/any kind of “-ist” society – these all limit our choices. For many it may not be “going out for field hockey” but “deciding to finish high school.” It may not be “taking piano lessons on the side” but “paying down our medical bill.” It may not be buying ballet shoes but having shoes at all.

Nestled in President Nelson’s quote is a resonant eternal truth. Christ came  to offer Life Abundant to everyone. That life begins first by actively choosing Christ. Then, building on a loving relationship with Deity, we make prayerful, soulful choices and own them, regardless of our age or circumstances. There is abundant and holy power in that.

If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8: 31-39)


About Linda Hoffman Kimball

Linda Hoffman Kimball is an artist, writer, photographer, and poet who grew up as a faithful Christian near Chicago, & joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1971 while at Wellesley College near Boston. Early on she assumed that all Latter-day Saints were articulate, inquisitive, faithful, and socially engaged since her role models in the University wards in Cambridge, MA., were. Her husband says she is “fluent, but not native” in Mormon-ese. She is a founding member of Mormon Women for Ethical Government.

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