To Plant a Walnut Tree by Trevor Waldock, as the subtitle states, is a conversation about “how to create a fruitful legacy by using your experience.” Waldock engages with people in all walks of life who are concerned about how they are living life and wondering if all their busyness and activity really makes a difference.
Using stories that are combination of fact and fiction, Waldock weaves together a cogent case for developing the practice of eldership among us. In this context the term “elder” refers to older adults rather than the church office of elder. Waldock points to ancient Hebrew and Greek cultures, African cultures, and indigenous nations of Canada and the United States, all whom have deep traditions that involve eldership.
Whether you are working with a company or institution and looking at how to advance your career, or even if you are soon ready to retire, most of us ask questions about what’s next. Is this all there is? What will give me meaning and satisfaction in continuing to live out God’s call on my life? Waldock believes that the concept of eldership needs to be revived or introduced into our culture. He believes many in our culture are looking for “people who are respected not for their perfection, but more for their gravitas, their wisdom, their ability to rise above the everyday and see the bigger picture” (p. 18).
Eldership, unlike so many leadership roles we have in life, is for the benefit of others. It serves. It isn’t attached to an organization, to its rewards, or to its successes.
Where I found this book helpful was finding a way of talking about something very personal. Before I retired from 40 years in ministry, I started to ask the question, “Now what? What will give meaning and purpose to life as I hope to enter into this new chapter, this third third of life?” This book encouraged me to take a bigger view of life, to invest in things that will long outlast me. It was one of the tools I found helpful in seeking opportunities to share some of my past experiences and skills in new ways. Mentoring younger ministry leaders over the years and providing spiritual direction have been ways I’ve been planting walnut seeds over the years.
“Planting a walnut tree” in the second third of life—when you are busy with work, career, family, volunteering, and serving—is an unselfish thing to do, says Waldock, because we won’t see its fruit for many years. Making investments that will outlive you is a sobering but beautiful way to discern God’s purpose for you. It helps you determine priorities, it brings focus to how and where and with whom you expend your energies, and it will fill you with profound gratitude and joy.