Some say 40 is the new 30, but when 50 rolls around, it’s hard to be a card-carding member of the younger generations anymore; you’re now sitting squarely in middle age — beyond that if you consider the average lifespan. By 50, most of us have (hopefully) learned a thing or two and are better at noticing the workings of providence in our lives. Patrick Madrid, a well-known Catholic author, speaker, and radio host, has shared some of what he’s learned in a new book called Life Lessons: Fifty Things I Learned in My First 50 Years. And as an evangelist, apologist, and teacher over the years, Madrid has many stories to tell.
Madrid has written or edited 24 books on Catholic themes. He currently hosts the “Patrick Madrid Show” produced by Immaculate Heart Radio, and runs the Catholic Apologetics Academy and Catholic Apologetics Summer Camp. His proudest accomplishments, however, are his 35-year marriage to his wife, Nancy, and their 11 children and growing brood of grandchildren. He sat down with Zoe Romanowsky to talk about the joys of being older, how to find God in daily life, and what he looks forward to about his next 50 years.
Zoe Romanowsky: What do you find most rewarding about being in your fifth decade?
Patrick Madrid: The first thing I should say is that I turned 50 almost six years ago so I’m getting closer to 60. My 50s have been wonderful in ways life wasn’t before. Nancy and I are expecting our 19th grandchild and that definitely has a way of changing your perspective on life, and has changed mine for the better. I feel blessed with good health so I’ve been able to find a lot of time to be productive — writing, public speaking, and my work on the radio. Nancy and I are not quite at the empty nest stage yet — we have 11 children, the oldest 9 of whom are up and out and the two youngest will be finishing high school soon, so we’re close. I love this period of life.
Your book is essentially about the lessons God has taught you through many of the experiences you’ve had in your life and ministry… What do you think God is trying to teach you now?
I think one is ‘don’t forget what I’ve taught you, don’t unlearn the lessons you’ve learned’… We human beings are capable of doing that if we don’t keep our eyes on the ball. And something on my mind a lot now — and it tracks with the last chapter of my book — is how valuable time is and how relatively fleeting is. Now that I’m getting closer to 60, I don’t have a whole to time left, even if I live to be an old man, so I need to make the best of the time I have for as long as I have it.
Were you always the kind of person who noticed God’s presence in his day-to-day life or did it take time to cultivate that practice?
Definitely not the former, and working on the latter. Personally — and I’m very upfront about this in the book — I always seem to discern God’s will for my life in the rear-view mirror. I look back and say, ‘Oh, that’s what was happening, that’s what God was doing.’ The feedback I hear from readers about the book is that they’re surprised at how mundane all the things are in life that actually are very momentous if we only know how to look at them. It has taken me a long time to get to that point and I’m trying to get better at it.
How can we learn to notice God’s presence in ordinary moments?
From my own experience, it’s knowing that first of all God doesn’t typically use grandiose gestures; usually it’s that ‘still quiet voice,’ as the Bible says, and we need to find it in our day-to-day life, relationships, incidents that happen. In the book, I talk about something that happened to me once on a roller coaster, which taught me something about myself that I never expected and have never forgotten. I realized later, wow, that was significant. And it was in the most unlikely of places.
The second thing is knowing what to look for, because the cereal I poured in my cereal bowl this morning is of little importance, but there are things that do happen… For example, a few weeks ago I was struck by the joy of a flight attendant when I was traveling back from a conference. She was from India — a very charming woman in her early 50s — and I was mesmerized by her because she had a kind word for everyone, smiled at people, was helpful. I realized I was looking at something unique and after a few minutes of reflection, I realized it was joy. She’s a joyful person and it was contagious —people around her were catching it, and I was catching it. And although it happened a few weeks ago, I still think about her and that little lesson she taught me that I wouldn’t have now if I hadn’t learned to notice. And I was just boarding an airplane.