“You may delay, but time will not.” Benjamin Franklin
I turn 40 this week, and all at once a vista of new opportunities has opened up in front of my eyes – a bleak landscape of dismal mortality. A place where my kids grow up and leave me alone, where my technical skills become obsolete and I wake up one day in a blue pullover vest as a greeter at Wal Mart, placing yellow return stickers on plastic bags for minimum wage. I’m feeling a lot like the toaster you got at your wedding: when parts starts breaking down, you take it hard. Come on, everyone gets a toaster for their wedding. And any way I slice it, my bread doesn’t get nearly as crunchy as it used to. I’m feeling somewhat betrayed by a body that creaks more than it used to. That once-great mane of rock star hair has made the pilgrimage from the top of my head to my ears and nose.
While clicking through the channels this afternoon looking for football, I paused at Romero’s classic Night of the Living Dead. The bleak film is an analogy for life – time pursues us all with the relentless lumbering gait of a reanimated zombie. There is no escape, time will one day catch up to us all.
Well Aren’t You a Bowl of Glad Tidings of Cheer, Mister Grumpy Bear?
“Live as if you were living a second time, and as though you had acted wrongly the first time.” Viktor Frankl
I could take this time of introspection to draft up some really spectacular resolutions. For example, I could determine to go skydiving. Or perhaps I want to finish that novel I’ve been tinkering with for over a year now. I could take a long vacation with my family and dip our feet in the cold waters of Loch Ness, in giddy anticipation that a playful plesiosaur might nibble our toes. The list could go on and on, but of the 45% of Americans who make a New Years Resolution, only 8% are successful in achieving that resolution. In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s classic work “Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment”, those who were most eager for a new start in life were doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past. I could make all the resolutions in the world, but statistically speaking, I’d be better off spending my time eating bacon.
“Sunrise, Sunset, swiftly fly the days. Seedlings turn overnight to sunflowers, blossoming even as we gaze.” Tevye
We have been discussing so many options for my upcoming birthday. One of the options was a super duper birthday party with friends and family coming from far and wide to pay homage to me. In retrospect, that seemed rather vain and was shelved. Plus, it’s way too much work to organize on top of a demanding geek job and forty-seven squirming kids. I may have counted some of them twice, they never seem to stand still. Today I remarked that perhaps at 50 I’ll have a party, but not at 40. That pregnant thought immediately gave birth to the realization that in ten more years, my oldest daughter will be 23 and most likely be married. My oldest son will be 21, old enough to consume wine legally. My five year old ball of fire will probably be saving pennies for a car at 15. My youngest daughter will have just entered her teenage years, my infant son will be ten. And in ten years, I will be turning 900.
So What, Then?
“I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind.” Solomon, son of David
Moments like this – the quiet introspective journey of the soul – can be incredibly helpful in coming to grips with reality. And the reality is that the greatest achievements of my own life are about as insignificant as a toad blurping in the Amazon rainforest after a hearty dish of mosquito stew. I could kid myself that I’ve done great things – that I’ve somehow earned a place in the history books. But the reality is, my life cannot be measured by an insatiable quest for fame or glory. I am not a firework, determined to amaze with the loudest noise and brightest flash, before snuffing out among the stars.
The life of Solomon is a vivid reminder of this reality. Throughout the book of Ecclesiastes, he ruminates (much as I am doing now) about reality. Through his journey of introspection, Solomon reaches the conclusion that career achievements, materialism, alcohol, pleasure, wisdom – they are all “meaningless.” Ultimately, Solomon realizes that serving God is the ultimate end of Man. He concludes his introspection with this:
Remember him — before the silver cord is severed, and the golden bowl is broken; before the pitcher is shattered at the spring, and the wheel broken at the well, and the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.
I will enjoy temporary pleasures in life – that is a gift to all people, Christian or otherwise. But ultimately, if I am to spend an eternity with the Almighty, I ought to come to grips with that eternity sooner, rather than later. Because “later” may come at a moment’s notice. We are not guaranteed another day, another hour, another breath.
Life is Short
“Christian, husband, father, employee. Those are your first four duties; it’ll take most of your life. You’re not going to have a lot of time.” Mark Driscoll
I remember vividly the thoughts and feelings I had when I reached the pinnacle of Online Gaming – my Gnome Rogue, Shrimpee, hit the maximum level on World of Warcraft. It took many hours to reach this point, and the virtual earth was damp with the blood of slain orcs. I had piles of gold, amazing armor and weapons, and a gang of friends in my Guild who respected me.
But it wasn’t enough.
There was simply no way for me to escape the reality of the situation – that I had spent hour upon hour away from life to invest in something that wasn’t real. I had nothing at all to show for this, as Solomon said, it was meaningless. There was no parade outside, no diploma in the mail. Hungry mouths of third world children still went hungry, cancer still hadn’t received a cure. Closer to home, the trash in our kitchen wasn’t walking itself to the curb. There was just me holed up at my desk playing a video game while the world spun on around me. I played a lot less video games after that. As long as breath still courses through my lungs, there is hope that my priorities can continue to change. Perhaps tomorrow, with God’s grace, I will resemble Christ a bit more than I did today.