Having already lived out the majority of my brief stay on the planet, I sometimes feel crushed by the weight of transience. I have been tricked into procrastination more times than I can count, putting off the visit, the coffee date, the conscience call for personal change, etc. Like sand slipping through my fingers, each grain small and insignificant on its own, opportunities fall to the beach of good intention, building a mound of regret. Melancholy memories of days gone by and missed possibilities are joy robbers. Forgive the dismal introduction!
How often you have read or heard something along the lines of “enjoy this time, it will pass quickly”, or “the days are long, the years are short”? Why ruminate on something so obvious and irretrievable? Well, perhaps some younger soul can benefit from the warning. All can refresh their connection with the One Who can ‘restore the years the locust has eaten”.
We all have regrets. Some have had tragedy. Broken dreams, the “secret hopes that perish in the grave of years gone by”, the fierce optimism of youth twisted by the unflinching grip of irreversible loss, weakness or malevolence – all these things shape us. We live out the inevitable results of our life choices – perhaps made in noble stoicism, possibly in veiled retaliation, maybe in emotional impulse – but decidedly determining which path we now walk every day and with whom. Words we cannot take back have severed ties. Impulsive acts have hurt or offended. Personal preference forged a path through community like a snow plow – often with little regard to the collateral damage on the feelings or convictions of others. Just as importantly, the choices our people have formed us as well. Whatever water is under the bridge, however, there is still opportunity to build a dam or put a rock in the stream to divert the flow.
In our youth friends, family, occupation, hobbies, education, ministry and a multitude of pursuits clamored for our attention. I was so busy juggling responsibilities and the duties of life – the tyranny of the urgent – the pressure made me feel helpless to change. In reality, my sense of significance was measured by the amount of bustle. Of course I “knew” that one’s worth is not measured by the externals of life, but it sure felt like it! Imperceptibly, subtly, stealthily that lie became my truth. Being busy was like an addictive drug, masking and soothing the nagging threat of becoming inconsequential. Now in a less demanding, more isolated stage of life, the struggles I face tell me that I counted on being needed and relevant way more than I realized. Doing had become more important than being.
Every stage of life has its exquisite joys and its hardships. The lines etched in the faces of the more ‘seasoned’ among us formed through repeated responses to life’s meanderings. The laugh lines are lovely, the furrowed brow betrays trials. Yet most of the life history is hidden beneath a practiced smile. I have been astounded in conversation with a plain ‘unremarkable’ person to find that their bravery saved their platoon in war, or they fostered and adopted many at-risk kids, or guided a corporation to success to provide livelihoods for many, were missionaries in a foreign land with incredible adversity, etc. And now all their skills lie in the toolbox closed by age, illness, or circumstance. That can be devastating at worst, demoralizing at least. If one’s value is measured by accomplishments, the last chapters of life can be brutal. Sorrow is a relentless reality as friends, family, vocation, talent and productivity exit at a steady pace. Significance must be properly embraced or despair will suffocate the soul. Choosing true life does not happen by accident! Unless one’s worth is independent of performance, personal dignity is demolished with age or illness.
No one warned or prepared me for this stage of the journey, or more likely I did not listen. Perhaps someone can avoid the pits I have fallen into if they knew where they were on the map. We have heard the platitudes like ‘when you come to the end you will not wish you spent more time at work, but with family”. And we nod and say amen. That warning usually comes when one is locked in to demands which must be met to provide for family, career, or ministry. Like hamsters on a treadmill we frantically perform our duties and relish our breaks. It is natural to embrace our busyness as an escape, resent it as an intrusion, or sanctify it with directed devotion. The alternative requires intense concerted effort.
Break the cycle! Schedule regular retreats to assess the soul. Do a heart check with your most vital connection. Practice measured solitude from noise and speech to reconnect with the joy of life in such an amazing universe. Take a time of devotional reading and prayer, repenting and praising the One Who made you the unique individual that you are. Schedule to make these things happen. The most influential Man in history is a great example of this very thing. He left in the midst of pressing engagements, took off early in the morning, sent His people away to be alone with His vital connection. It apparently did not diminish His achievements, but grounded Him in His person and purpose. I guess it’s worth a shot for us, eh?