I’ve officially accumulated 59 years on this earth, just one shy of sixty. In that time I’ve walked a lot of steps, made some missteps, fallen down countless times and gotten back on my feet again, given up at times when I shouldn’t have, but more often endured long enough to get to the other side where I could laugh again, enjoy again. I am thankful for life, though admittedly not always thankful.
The other day my wife cajoled me for leaving a pile of messy papers on top of the dish cabinet beside the table, the table I use for my office. For some reason I lashed back stronger than I expected, bemoaning the days when I had a real office, a secretary, loads of filing cabinets, daily I sat in my padded office chair at my cherry wood desk, not like this Ikea table set and chairs I have now. So I pouted, “You try doing your work on the kitchen table and having to move everything each time we eat!” My daughter who was within earshot chimed in, “Dad, if the people on the street that you help had what you had, they would think their dreams came true!” Ugh, truth spoken by a 21 year old. I guess perspective is everything. As they say, “Every viewpoint has a point from which we view,” and from where I was viewing I sadly lacked the clarity my daughter enjoyed.
Comparison can be one of life’s curses, the death of joy, according to Mark Twain. When you start comparing your life with others, the size of their office, their deeper suntans, their travel pictures, or the newly finished renovations; perspective gets easily lost. And with it contentment. Further still, when you compare your present journey with some of the perks or advantages you enjoyed in the past, once more your joy falls flat. I’ve done that far too often. The real hard lesson to learn in life is to be content with your present, with the hand you have been dealt and make something good happen!
In 59 years of life, I’ve come to see that life is often messy. At least mine has been. No matter how spiritual I might think I am, or how deserving of a smooth life I should get, life doesn’t always cooperate. I’ve seen men, a hell lot more spiritual than me, get run out of their churches. I’ve seen friends, ministers even, struggle with the greatest of despair when one of their beloved family members decided to call it quits and without much warning took their own lives. When I was young I thought the formula was foolproof, keep God first, keep humble, and tithe, you’ll be successful in family life, health and wealth. I was still thinking this way into my thirties, when messiness began to clutter my everyday living. I wondered if my marriage could last the winds of time, I had disagreements with those I worked closely with, I felt the disconnect with my adult children who lived on another continent because of my work, and then there was that brain tumour, all of which made me realise that life, my life could get messy.
I could be wrong, but to me there is only one world, one of beauty coexisting side by side with injustice, fear and terror. Like nature where the poisonous mushrooms, gorgeous wildflowers, hungry hawks, unsuspecting bunnies, snakes and bugs of every type live, kill, pester and procreate in our ecosystems, our human world is full of love and war, families laughing and families destroying each other. Paradox. When I see the acres and acres of the yellow canola flower or the blazing orange red of the poppies in the french countryside, its beauty saturates me. A silent ‘wow’ goes up to God! The paradox of mother nature is that she can inspire awe and, at the same time, fear. When the lion patiently stalks his prey only to put it’s fangs into the neck of an antelope or of a baby elephant, I wince at the unfairness of the weaker vessel to the strong. What am I to think of these things? The God who created both lion and lamb has to be mysterious and His thoughts are higher than mine.
Now that I look back a bit, I wish someone would have told me to explore the beauties of the world while in my twenties. Instead I found myself trying to keep my head barely above the water of church planting. How’s that for stressful when you just turned 21 years old, still a newlywed, then a new dad, and working in a new language in a strange place so far from home, Quebec. I had very little time, nor encouragement to explore, nor to fail, laugh and play. Instead I prayed hard, fasted as much as I could, mostly for more results to show my peers I wasn’t a loser! And to my wife’s chagrin I spent every extra cent on books that would give me knowledge of the Bible and preaching, but sorely lacked true life experience. I spent too much time worrying about why my church wasn’t growing and not enough time just exploring.
Thankfully my fifty-nine years, despite a few relapses, has taught me to learn and even enjoy the paradoxes. I’m learning to live with the clutter, the imperfect scenarios, the lack, as well as to enjoy the blessings, and there are more of them than curses! I’ve learned to dig deep, tap into the roots of my walk with God more in the messiness than the blessing. Another way to express this content is the word trust. “Into your hands I commit my spirit,” has been a prayer I’ve learned from the dying man on the cross. It’s more than acquiescence, its ruthless trust, (Thank you Brennan Manning for that phrase). My shortest and most spoken prayer has been, “Give me grace oh God!” And I’ve felt the grace sustain me over and over.
For me, now, life is less stressful and paradoxically more stressful! I worry about what people think of me a lot less, but at times I worry about not owning a home to go to in my old age or a pension healthy enough to sustain me and Patricia! Does anyone relate to this? All in all, fifty-nine years has taught me to keep living fully, generously and enjoy the person you have become, who you are at your core. And I fear repeating myself here, but I’ve come to love the mystery called God. I’ve trusted His promises for all my life. Of course lessons we all need: Be thankful. Be kind. Enjoy grace. Love. Doing these things will take care of the stress of old age and help dissipate the worry about ‘who will care for me?’ Fifty-nine years on planet earth has convinced me that I have no better choice than to do what I can for myself and to leave the rest with a God who shows himself to be good, merciful and kind.
That’s it for now, when sixty years come, they may surprise me with greater clarity, calm, and joy!