Friday, September 18, 2009

Thoughts on Getting Older

“Boys, if I live to be an old woman, I don’t have long to live.” That’s what my great-grandmother Nettles told my father and his brother Woodrow. At the time they were young boys and she was a widower in her early sixties. I heard my dad tell that vignette several times throughout my life. The first few times Great Granny Nettles was still living. She lived to just a few months short of her one hundredth birthday and although I didn’t see her often I remember her well.

She was a Bible loving, foot-washing, loud-singing, shouting, “Hard-shell” Primitive Baptist, one of the elect in a religious world of double predestination. The grand-daughter of an Indian Chief, Billy Bowlegs, she grew up on Billy’s Island in the Okefenokee Swamp. I don’t remember her ever talking to me. I have shadows of recollections of her patting me on the head and saying things about me (“he’s a cotton top” kind of things). Mostly, I remember her as the center of the universe whenever she was present. Everyone seemed to hang on her every word and revolve around her every move. Someone said she never worked a day in her life, at least not after her daughters got old enough to take care of her. Whatever the case, they were devoted to her.

Today is my fifty-sixth birthday (her birthday was this week as well – 143rd I think) and I have reflected on how that comment to my dad has affected me over the years. When I was young it was a humorous story about how even adults could miss judge reality; Dad always chuckled when he told it. “My goodness she’s lived a lifetime since she said that,” I would think. For most of my adult life it has served as an illustration of the stages of human development, integrity vs. despair. Today it serves as a very different point of reference. If I live to be an old man, I don’t have many years to live.

Don’t misunderstand me; I’m not depressed about my age. I am probably more up-beat than I have been in years. I simply have a different perspective on time and age. As I grow older there are fewer uncertainties in my life, making room for more expectations. I think about heaven more than ever. My thoughts of the celestial city are decreasingly material (apartments, streets and gates) and increasingly relational. What a glorious promise that we shall know as we are known.

A few months ago I had an interesting notion. In recent years I have thought more and more about how wonderful it will be to see my loved ones who are already there. One day as I prayed for my children, their husbands and my grandchildren it dawned on me that I will probably have greater joy seeing them in heaven than seeing my loved ones who have gone before me. Perhaps I will have greater joy seeing those I have influenced toward heaven then those who influenced me. For those who helped me I will be thankful and overflowing with joy; heaven will certainly be a reunion with those we love. But life is lived forward; it is by its very nature purposive. We who are in Christ are living toward the glory of God and our contribution to His glory will be our conformity to His image, the lives we have lived, and the persons we have influenced.

A parallel transition in my thinking is that those whom I am influencing toward heaven are before or in front of me. That is, in the continuum of time they are between me and Heaven. I may get there first, but their lives are closer to the return of Christ and the fulness of time. {Then again according to Paul they will not get there before us. The dead in Christ will first rise.) They are not behind me being pulled into eternity. They are before me being nurtured toward God. The significance for me is that my role in life is before me. Regardless of the time allotted to me by God, my life is full if I am journeying with others toward Him. However many years I have before me in this life, may they be measured not in weeks or months or decades, but in the riches I lay up in heaven, riches first planted in the lives of those I am nudging toward God.

In Christ the best is always yet to come.

1 comment:

Phil Hoover, Chicago said...

We have been discussing Randy Alcorn's book (if you want to call it that) HEAVEN in my small group. You could tell him a few things....and you would be correct.