“Show me, Lord, my life’s end
and the number of my days;
let me know how fleeting my life is.
You have made my days a mere handbreadth;
the span of my years is as nothing before you.
Everyone is but a breath,
even those who seem secure. – Psalm 39:4-5
Once in a while something surfaces that brings up the distant past. Of course, the concept of “distant” is very much relative, and dependent on your frame of reference.
Saturday morning my men’s group talked about everlasting life, and someone made the observation that the “fourscore years” we’re here on earth are such a short blink of the eye when compared to eternity. But then I pointed out that the amount of time I have been alive is eternity to me – because sixty-one years amounts to the entire scope of my experience, and the only reference point that I have.
So today, when my cousin Peter sent me this photograph from circa 1972, from my perspective that is most certainly the distant past. Peter came to Wake Forest for a short visit a week and a half ago, so we’re in the middle of catching up from a lifetime of essentially being on different continents.
(I had last seen Peter – briefly – at his sister Linda’s memorial service in 2010. Before that it was my parents’ 40th anniversary in 1992. In the 1960’s Peter was a missionary kid who grew up in Rhodesia – Zimbabwe – and I made my way to the USA in 1975.)
So I look at the photograph, taken on the hills behind Brighton in the south of England, and suddenly it’s 1972, I can feel the fresh air of a British summer’s day, and I’m sixteen years old. (That’s me with the hair, BTW, standing next to Peter’s dad, uncle John; Peter is directly in front of me, and next to him auntie Gladys; then there are additional various cousins.)
It’s all part of the story:
In a sense, you have to know 16-year-old me to understand who I am today. I was essentially a happy teenager – but I had no idea what my purpose was in life; I had absolutely no interest in academics, or learning; I loved to play games (soccer, cricket, anything with a ball), but I was lazy, and I never practiced; I didn’t pay attention in class, I didn’t study, and I relied on natural ability to get by in absolutely everything.
But natural ability only gets you so far, and eventually you have to either apply yourself or you fall behind even where you are talented. And that’s where I was when I was sixteen; it was becoming apparent that being a slacker offered no future whatsoever; it was starting to catch up with me, and my confidence was beginning to erode.
THE DANGER: In a sense, that’s the danger at every stage of this life. We are given gifts in abundance, God showers them on us, but we often leave them undiscovered, or we ignore them, or we fail to use them.
God may be the one who graciously gifts us, but then it’s up to each one of us to apply passion, and hard work, and vision, and enthusiasm. Because we are a people not only blessed but commensurately responsible.
So thanks, Peter, for reminding me (unintentionally, I’m sure) that I can’t simply look back and say, “I guess I’ve come a long way since then, I’m glad I’m not neglecting my gifts…” But I can also say – I must also say, “I am convicted that I have to live forward from this day as a passionate, enthusiastic, hard-working, visionary follower of Jesus. Please, God, continue to keep me motivated and committed to sharing the story of the Good News!”
Peace, and more peace, always – DEREK
Then, and now: