In a few days (Aug. 15th), I will be 65 years old! One thing I can tell you for sure is growing older is not for sissies! There are plenty of challenges as I’m sure my older friends can well attest! But, In spite of them all, I truly am a blessed man. I have an amazing wife, incredible loving and supportive children, beautiful grandchildren, faithful friends, and good health. What more could any man want? Only one thing comes to mind……UNDERSTANDING!
“….and with all your getting, get understanding.” – Proverbs 4:7
There’s an old Amish proverb, I believe, that says, “too soon old, too late smart.” It made me ask myself the question, what, if anything, do I understand now, that I didn’t understand when I was younger? I came up with 10 things…will you let me share them with you for my 65th birthday?
1. Inner wholeness is greater than outward success. It is probably impossible to arrive at 65 without wounds in the inner person – deep wounds that need God’s healing grace. The more I face up to my own inner wounds, the more I wish I had let Jesus touch my deepest hurts earlier in life. That childhood hurt, that hidden outrage, that long suppressed memory can lurk like a monster in the basement of your heart for years, even decades, to rise when you least expect it to wreck havoc! Hiding the monster, denying that it’s down there is a dangerous game. The temptation is to create an alternative reality where success and accomplishment and appearances seem so very real and the monster just a mirage. If I were young again, I would bore down into the inner world of me and find Christ’s healing touch in the darkness under the floorboards.
2. Mercy is greater than justice. So many in the church want the wayward to “get what’s coming to them.” Too often, there is a shortage of mercy among the followers of Christ who blessed the merciful in His most famous message, the Sermon on the Mount. If I were young again, I would learn and practice mercy more often, knowing that later I would surely need it myself.
If we hanker for justice when a colleague stumbles, gloat over the sins of others, humiliate the fallen and demand our “pound of flesh”, we may be planting for a bitter harvest. I don’t want to see the death of mercy. Mercy makes love real, acceptance and understanding a practice, and tenderness a way of life.
3. Kindness is better than being right. As a young man, I advocated my positions too aggressively. I argued with an eye toward winning, unconcerned about the heart of my “adversary”. Even in preaching, I let the bad dog off the chain from time to time to the applause of the gallery.
Should time travel be possible, and I were back in the days of my youth, I would be kinder and less concerned with being right. It saddens me now that so many young adults give little thought to kindness. They facebook and twitter hurtful words like poisonous birds. Their humor is mocking, acidic and unkind. It seems they are more concerned with being thought clever than in being thought kind. It seems the value of gentleness has declined in the world market of today. If I were young again, I would want to better understand the worth and beauty of a kind word.
4. Serving is better than being served. Thank God for 10 years in South Africa! For countless days and endless hours of cheauffering, serving, and tending to those in need. I wish I had known when I was young how hollow “image” and “success” really are. I wish I had understood better how caring, not being cared for, is what Christ had in mind. I wish I had changed more diapers, served more meals, carried more bags, held more doors and lightened more burdens.
5. Brokenness is the doorway to wholeness. This mysterious paradox seems to be hidden from us when we are young. We fear brokenness, run from it, and when it gets too close, we fight it with all our might! If I had known that brokenness was the key to my healing, it would have lifted the fear from me. Instead, I thought it would maim me and maybe even kill me. Now I know that there is very little real wholeness that does not emerge from deep brokenness.
6. Truth is liberating and devestating. Jesus said, “you shall know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” But let me also add, first, it will make you miserable! I’m sorry, it’s true. I wish I had known not to fear the truth about myself. I wish I had known that the temporary misery of the truth was worth going through to find the freedom that it brings.
7. Learning is greater than education. I am a college graduate and I believe that education is important. But I know that there are a lot of educated people who never understood the connection between education and learning. If I were young again I would still go to college. But this time I would go to learn not just to graduate. I would unleash my curiousity, embrace the process, worry less about my grades and enjoy learning.
I still love to learn. I read voraciously, I want to know, to understand, to go deeper. If I were young again, I would take that to college!
8. Giving is sweeter than gaining. I wish that when I was younger, I knew the sheer joy of giving. Yes, I know that God will bless me when I give, but I wish I had realized the total joy of generousity. I would have given more and delighted more in the good that giving does and less in the return it provides.
9. Forgiveness doesn’t fix everything. Not the happiest truth I wish I had known, but it’s among the most sobering. Had I known this, I might have been less callous, less reckless and more mindful of the cost. There are things, relationships, and hearts that once broken cannot be fully “fixed” by forgiveness. The wound, the uncaring, the insensitive word – they may be forgiven, but the damage from them may never quite be right again.
10. Prayer is more powerful than persuasion. In all of life, at every age, conflict is an inescapable reality. I wish I had known younger that in conflict and crisis, talking to God works better than talking to people. When I was young, I thought I could talk my way through everything! Sadly, that kind of self-sufficiency breeds prayerlessness. The older I get, I find that crisis drives me faster to my knees and more slowly to the phone.
I have seen God turn hearts around, change and melt opposition by prayer alone – when no persuasive words could have made a difference. If I were young again, I would spend more time talking to God and less (far less) persuading others to do what I want.
Yes, friends, I wish I had known more than I did when I was younger. I hope I would have even considered one or two of these truths, but I doubt I would have fully appreciated their value like I do now.
I’m glad to be 65. I do not think I want to be young again. But if I had to, if some evil genie made me go back and live it all over again, then these are the things I would want to know and the things I would want to believe. Much love to all of you on my 65th birthday!