As Samuel Johnson remarked, the prospect of hanging concentrates the mind wonderfully. This week I discovered that turning 70 is a wonderful stimulus to concentrate the mind. After all, according to the Bible, it’s the marker that one has reached a full span of life, and anything further is a lucky bonus.
Psalm 90, Verse 10, says: “The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.”
That’s the poetic King James Version. The Message says it more bluntly: “We live for seventy years or so (with luck we might make it to eighty), And what do we have to show for it? Trouble. Toil and trouble and a marker in the graveyard.”
So my time is short, which translates into an increased sense of urgency in fulfilling my purpose here on earth in active service of Jesus. And yet rather than feeling downcast about the prospect of having perhaps only ten more years on this earth, I feel positively elated to have reached this milestone. I thank God that he has preserved my life thus far and am grateful for every single one of my years despite their many failures and regrets. And while I still enjoy good health, the threat of looming death feels somewhat academic – and, in any case, nothing to be feared.
I went through a time, back in my 50s, when I eagerly wished to depart this world and escape its burdensome sorrow and anxiety. I struggled greatly and leant on God urgently. While I no longer yearn for such a release, the memory of that time reminds me that to die offers the fulfilment of a promise that death is not the end, but a doorway to new life with Jesus, washed clean of my many sins.
In the meantime, I have so much to cherish. As have generations before me, I have discovered there are certain joys in getting old. Chief among them is the prospect of becoming a grandmother and seeing my beloved sons become loving fathers. The miraculous pregnancy of my daughter-in-law has made my heart sing and made me determined to stay fit and active for as long as possible.
Having worked for four decades in my profession has given me freedom and enjoyment in my craft that is the reward of endless hours of sweat and determination – not to mention dealing with difficult, demanding bosses in newsroom settings. Such experiences shaped this once timid creature into a calm, resilient and forthright professional – and helped me appreciate the collaborative atmosphere of working in a Christian workplace.
And how blessed am I to have been married for 32 years to someone who has shared my pilgrimage from agnosticism to vibrant faith in Jesus and whose love never wavers even when my emotional health does?
It is risky to hope at every stage of life.
Yes, life is precarious and we hang by a thread of God’s grace. I am grieved that a good many of my former colleagues have already had their obituaries written. I know that thread can break at any time, and I could become frail and infirm or, worst of all, widowed. It is risky to hope at every stage of life. I feel the anxiety of my son and daughter-in-law about the progress of their unborn baby. Yet it is axiomatic that one of the hardest things in life – giving birth – can also be the most marvellous thing in the universe. Suffering at any time is never welcome, yet we know it is not pointless because God can and does use it to draw us closer to him. Speaking for myself, when my dark days had passed, I felt a new capacity to comfort and care for others. Now that my mental equilibrium is restored, with occasional wobbles, I am left with gratitude to God for the days he has allotted me and an increased sense of urgency to make those days meaningful in his service whether I feel well or not.
What would we do without the ability to trust the Lord Jesus in all things? With COVID continuing to thwart our instincts to hug and kiss and be close to our loved ones, one thing remains sure: this is God’s world and he will have the last word. And surely one day, he will welcome me home, leaving my children and future grandchildren with – hopefully! – fond memories.
You make known to me the path of life; in your presence, there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. Ps 16:11 (ESV)