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Archive for September, 2011

The years have seemingly flown by quickly, and I now find myself as part of the “sandwich generation”—those of us who are caught between aging parents and in-laws on one hand, and children and grandchildren on the other.

In recent years, my wife and I have experienced the loss of our fathers in their late eighties and nineties, and have seen the rapid decline in the health of our mothers to Alzheimer’s or old age.

And we have been involved with the lives, hopes, and careers of our children and the births and lives of our four grandchildren.

As I approach age sixty-eight, I am mindful of Psalm 90:10, “Seventy years are given to us! Some may even reach eighty,” (New Living Translation, NLT) so I’m committed to living full out in the service of Jesus Christ in the remaining time, however short or long that might be.

But it is Ecclesiastes chapter 12 that captures this “sandwich generation” stage of life, with an urgent call to young people to:

Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say, “I find no pleasure in them….”
(Eccl. 12:1, New International Version, NIV)

Or as the NLT version paraphrases that same verse:

Don’t let the excitement of youth cause you to forget your Creator. Honor him in your youth before you grow old and no longer enjoy living.

Verses 2 to 7 then describe the ravages of old age that drain life of any enjoyment. But, depending on the translations we use, two different pictures emerge.

The NIV, New King James Version (NKJV), New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), and the New English Bible (NEB) describe old age by using the metaphor of a once-busy and prosperous mansion that has passed its prime and is now dilapidated and creeping towards collapse. It’s a house where:

  •  household servants grow old and are unable to work
  •  the keepers of the house, former strong men, are now stooped and tremble as they shuffle around
  •  servants, once numerous, are too few to finish the hard menial work of grinding corn
  •  the lady of the house, with failing eyesight, must now content herself by gazing out of her window at the declining activities of her home
  •  the gates to the street, once open for bustling business and social activities, are  closed
  •  silence prevails
  •  the former life of vitality is dead

However, other translations such as the Good News Bible (GNB) and the NLT use different parts of the human body to interpret verses 2-7. For example, the NLT, in urging the youth not to wait till they are old to serve their Creator, adds:

It will be too late then to remember him, when the light of the sun and moon and stars is dim to your old eyes, and there is no silver lining left among the clouds. Your limbs will tremble with age, and your strong legs will grow weak. Your teeth will be too few to do their work, and you will be blind, too. And when your teeth are gone, keep your lips tightly closed when you eat! Even the chirping of birds will wake you up. But you yourself will be deaf and tuneless, with a quavering voice. You’ll be afraid of heights and of falling, white haired and withered, dragging along without any sexual desire. You will be standing at death’s door. And as you near your everlasting home, the mourners will walk along the streets.

Yes, remember your Creator now while you are young, before the silver cord of life snaps and the golden bowl is broken. Don’t wait until the water jar is smashed at the spring and the pulley is broken at the well. For then the dust will return to the earth, and the spirit will return to God who gave it.

I wish that my mother had taken seriously that advice, for she waited until last year when she was in her eighties to commit her life to Jesus Christ. But by then she was losing her memory to Alzheimer’s, and her health has since declined rapidly to where she does not recognize loved ones, her body is racked with arthritis, she stumbles frequently and has to walk with a frame, she’s incontinent, and she sinks towards dementia.

As a latecomer to the Kingdom of God, my mother is assured her place in heaven through the sacrifice, grace, and love of Jesus Christ. But, oh, how much of the abundant life, peace, and deep-seated joy she has missed over the decades of her life because she chose to live independently from God!

How different her life would have been if she had followed her Creator in her youth and had allowed Jesus Christ to be the center of her life, her marriage, and the rearing of her children!

In light of our human tendency to drift from God in our attempt to live on our own terms, here is the advice that Ecclesiastes offers to us—both old and young:

To those of us in mid-life and older, Ecclesiastes reminds us:

Light is sweet; it’s wonderful to see the sun! When people live to be very old, let them rejoice in every day of life. But let them also remember that the dark days will be many.  (11:7 to 8, NLT)

Rejoice! Enjoy the sweetness of life! Give thanks for every morning that we wake up to the light and warmth of one more day, for we know how fragile life can be, since so many of our peers have not made it this far!

Rejoice—and give thanks that despite the difficulties of life that we might have experienced, and despite the knowledge that we might yet encounter even darker days ahead, we are not without hope if we align with our Creator who gives us an eternal perspective from which to view our future, and we know that “nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Jesus Christ.” (Romans 8:39, NLT)

And to the youth, Ecclesiastes says:

…it’s wonderful to be young! Enjoy every minute of it. Do everything you want to do; take it all in. But remember that you must give an account to God for everything you do. So banish grief and pain, but remember that youth, with a whole life before it, still faces the threat of meaninglessness. (11:9 to 10, NLT)

This is not a green light for you who are young to live irresponsibly, but it is an encouragement to live fully and productively according to the gifts of mind, body, strength, and spirit with which God has blessed you. What you do matters to God, to whom you will eventually have to account for how you lived. May it not be said of you, “youth was wasted on the young!”

So, to all of us, young and old, let us remember our Creator and rejoice in the gift of life that he grants us each day, for on that great resurrection morning, we will give an account of how we lived. May each of us then hear, “Well done, my good and faithful servant…Let’s celebrate together!” (Matthew 25:21, NLT)

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