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Archive for the ‘the frailty of life’ Category

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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Having not been hit by a personal tragedy in my life so far, such as the tragic death of one of my children or grandchildren, I cannot say for sure how I would handle it. I would surely grieve deeply, for I love each of them, but would I find a way to deal with my grief and eventually move on with life in a healthy way?

Would I be like Eric Clapton, the award-winning musician?

On March 20, 1991, Eric’s four-year old son, Conor, opened the latch of the window of a family friend’s 53rd-floor apartment in New York and fell through the window to his death. Eric arrived at the scene shortly after the accident and was understandably distraught, so much so that he went into seclusion and mourning for several months.

One of the things that ultimately helped him to deal with the tragedy was that he was able to channel his pain and loss into his song writing, especially his song, “Tears in Heaven”:

Would you know my name
If I saw you in heaven?
Would it be the same
If I saw you in heaven?

I must be strong, and carry on
Cause I know I don’t belong
Here in heaven.

Would you hold my hand
If I saw you in heaven?
Would you help me stand
If I saw you in heaven?

I’ll find my way, through night and day
Cause I know I just can’t stay
Here in heaven.

Time can bring you down,
Time can bend your knee,
Time can break your heart,
Have you begging please…
Begging please…

(instrumental)

Beyond the door
There’s peace I’m sure.
And I know there’ll be no more
Tears in heaven.

Would you know my name
If I saw you in heaven?
Would it be the same
If I saw you in heaven?

I must be strong, and carry on
Cause I know I don’t belong
Here in heaven…

Lord, I know I don’t belong
Here in heaven .

Although the song won several music awards in 1992 and 1993, Eric stopped singing it in 2004, saying, “I didn’t feel the loss anymore, which is so much a part of performing those songs. I really have to connect with the feelings that were there when I wrote them. They’re kind of gone and I really don’t want them to come back, particularly. My life is different now. They probably just need a rest and maybe I’ll introduce them for a much more detached point of view.”

If I didn’t handle my tragedy like Eric Clapton, would I be like Horatio G. Spafford?

Horatio was a Christian and a successful attorney in Chicago during the mid 1800s, but was hit by three calamities in close succession:

  • The Chicago Fire of 1871 wiped out his extensive real estate holdings and investments.
  • His young son died of scarlet fever.
  • His four daughters—Tanetta, Maggie, Annie, and Bessie—were killed in 1873 when the ship on which they were sailing to England with their mother was hit by another vessel in the Atlantic and sank quickly, taking the lives of 226 passengers and crew.

Horatio was supposed to be on the ship with them, but a last-minute crisis in his business delayed him and he sent his family ahead, with plans to join them soon after. When he heard the news, he took the next available ship to join his wife, who survived the sinking, in England.

On the voyage over to England, he spent most of his time on deck, staring at the waves and praying. When his ship passed the approximate area where his daughters lost their lives, Horatio was aware of God’s sustaining and comforting presence, and the words “When sorrows like sea billows roll…it is well with soul” imprinted themselves in his mind.

With those words guiding him, he then went on to pen six verses of a hymn, “It Is Well With My Soul,” with four of the following verses becoming well known, loved, and sung by churches for over the past 138 years:

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
when sorrows like sea billows roll;
whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.

(Refrain)
It is well with my soul,
it is well, it is well with my soul.

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
let this blest assurance control,
that Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
and hath shed his own blood for my soul.

(Refrain)

My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

(Refrain)

And, Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight,
the clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
the trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
even so, it is well with my soul.

(Refrain)

As beautiful as “Tears in Heaven” is, it does not answer Eric’s soul-searching questions, and it reveals a father whose only recourse is to dig deep within himself and move ahead with the hope of someday finding peace through his own effort. Even then he is not even sure that he will make it to heaven to be united with his son!

Horatio, on the other hand, finds immediate peace and consolation in the midst of his tragedy, and attributes that peace and assurance to the love, grace, and redeeming sacrifice of Christ on his behalf.

It is my deepest desire that when the time comes for me to face my own tragedies, that my grief will be tempered by my faith, trust, and reliance on my Savior, Jesus Christ, who assures us, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” (John 14: 27, RSV)

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If you watch television, you’ve probably seen the Cialis ads in which a couple is doing a mundane household chore together when the mood suddenly becomes intimate and romantic, and the indoor setting is morphed into several beautiful outdoor scenes of nature.  I recently had a Cialis moment—of sorts.

I was washing dishes in my kitchen sink when my attention was suddenly drawn to the orchid plant sitting on the bay window above the sink. Even though I had daily seen that plant over several weeks since it first bloomed, I was mesmerized that day by the complexity of the design, structure, color, and beauty of the six flowers on their tall, slender stem.

As I observed the details of this gorgeous orchid plant, I thought, “This is no accident of nature. There is a divine designer behind creation!”

And with that reaffirmation of faith in God as creator, I was suddenly filled with a sense of awe and reverence for God, so much so that I was emotionally moved to tears as my mind’s focus morphed from the orchid to a sweeping mosaic view of God’s wider creation.

After finishing the dishes, I slipped out into our English-style garden designed by my wife, Diana, and wandered among the many variety of floral species, each as uniquely beautiful as the orchid, and I began to worship God in prayerful praise.

Sitting in the garden with my Bible, I was inspired by these passages about the majesty of God the creator:

• Psalm 8 reminded me that the glory of God fills all creation and that God cares for his most valuable creation—people:

O Lord, our Lord, the majesty of your name fills the earth!
Your glory is higher than the heavens…
When I look at the night sky and see the work of your fingers—
the moon and the stars you have set in place—
what are mortals that you should think of us,
mere humans that you should care for us?
(8:1, 3, 4; New Living Translation, NLT)

• Psalm 19 declared that both God’s creation and his law speak to us and reveal his greatness:

The heavens tell of the glory of God.
The skies display his marvelous craftsmanship.
Day after day they continue to speak;
night after night they make him known.
They speak without a sound or a word;
their voice is silent in the skies;
Yet their message has gone out to all the earth,
And their words to all the world.  (19:1-4, NLT; also verses 7-11)

• From Psalm 104 I learned that we should rejoice in God, for he not only creates, but he sustains his creation:

O Lord, what a variety of things you have made!
In wisdom you have made them all.
The earth is full of your creatures….
Every one of these depends on you
to give them their food as they need it.
When you supply it, they gather it.
You open your hand to feed them, and they are satisfied.
(104:24,27,28, NLT)

And I was also reminded that in the midst of this wonderful manifestation of God’s creation, we should not take life for granted:

• Job 14:1-2—“How frail is humanity! How short is life! Like a flower, we blossom for a moment and then wither. Like the shadow of a passing cloud, we quickly disappear.” (NLT)

• Isaiah 40:6b-8—“…people are like grass that dies away. Their beauty fades quickly as the beauty of flowers in a field. The grass withers, and the flowers fade, but the word of our God stands forever.” (NLT)

• Psalm 103:15, 16—“Our days on earth are like grass; like wildflowers, we bloom and die. The wind blows, and we are gone—as though we had never been here.” (NLT)

Far from deflating my spirit of worshipful praise, these last three passages filled me with deep appreciation for the gift of life that each day brings, and they intensified within me a desire to live more fully, more creatively, and more passionately.

For unlike flowers with their beautiful but brief life span, God created us not only for a temporary life on earth but a more joyful and magnificent eternal life with him in heaven, “For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down—when we die and leave these bodies—we will have a home in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands.” (2 Cor. 5:1, NLT)

And so with those reminders and fresh insight into the nature and creative deeds of our heavenly Father, I recommitted myself to worshipful service to him, echoing the psalmist’s benediction:

May the glory of the Lord last forever!
The Lord rejoices in all that he has made!
I will sing to the Lord as long as I live.
I will praise my God to my last breath!
May he be pleased by all these thoughts about him,
for I rejoice in the Lord….
I will praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord!   (104:31, 33, 34, 35b, NLT)

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Meditative places in our garden. Click images to enlarge.



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