Recently I was at a gathering of alumni from Regent College and the Biblical Graduate School of Theology. Regent College alumni were asked to stand up on the basis of which decade they had graduated. The oldest batch were those who graduated from Regent in the ’70s and ’80s. I was the only one who stood up. I was the one who had first graduated from Regent in the group that evening and I was the only one in that category. This is beginning to happen to me more and more. I have to fill forms where you have to indicate your age range. Often the oldest category would be 55 and above and there I would be. At the gathering I said out loud, half in jest, “I feel so old.” A friend responded, half in jest I hope, that I was old and that I shouldn’t be in denial about the fact.
The fact is I turned 60 this year and I feel the passing of time more acutely than on any of my other birthdays. Sixty may indeed be the new 50 but it is abundantly clear that I am much nearer the day of my death than the day of my birth. It helps me appreciate Psalm 90:12 more acutely.
So make us know how few are our days,
that our minds may learn wisdom.
(Psalm 90:12 REB)
Robert Davidson comments on this verse:
To recognise our transitoriness and mortality is to recognize that many of the values that are placed in life — for example, wealth, status, and power — have no ultimate significance. What is needed is that “wisdom” . . . which will enable us to live responsibly in the light of a true, God-given understanding of what human life really means. Such wisdom points to abandoning any self-reliance or seeking security in merely human values. That security only God can give. (The Vitality of Worship[Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1998], 302.)
In other words, the reality of our mortality becomes an acid test to all that we do in life, revealing what is truly important and what is not. Unfortunately it is hard to imagine one’s death at 30. It is very real at 60.
What is life all about then? A few evenings ago I was sharing at the Dental Prayer Fellowship and we were grappling with the subject of “success”. We agreed that one key biblical definition of success is faithfulness; that we have been faithful to invest the life we have been given in the work of the Kingdom (Matthew 25:14–30).
To be faithful to the life that has been entrusted to me — what does that mean in real time, in real terms? I’m currently in Penang to see my mum. She is in her late eighties and living with dementia. To be faithful means I do what I can to care for my mum. I suspect to be faithful also includes speaking less and writing more. I am grateful for the many speaking engagements I receive but I know there are a few key books I need to write. And I need to speak less to make space for my writing. I need help. I need your prayers. I enjoy speaking. It gives me an immediate buzz. Writing is a tough and lonely undertaking. But at this stage of life I must choose what I need to do, and not do what I would like to do. I no longer have all the time in the world. I never had. I must be wise.
Let me end with a reflection by the British management guru, Charles Handy, on the impact of the death of his father:
When I was in my mid-forties, my father died. His death stopped me in my tracks and changed my life. Before he died, I was a hot-shot professor at the London Business School — teaching ambitious young men and women, publishing well-received articles, writing best-selling business books, jetting around the world, lecturing at major universities, consulting for big-name companies. I was on the edge of the big time. And, I have to admit, I was pretty pleased with myself.
My father, on the other hand, had been a quiet and modest man. He had lived most of his life in the Irish countryside, where he’d been the minister of a small church. Secretly I had always been disappointed by his lack of ambition. It was difficult for me to understand his reluctance to move on or up in life.
When he died, I rushed back to Ireland for the funeral. Held in the little church where he had spent most of his life, it was supposed to be a quiet family affair. But it turned out to be neither quiet nor restricted to the family. I was astounded by the hundreds of people who came, on such short notice, from all corners of the British Isles. Almost every single person there came up to me and told me how much my father had meant to them — and how deeply he had touched their lives.
That day, I stood by his grave and wondered, Who would come to my funeral? How many lives have I touched? Who knows me as well as all of these people who knew this quiet man? (“Charles Handy Tribute,” quoted from Edupage, 21 March 1999)
I read this many years ago. I can’t remember which of Handy’s books it was in. The above was the only place I could track it down on the Internet in a pinch. Seemed like a good time to read it again though.