“And in the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.” Abraham Lincoln
A new friend of mine from The Well wrote a post today that resonated with me and, as I started to just type out a comment on her blog, I realized I had more to say than one probably should cram in that tiny comment box. Not pages and pages of thoughts, but certainly enough to warrant their own post, so here they are in all their semi-disjointed glory.
I’m not going to summarize all of Dorie’s post (you can read it yourself if you want), but in essence I think she’s been facing some tough questions as a result of watching her grandfather’s recent physical struggles. Since my grandfather just passed away a couple of years ago, I can certainly relate to where she’s coming from on that point. Additionally, I know that the passing of time and growing old in general has been something that has both thrilled and frightened me. Still does.
At the end of her post, Dorie says:
“So now I’m left with questions. How do I live my life? Do I need to change the way I live now in order to ensure my own happiness sixty years from now? Will the decisions I make today impact my ability to die with dignity?”
Wow. Talk about some really good, but really hard questions. I think we all go through times when we wonder what our lives will look like in hindsight from down the road as much as we wonder exactly what’s down that road. Anyone who says they haven’t thought through one or both of these questions is most likely in some form or stage of denial. For me, it’s been a persistent part of the “Who Am I Anyway?” essay I’ve been spent the last 34 years of my life writing…with more many more years to go.
In my senior high school yearbook, we had profiles we wrote for ourselves that I suppose was sort of a precursor to the resume. In it we could list out our accomplishments and memories over our high school “careers”. One section called for us to tell of our “Future Plans”. This is what was listed in mine:
College, marriage, happiness, heaven.
I smile when I read that now and wonder what the 18-year-old me would have thought had someone come and told her that her so-called future plans were not going to go the way she anticipated or land her where she’d thought. Not even close. Instead, she would attend some college, live in Alaska, England, New York City and travel the world over. She would make a lot of mistakes, have a lot of heartache, but a lot of laughter too. She would date, but not marry [yet] and, finding herself still single at 34, would be okay because of the wealth of friendships she had been able to acquire through the years.
Dorie also says that she hopes she’ll “keep growing and changing well into retirement. I would hope that I would continue to do one thing that terrifies me each day until I die.” I know I would hope the same for myself, but I’ve also found that the older I get, the more cautious I’ve become. This is not to say that I wouldn’t still do things that scare me, but I’m definitely losing that total fearlessness that I think is only accompanies youth or great naivete. Some fear I think is healthy – it can keep us from making poor choices, as long as it doesn’t become so crippling as to keep us from pursuing our dreams.
CS Lewis says,
“You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.”
Amen to that! If nothing else, I have learned not to try and predict my life or where I may go and what things I may do. Staying open to possibilities and opportunities has been (and will continue to be) an essential part of what makes me me. I doubt I’ll ever be so old that I’ll not be willing to take on a little risk in order to try out something new. Keeping in mind that the hardest things I’ve done or been through in my life so far have also led to the best experiences or the greatest times of growth.
All this is to say I don’t have the answers to Dorie’s questions – I think there’s only One who does – but what I can say is that I find the most comfort in focusing on the eternal as opposed to just the here and now. That’s the perspective I try to view my own life and circumstances in, and I hope to continue to remind myself of this as I grow older and watch my physical body cave against the push of time, taking on wrinkles, gray hair, and God-knows what else.
Since we are so limited in our vision – so nearsighted – we tend to just look at the present. It’s when the present is weighing us down that we need to stop, lift our eyes up and center our attention on the One whose hands are always holding us. He is the only thing unwavering in this sea of life which is ever-changing and unpredictable. For myself, I find I need daily reminding of this. And, since this is a lot easier said than done, continuous reminders are certainly necessary… If repetition is the mother of habit, then the more I do something, the more second nature it will hopefully become.
Now I’ve rambled quite enough, so let me end by saying that keeping perspective is the key for me when times get hard and I feel like I’ve been struck by a sandstorm while wandering in the desert. That is when I most need to (but often least want to) focus my attention on God, His big picture (even when I can’t see it). When I do this, I find the easier it is to keep everything else in perspective – including the passing of time and all of the good and fun and difficult and sad things that it brings.
So if I were asked to write that “Future Plans” section for a yearbook today, would I even dare attempt it?