Today I celebrate, on a very modest private scale I assure you, my 61st birthday. It honestly does not seem possible that I have reached this age. I suppose it is impossible to truly imagine oneself being 61 when you are 21 or 31. Somewhere, after age 50, I began to think about the length of my life differently. At 60 (as seen in this photo at the Sox game with my daughter Stacy and son-in-law Jason) I began to think about life in terms of how a team approaches a football game. After 60 we are in the fourth quarter, with the major difference being we have no idea when the buzzer will sound ending our earthly life. (One could also think of being in the ninth inning I guess, but you have no idea when the last out will be recorded.) I find myself sometimes holding up four fingers, like a football team when the last quarter begins, saying to myself, “Are you ready to win this last quarter, by the grace of God at work in your body and soul?”
The passage I am powerfully reminded of today is Psalm 90:10:
“The days of our life are seventy years, or perhaps eighty, if we are strong; even then their span is only toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away.”
This is obviously not a specific promise about the length of life. It is a general proverb about all life. Modern medicine has allowed more and more people to reach beyond 90 years. Of my four parents (which includes my wife’s mom and dad) three of the four lived into their nineties. Honestly, none of them enjoyed their quality of life post-90. There are exceptions, but I cannot think living into your nineties is a great blessing in most instances. Some even reach 100 years. The number of people who reach 100 is increasing every single year. But no matter how you cut it you will grow weaker with the years and eventually you will die.
I am not morbid in the least. I am a critical realist. I am generally optimistic about the future, though a bit melancholic in temperament. Poor health has impacted my quality for life since I was 49. Age has now made the symptoms of this worse. I was diagnosed in 1998 with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. I have had every suggestion under the sun for how to get over this strange immune disorder. I have tried so many medical and therapeutic approaches that I cannot begin to list them all. (I am being frank and honest here, please do not write to me about another cure for this illness. I will likely have tried what you suggest and then some. And until the CDC comes out with more real medical evidence, I simply do not trust all the theories and remedies on offer.)
The downside of dealing with a chronic illness at age 61 is I am very tired, very tired. I need more rest than most people and sometimes this works negatively on my mind and spirit. The upside is I know someday I will be well, really well. I am trusting the Lord who called me and saved me to complete his salvation in my body and spirit both now and finally in the Day of Christ. This illness has forced me to slow down, to listen, to keep short accounts and to dream about a better day to come. It also works weakness in me so that Christ’s strength is being perfected in ways I cannot begin to explain. I have sought healing in every way I can imagine, both through medicine and through prayers and anointing for healing. But God has, so far, said, “Trust me one day at a time with your energy and struggle. I will never, ever abandon you and I will be with you in this trial until the end.”
My deepest desire, especially in the next few years, is to truly impact a growing wave of younger leaders who will grasp the missional-ecumenical vision and begin to dream with me of what it would look like if we really believed what Jesus prayed for in John 17:20-23. If I can serve others, especially my family, and “equip leaders for unity in Christ’s mission” then I believe I will have served the purpose God had for me, at least in the final quarter of my journey. The future is bright no matter what happens to my mortal flesh. I will see the Lord Jesus Christ in my flesh, in the kingdom which is to come, in the new heavens and the new earth. I believe this more than I believe anything else. My redeemer lives and so shall I.