It is a truism that the younger you are, the less likely you will think seriously of eternity, and the older you are, the more likely you will do so. As more and more aches and pains and illnesses and medical problems arise with old age, the more you realise just how short life is, and how quickly it passes.
And the more you spend time with doctors, in hospitals, and dealing with various health issues, the more awareness of eternity dawns on you. This was driven home to me again today. I have been in the hospital twice today so far, and will soon be going for the third time. In this case it is for my wife who had a common procedure, but still a major one.
She may be back home in 3-5 days. So I and the kids are trying to hold the fort. In the process, we learn how much she does to make this household run smoothly and efficiently! But this becomes increasingly common as we age. It is not just increased hospital visits of friends and family and colleagues but also more funerals. As we age, less and less weddings are gone to while more and more funerals are attended.
Things we took for granted as young people certainly can no longer be as we age. Getting in and out of a car is now something requiring a bit of effort. Getting out of deep, comfortable lounge furniture can take a bit of effort. And the visits to the doctor and to hospital certainly start to mount up.
If you are young, enjoy it! All those clichés you heard from old folks while you were young which went in one ear and out the other all of a sudden become gospel truths, such as “When you have your health, you have everything”. Now all those quaint sayings have taken on new life as I experience it all for myself.
Of course being old does however have some advantages: one is you recall some popular music from long ago, which many young people may not even be aware of. Two songs have been going through my head of late as I continue to age. One was the tune “Mother’s Little Helper” performed by Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones.
It first came out in 1966, and one line from it I have not forgotten – indeed, it now takes on new meaning: “What a drag it is getting old.” Of course living longer has many advantages and blessings but certainly just in terms of health issues it can indeed get to be a bit of a drag. Another familiar phrase from our youth now stands out: “You’re not a spring chicken anymore”.
And more well-known song along these lines, even for the younger generation, is the memorable tune sung by Paul McCartney and the Beatles: “When I’m Sixty Four”. It appeared in 1967, and began with these lyrics:
When I get older losing my hair
Many years from now
Will you still be sending me a valentine
Birthday greetings, bottle of wine?
If I’d been out till quarter to three
Would you lock the door?
Will you still need me, will you still feed me
When I’m sixty-four?
I can relate – well, at least to the ‘losing my hair’ bit. The 64 bit will still need to wait for a few more months. But I am getting there. Of course I should point out that while Paul sang this when he was just 25, he is now 74. Hey, makes me feel pretty young yet!
Indeed, how many of the rock stars of our time are now senior citizens, if they have not already passed on. Jagger is 73, Ringo Starr is 76, Eric Clapton is 71, Keith Richards is 72 (but looks 102!), and Joni Mitchell is 72.
And movie stars that we grew up with are also showing their age – big time. Roger Moore is 88, Kirk Douglas is 99, Bridget Bardot is 81, Robert Redford is 79, Harrison Ford is 74, and Sophia Loren is 81.
Wow, where did all those years go? Now the spiritual point I want to make with all this is obviously the brevity of life and the need to number our days, as Scripture says. But I am just now back from the third hospital visit today that I mentioned earlier.
What happened there made me even more intent on writing this piece. I took the whole family and just as we got to my wife’s hospital room there were buzzers buzzing and lights flashing and four or five medical staff there. As a nurse came up to me I said, “I am her husband – is everything OK?”
She took me by the arm and led me and the boys away, and said we could not go in now. So we sat in a waiting room for ten minutes where of course my heart was pounding and my mind was racing: has something gone terribly wrong? Did I lose her? Was I too late? Did I miss seeing her for the last time?
They eventually told us her blood pressure had dropped quite dramatically, but it was all good now and not too uncommon in these situations. Some more work was done with her and eventually we were allowed to go in. I told her she has to stop dying on us! She agreed.
So it made me think of a related important spiritual truth: we dare not ever take for granted our loved ones, our family, our friends. You never know when it will be the last time you see one of them. Here today, gone tomorrow is just one of many biblical aphorisms that apply here.
Indeed, the brevity of life is spoken about in many biblical passages. A few of the more well-known ones include:
-Psalm 39:4-5,11 Show me, Lord, my life’s end
and the number of my days;
let me know how fleeting my life is.
You have made my days a mere handbreadth;
the span of my years is as nothing before you.
Everyone is but a breath,
even those who seem secure.
surely everyone is but a breath.
-Psalm 90:12 So teach us to number our days,
That we may present to You a heart of wisdom.
-Eccesliastes 9:12 Moreover, no one knows when their hour will come: As fish are caught in a cruel net, or birds are taken in a snare, so people are trapped by evil times that fall unexpectedly upon them.
-1 Peter 1:24 All flesh is like grass, and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls off,
-James 4:14 Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.
So we need to keep short accounts with one another. Time really is short, and we often do not appreciate what we have until it is gone. We do not fully savour relationships until they are suddenly broken. We so often do not know how valuable our friendships and families really are.
Since I have been mentioning songs from my youth, another one comes to mind here. The line, “Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you got till it’s gone” from the 1970 Joni Mitchell tune “Big Yellow Taxi” can also be raised here.
We too easily take for granted things we highly value. A quick trip to the hospital like I just had certainly can drive that truth home. We all need to live life in the light of eternity. We need to live each day as if it may be our last. Being in right relationship with God is the best way to assure this.
Jesus said it best with his “Parable of the Rich Fool” found in Luke 12:13-17:
Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’
“Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”