State of the Union



Teach us to number our days,
that we may gain a heart of wisdom.
—Psalm 90:12

Today I am officially sixty years old. Yep, the big SIX-O. This comes as a bit of a surprise to me. It seems like only yesterday that I was only in my fifties, still able to count myself of the decade sometimes characterized as the “new forties” which were once considered the “new thirties” which themselves were once christened the “new twenties.” But no more. Sixty is sixty no matter how you slice it. The needle has begun to dip in its relentless arc toward summation.

At sixty you start taking stock.
At sixty you can hear the clock.
us_60_1961_cutout-svgIts rhythm marks your morning walk
As you huff around the block.
Your bones complain, your muscles squawk,
Even just to don your sock.
You can’t pretend to be a jock,
Your midriff is more roll than rock.
Your stardom dreams were just a crock.
Yes, once you joined the youngish flock,
But endless youth is only talk.
Your ship of fools is at the dock.
Life’s got you in a hammerlock.

At sixty realism sets in. I’m aware that I’ve probably burned two-thirds of my allotted days (though having a vibrant 95 year-old dad gives me hope that I might push the envelope). It’s also highly unlikely that I’ve got a second career ahead of me, especially since I’ve never really had a first one. And considering my chosen line of work (and I use that word loosely), a comfortable, well-financed retirement is decidedly not in the cards. Worse, I can’t even pretend to look middle-aged anymore. The cruel mirror shows me more scalp than hair, and much of what hair remains is tombstone gray. My neck sags, my bunions bulge, and my joints ache. No amount of exercise (and I do exercise) is going to stem the shadowy tide of entropy. At sixty I bravely acknowledge that I am—well, sixty. And I know there ain’t no turning back.

related-clip-art-wyiztb-clipartBut if you think that this day finds me even slightly despondent, you would be mistaken. In fact, I find myself more profoundly alive, more charged with a “heightened sensitivity to the promises of life” than ever. My capacity for wonder and imagination thrillingly exceeds my capacity. (A paradox, I know.) What before had been a relentless, very human longing to live life to the fullest has now become a voracious, insatiable appetite for something more. It’s a consuming desire to be consumed by something infinitely greater than life itself, “an ardency of soul,” as Jonathan Edwards put it. At sixty I’m electric with a sense of beingness that seems to obliterate the very boundaries of being itself. Sometimes it’s nearly more than I can bear, and I strain to rip through this cramped, dusty shell into some kind of thermonuclear mountaintop transfiguration of my own.

At sixty I am more convinced than ever (and that’s saying a lot) that Jesus Christ is the only hope for humanity. His death and resurrection, which seem foolishness to the world, are the one and only provision for human redemption and eternal life. All other options—political, ethical, and religious—are utterly futile. Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to humankind by which we must be saved. And this freshly minted sixty year-old again offers himself to the one Lord and Savior as an instrument of his astonishing grace and gift to a broken but beloved world.

276b69f9a80a825fa56dc4182f3da78b_black-and-white-chevron-clip-chevron-number-2-clipart_570-344At sixty I am more devoted to prayer than ever. My small home office has become for me a kind of shabby holy of holies where I daily meet with the incomprehensibly great God. As the first order of business most mornings, I unfold a frayed, amply cushioned floor mat (asceticism has never been my thing) and bow down to call upon the Lord. Yes, I make my petitions as I am invited to, but most of the time I simply worship him who is before all things and in whom all things hold together. And just like he promises, he answers me and tells me great and unsearchable things I do not know. It’s impossible to explain, but in his presence I perceive what cannot be perceived; I understand what, by definition, is beyond human understanding. I’m not being poetic. In his presence I know—no, rather, I am knowing the unknowable. And there, on the floor of my tiny office, lifting my feeble, very human voice, I affect/effect the will of God and literally shift the destiny of the universe.

To my amazement, this divine encounter has blown the lid off of my intellectual and imaginative life. I have discovered an endless, rushing torrent of insight and creativity. This is not braggadocio. I’m talking about experiencing the very mind of Christ which has no boundaries or limitations. There is no other way to say it but that in Christ my mind has gone supernova. This has had tangible implications. For one thing, I think I’m a more effective preacher and teacher of the Scriptures than ever. What I see in the Book both boggles and delights me, and I have the sacred privilege of communicating these marvels to others. Yet I’m no courier of mere information; in the Spirit I’m a force of impartation. The Presence is my point. This is a high honor and sobering responsibility, one in which I not only exult but one for which I am truly humbled and grateful.

2d70e887-cf79-4442-b01e-d39ab39dd953_1000But this mind explosion (or whatever it is) isn’t limited to the traditional Christian enterprises. The spigot of artistic creativity seems to be wide open as well, so much so that it’s hard to keep up with the relentless stream of creative notions and impulses. I find that God is an infinite imaginative source; the problem isn’t running out of ideas but how to find enough time to seize and develop them. The key here is seize and develop. I’m convinced that the only difference between the world’s great achievers and the rest of us isn’t that they are smarter or more talented or luckier; the only meaningful difference between the notable achievers and the rest of us is that those folks actually did something. And I am going to do some things too. Among other projects, I believe I’ve got three full-blown stage musicals in me and—doggone it—I’m going to write them. (You may smile if you like.) Yes, at sixty I realize that I’m working against the clock, but I’m going to give it my best shot anyway. Let the chips fall where they may. There are worse things than being a laughingstock.

UntitledAt sixty I am finally learning to be equivalent to myself. I’m learning to recognize when I am posturing. I catch myself assuming different identities, of projecting fabricated versions of myself—even in prayer! I’ll notice that I’m being religious or attempting to inhabit some self-invented idea of myself. It’s not so much about trying to meet others’ expectations; I’m talking about a subtle and ridiculous tendency to dissociate from myself. How strange and tiring to keep those empty images aloft, and at sixty I think I’m finally going to practice being me. It’s quite refreshing and revelatory, like standing before the burning bush and hearing the voice of God proclaim: “I AM WHO I AM—and so are you.”

Lastly, at sixty I finally know what I really want. It’s not success or money or repute (which is convenient since I don’t have them anyway). But it’s also not comfort or contentment or knowledge or wisdom. The clamoring mob of my younger passions has now been culled to a single, clear-burning desire. I’m with King David on this:

One thing I ask from the Lord,
This only do I seek:
That I may dwell in the house of the Lord
All the days of my life,
To gaze on the beauty of the Lord
And to seek him in his temple.
—Psalm 27:4

So today I formally begin the rest of my life. For all my stupidities and weaknesses, for all my crimes and misdemeanors, for all my ignorance and foolishness—outrageous grace is mine. I’m shrugging off what’s behind and straining toward what lies ahead. I shall live fiercely, for there is indeed a prize to be had. In other words, my friends, the state of this union looks pretty fine.

Happy birthday to me.

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To read about how I got into this Freak Show in the first place, click HERE.


One Response

  1. Yes! Cool! Happy birthday!

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