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Truly, truly I say to you, when you were younger, you used to gird yourself, and walk wherever you wished. But when you grow old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will gird you, and bring you where you do not wish to go. John 21.18
The day I realized I wasn’t young anymore was the day I caught myself kicking newspapers. We received two dailies at the time, the now-defunct Manassas Journal Messenger, and the Washington Post. One morning I realized I was kicking the two papers together so I only had to bend down once to pick them up. A little later I got into the habit of kicking them uphill so I wouldn’t have to bend over too far.
That was when I knew I wasn’t young anymore. Just last week I realized that I am old (some might say 55 is middle-aged – it is if you live to be 110). I was watching the Marx Brother’s classic, Duck Soup, and I caught myself thinking, “You know….that Margaret Dumont wouldn’t be half bad if she fixed her hair a little differently, and stopped strutting around like the Queen of Asgard.” When you start thinking Margaret Dumont was sort of cute back in 1933 you’re officially old (and in need of some new bifocals). Of course back in 1933 Margaret Dumont was only 45 – 10 years younger than I am now – but still.
I always thought of the passage above, from John’s gospel, in terms of incarceration. Jesus, in calling Peter a second time, makes clear what the cost of following him will be – it will mean the eventual loss of his freedom. Clearly Jesus is seeing the persecutions and arrests Peter will endure in the future. But there is a sense in which this prediction will come true for any of us who live long enough.
Anyone who has ever cared for an aging relative knows how easily, how quickly one can find oneself unable to “gird” oneself and holding out one’s hands so someone else can do the job. How many necessary destinations become places we don’t want to go?
The Bible is clear – the skin we’re in, the body we inhabit is just that – a habitation, not our selves. Paul calls it a “tent” in II Corinthians 5.1-10 – just a temporary dwelling for a pilgrim until he reaches home. My grandma used to like an old country song called “This Old House.” It has been recorded by everyone from Bette Midler to the Gaithers, but Stuart Hamblen released it first, back in 1953. In it he describes his body as a house that is falling apart, but he’s fine with that because he’s “goin’ to meet the saints.” It is a catchy, hopeful song….but it is wrong – we don’t have a house, only a tent.
Knowing this, as careful stewards of God’s gifts, we should take good care of our tents. But knowing this, our first priority is to “redeem the time” (Ephesians 5.16), “number our days” (Psalm 90.12), and “walk circumspectly” (Ephesians 5.15). We must “remember our Creator in the days of our youth,” and remember that the whole duty of a human being on earth is to “fear God and keep his commandments,” (Ecclesiastes 12.1,13).
As the Rich Man learned in Luke 16, we do not cease to be when we die, but we cease to be able to effect change – and thus we must never waste a moment, or an opportunity. Vigor must not be squandered – because like time, it is in limited supply.