“….laying aside every weight….” (Hebrews 12:1)
“….this mortal must put on immortality…” (I Corinthians 15:53)
“For indeed in this house we groan….” (II Corinthians 5:1-2)
The inimitable J. Vernon McGee once had a conversation with an elderly man in which he kept stressing that the old gentleman needed to get ready for the end of his life. The fellow felt he had plenty of time and wanted to postpone such considerations for some distant future time.
McGee said, “My friend, the Lord keeps sending you messages that you don’t have that much longer.”
“What are you talking about?” the old man said.
Dr. McGee said, “The Lord has sent a shortness to your breath, a stoop to your shoulders, and grey into your hair–all to let you know you are not long for this world.”
And so with me. You, too?
Last Saturday, as I was preparing my travel bag for a quick drive to the Florida Panhandle for a full Sunday of ministry, at one point I said to my wife, “I think I have everything–my eyes, my ears, my teeth….”
I was dead serious.
My “eyes” are my glasses, without which I would be lost. I’ve worn them half my life, although as trifocals only the last decade or so. I am eternally grateful for these excellent aids, and do not want to even imagine life without them.
My “ears” are the new hearing aids. The audiologist adjusted them Friday, but I’m still not convinced anything I’m picking up was worth the thousands of dollars they cost. But, still willing to give them every chance to prove themselves, I packed them for the trip, together with the box containing their cleaning materials, batteries, etc.
And my “teeth.” I’m taking them along, too.
Until recently, I took a small amount of consolation in the fact that, although I have had a world of dentistry done over the years, all the teeth in my head are either mine naturally or mine by purchase, and that the latter were cemented in so securely they were impossible to remove or forget or leave behind. No more. Recently, as some of the natural teeth began refusing to be used as foundations for the intruders, it became necessary to replace one of the bridges with a removable “partial.”
Now, every time I leave the house, I have to make sure I’m taking along my eyes, my ears, and my teeth.
It’s a lot to remember.
Gradually as life goes forward, it seems, my body is casting off parts, with members shutting down essential services that have stood me in good stead all these years, but are now giving up the ghost and being replaced temporarily with imperfect but expensive man-made doodads.
I’m not bald yet, but moreso than I’ve ever been. And the complete whiteness of my follicles–still a shock after being black-haired most of my life–has turned me into a complete albino. Photos labor to keep from bleeding out altogether. Pretty soon, my image will be a white splotch on the scenery.
This all takes a little getting used to, as I suppose any aging friend can tell you. (For the record, I’m 10 weeks short of my 73rd birthday.)
Here are four conclusions that I’ve come to lately….
1) If life to you is all about appearance and attractiveness, you might want to cut your own throat soon after your 45th birthday. It’s pretty much downhill after that.
2) If life is bound up in my faculties–sight, hearing, taste, touch, etc.–then aging is my mortal enemey since it conspires to rob me of all that is important to me.
I keep thinking about old Barzillai who refused David’s offer to visit him at the palace in Jerusalem and receive the royal treatment. “I am now eighty years old. Can I distinguish between good and bad? Or can your servant taste what I eat or what I drink? Or can I hear anymore the voice of singing men and women?” (II Samuel 19:35) Welcome to the AARP, Barzillai. We feel your pain.
3) If, on the other hand, one’s life is about God and the inner life and service to others, then all these things are at worst mere distractions and at best promptings to go deeper.
4) If I see this world as temporary and Heaven as my eternal abode, then whatever lessens my affections for this world and cuts some of the ties binding me to earthly things ends up preparing me for the celestial future, and is thus my dear friend.
And so, I will try my best to give thanks for the dimming eyesight, the dulling of my hearing, the diminishing of my taste, and the deterioration of my teeth.
It’s just part of the process.
Oh, in case you wonder, I am not on my final approach to Heaven as far as I can tell at the moment. However, the flight attendant has come through the cabin to announce that we are making our initial approach and that all tray tables and seatbacks should be in their upright and locked positions. My seatbelt is firmly in place and I am secure.
It’s been a good flight and I wouldn’t have traded my traveling companions for anything.
But it will be good to get home.