It’s my 55th birthday today.
All the rumors are true: time speeds up. I still feel like I used to feel thirty years ago. I don’t know where the time went. I hang around people a generation below me and I think I’m the same age as them, although they never make the same mistake with me.
I remember when time stretched ahead of me endlessly. Of course, that feeling was an illusion. Nobody knows how much time they have left. But it felt like I was on the first course of a meal at an all-you-can-eat buffet. The options were endless, and it felt like the only limit was my appetite.
It doesn’t feel like that anymore. As the graphics at waitbutwhy.com show, we have limited time left.
The good news is that life only gets better. Happiness supposedly peaks early in life and late in life; it’s the middle years that are hardest. I’ve heard Scotty Ward Smith say that he’s felt freer in his 50s and 60s than in any other phase of his life, and that rings true for me too.
I used to count up. Counting up means counting how many years you’ve been alive, how many years you’ve been doing something. For instance, “We’ve been married ten years now,” or, “I’ve been a pastor for 20 years.”
I still do this, but a few years ago I noticed I was counting down a lot more. I have ten more years until the typical retirement age; if God spares me, I have maybe 400 sermons left that I’ll preach. I look at my wife and realize we probably have more time behind us as a married couple than we do ahead of us. Sounds grim, but it’s all true.
I mentioned this to a friend the other week. “We should be counting down at every age,” he replied. He’d been reflecting on the book Living Life Backwards, which is itself a reflection on Ecclesiastes. The heart of the human condition is the unwillingness to accept things as they really are, he argues. “We long for lives of permanence in a world of constant change, and we strive to achieve it. We long for change in a world of permanent repetition, and we dream of how to interrupt it.”
The solution is to accept the truth that our time is limited.
When we accept in a deep way that we are going to die, that reality can stop us expecting too much from all the good things we pursue. We learn to pursue them for what they are in themselves rather than what we need them to be to make us happy. Death reorients us to our limitations as creatures and helps us to see God’s good gifts right in front of us all the time, each and every day of our lives.
So I have a couple of messages on my 55th birthday, and they’re better than you may think.
First, life only gets better. It’s hard, of course. But the older you get, the more you’ll experience God’s goodness among all the hardships you face. There are joys and freedoms available as you age that you simply don’t get until you’ve put in the time. Don’t fight getting older. Instead, look for the gifts God gives with age.
Second, don’t wait to start counting down. Your time is limited, even in your earliest years. The sooner we learn to count down, the sooner we’ll have the kind of wisdom that Moses talked about: “teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12).
I’d write more but I’m off to have some birthday cake. Keep counting down.