Even when life in general is rosy, a milestone birthday can be a sobering thing. Life for me (GBL) personally is quite fulfilling right now, with a wonderful husband who has put up with me for nearly 30 years, two sons whom we managed to shepherd to adulthood, and now a delightful granddaughter whom we enjoy daily. Not to mention a comfortable home, extended family I love (but wish were not long-distance), a great church family, and work I find rewarding.
Granted, I’ve discovered a lot more aches and pains.Getting up out of a chair can be an adventure, and I hope no one ever films me staggering downstairs to let the dogs out in the morning. Arthritis has invaded my hands…the bane of a writer and pianist. But life in general is very good, very sweet. And it’s Sunday, my day to man the blog. And it just happens to be my 50th birthday today. I’m feeling sober and introspective…so you’re stuck with a bit more personal meditation from me than usual.
Listening to a Christian radio station while driving recently, I heard a song with a great beat and a nice hook: ”All – I – know – is – I’m – not – home – yet, this – is – not- where I belong…” (Building 429) And rather than just sing along in harmony, mindlessly, I began to think about that statement. It’s a riff on an older gospel song, “This World is Not My Home” which includes the repeated phrase: ”And I can’t feel at home in this world any more.”
And both songs are right. Sort of.
There is something oddly appealing about the notion that I’m a stranger in a strange land, bravely making my lone way through the world. (That sentiment spawned an entire era of art and literature, known as Romanticism, in the early 1800s.) Finding oneself alone in a foreign country or culture is one of the most common plot devices of all time (think Robinson Crusoe, Gulliver’s Travels, Pilgrim’s Progress, Don Quixote, The Wizard of Oz, the Narnia books, most science fiction, etc, etc).
What is it that resonates with so many of us in this idea? Is it not a hardwired knowledge that there is another country for which we’re bound, that this world–beautiful and terrible–is neither the ultimate reality nor the final goal? For the Christian, this is fairly obvious. This world is NOT our true home, and we dare not get too comfortable in it, too attached to it. Paul’s letter to the Roman church includes this useful advice:
So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you. (Romans 12:1-2, THE MESSAGE)
And yet. And yet, this IS my home, this is where God has put me to live however many days are written in His book (Psalm 139:16). He is Sovereign, He doesn’t make mistakes, so here I am! Plus, He has work for me to do here.
For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:10, NIV)
So in fact, for the time being, this IS where I belong, and the song is wrong. But as my time here grows short and my longing for heaven increases, I know that this world is NOT my final destination, and the song is right.
It’s easy to be sensitive, even maudlin, in one’s youth (God knows I was). But as we age, we are supposed to acquire wisdom and self-control. And that includes the ability to see past the merely sentimental to the sensible, to avoid being sucked in by a merely emotional appeal, to separate the hype and hoopla from the honest heart of the matter. For instance, I liked what Jesse Johnson wrote a couple of days ago, over at The Cripplegate:
There are two ways the gospel suffers on Chick-Fil-A day: if people think that supporting Christian values is the same as evangelism, or if people think that protecting marriage is the same as advancing the gospel. (From “Four Thoughts on Chick-fil-A Day” )
This, to me, is wisdom. It’s not that Johnson was critical of people who wanted to support Mr. Cathy’s stance on traditional marriage, and his right to say so fearlessly. But it probably counts as a secondary or tertiary cause, rather than a primary one, for a Christian. What is vital is not whether you stood in line to buy chicken, but whether that is ALL you are doing for God’s kingdom.
This is a challenging thought to me, one which I intend to spend more time pondering in the year ahead. These next years will be, I’m sure, ones of narrowing my focus to what is most important, in order to leave a legacy which will continue to serve God’s purposes even after I’ve gone to my real home.
I’d like to take this chance to say how much I love and appreciate my brother (JTR). Through our collaboration on this blog, he has encouraged me to think more deeply on a number of issues, and to try to articulate what I think…it’s amazing how much I discover about my own thinking in the process of writing it down! We cover a lot of topics here, and I pray we do so not only passionately but also wisely and responsibly.
I also appreciate the cadre of regular readers and commenters we’ve gathered. Your role in this dialogue is vital, as we sharpen each other, challenge each other, correct one another if necessary (“speaking the truth in love” I hope). Our goal in all this is to grow in wisdom and knowledge, and to discern what it is that God requires of us in this fallen world, which is–and yet is not finally–our home.
Thanks for reading.