Giving the Gift of Relevance

One week ago today – I can still hardly believe it myself – I hit the 50-year mark. I guess commemorating half a century of life is kind of a big deal for everyone, but some would rightly say that it’s all the more amazing for me, seeing as no one who knew me in my 20’s and early 30’s would have dared to predict with any certainty that I would live to see 40, much less 50.

To mark the occasion, my wife – along with several others – did some serious planning and scheduling to make sure we celebrated in style. My two older sisters flew in from Pensacola and Boston to spend the entire weekend; the last time the three of us were in the same room together was (I believe) in May of 2007. Our beloved Korean “exchange student” who, over time, morphed into an “adjunct family member,” flew in from L.A. for several days, and my in-laws drove in from Kansas City. Saturday night, my brother-in-law very magnanimously treated all of us to as much food as we could possibly eat (and then some!) at Chevy’s restaurant. For one day last weekend, I had my entire family in one place, and it was an awesome gift. As we all know, the net effect of being surrounded by so many people celebrating “your big day” is to feel very much valued and appreciated.

As if all of that were not enough (trust me, it was far more than I deserve), my wife had the forethought to put together one gift that I did not expect, but very much appreciated. From my perspective, it was about the most thoughtful gift I have ever received, and I want to pass on this idea to those of you who may have loved ones approaching their own significant milestones. From what I understand, my wife simply asked as many people as she could think of to send in a card or letter that briefly described what impact, if any, my life may have had on theirs. All of these cards and letters were delivered to another address to avert suspicion, then later gathered up and presented to me in a file box. In short, the gift my wife sought to give me was to demonstrate that in some way, large or small, my life had made a lasting, positive impact in the lives of others. Call it “The Ultimate Antidote to Growing Discouraged” and you begin to get the gist of the thing.

Wanting to take my time and think deeply about the individuals who had contributed to Shelly’s little project, it took me a couple days to get through all of the cards and letters. Most were humorous; still more were filled with variations on the theme of getting older and “progressively less agile and attractive.” But every now and then, I would stumble upon a completely-sincere “thanks for helping to save my son” or “I appreciate you and Shelly walking me through a very dark period of my life.”

Far too often, I think, we are prone to imagine that people don’t really notice the efforts we make to reach out to them. Nothing, I can now say with confidence, could be further from the truth. Quite to the contrary, I now have a box full of evidence that people really do appreciate even the modest, small-scale efforts we make to assure them that their lives are indeed important, relevant and cherished.

I’d like to say that I have a lot of wisdom to share now that I am 50 years old, but the hard truth is that I wasted many, many years of my life, lost in a fog of sin and selfishness fueled (at least in part) by the Straight-from-Hell Twins of drug and alcohol addiction. Given that I am not as far down the road with Jesus as I would like to be at 50, I thought maybe I would share two thoughts that continue to resonate in my own heart this week as I catch up to my Savior, Who graciously, scandalously rescued me from the road to perdition.

  • Everyone yearns to feel as though their life counts for something greater than the sum of their years. About midway through opening up and reading all the cards and letters my wife had collected over several weeks, it occurred to me that many, many people had taken time out of their day to write down how they felt my life had been relevant to them and/or faithful to God’s plan. It slowly dawned on me that God had already done this through His Word. As much as it helps us to know what sort of impact our life has had on others, how much more does it help us to know that God has already sent us several letters of His own, in which He tells us that we are precious beyond words (Psalm 8; Luke 15:10; Romans 5:6-11; 1 John 4:9-10), that He is intimately involved in the details of our lives (Psalm 139:1-6; Matthew 10:29-31) and that His plan for our lives revolves around redeeming us back to Himself (Luke 19:8-10)?

  • Contrary to what our American culture tells us, growing old is a gracious gift from God. Look, I’m just like everyone else: I don’t particularly appreciate the fact that I am thicker in the middle, my hair is busy either thinning itself out or going gray, and I can’t seem to open six pieces of mail without getting winded. The negatives associated with aging are obvious, and our culture does its level best to cover up these signs of advanced age or (more often) call our attention to them so that advertisers can sell us a solution of one type or another. One helpful antidote to our culture’s obsession with remaining youthful is to remember that the Bible counts old age as one of God’s richest blessings (Leviticus 19:32; Psalm 91:14-17; Proverbs 16:31; Proverbs 20:29; Joel 2:28), a completely undeserved privilege that we do well to appreciate rather than scorn.

True, neither of these thoughts is in any way “groundbreaking.” They are not intended to be. I am simply recounting them here as someone who has now (officially!) lived long enough to confirm their truthfulness.

Pastor and author John Piper does a far better job of addressing the issue of how Christians, in particular, should give glory to God for allowing them to live long lives (see below) and how wrinkles and gray hair are, in fact, a testament to God’s faithfulness to preserve life, even lives that are (for the most part) lived in a spirit of ingratitude and thanklessness. Not only does God crown our heads with the glory of aging, but He took the time to superintend the writing down of His own thoughts on our relevance to His divine plan…now and into eternity.

Question to John Piper:
Is it OK for a Christian to have cosmetic surgery to counteract some aspects of aging?

Answer: I’m laughing because I just watched my own video about not retiring, and in it I talk about 70-year-olds trying to get a tan on their leathery, hairless, splotchy skin in Arizona, and how the shorts look so ridiculous, and how these old people with their sagging skin and their hair falling out are desperately on the golf course trying to look 40 years younger. It’s ridiculous.

So you can see what my attitude is. Age is a gift in the Bible. Getting old and, I suppose, losing your hair or having some gray hair is a gift. It’s a sign of having been kept by God and having been brought toward ripening for heaven. And to resist it seems to me a kind of unbelief that heaven is really good, and living a long time with God is good, and having the experience and the age to care in deeper ways for the young and share life-wisdom with them is good. Why would we want to be young-looking when we’re old?

We live in a culture that is clearly youth dominated. The music is dominated by youth, and the styles are dominated by youth. And so all bodies are youthful bodies, and hardly any glory is given to age. We just need to be more biblical. It is good to grow old with God. So I am not inclined to think I would ever counsel anybody to spend a lot of God’s precious money on their looks instead of missions. OK?

By John Piper. Copyright © Desiring God. Website:
View a video of this Q&A.

While a day doesn’t go by wherein I fail to recall how very little I deserve the blessings of life and breath that God continues to freely give, this past week in particular has been a bright and shining reminder of God’s unfathomable mercy to preserve my life into middle age. My entire youth was lived not only in thanklessness, but much of it in open, hostile rebellion. That He would lovingly choose to stop me in my tracks, turn me away from an eternity of damnation, and then graciously allow me to offer up my waning years for His kingdom – however flawed, however imperfectly I am able to offer it up – is a gift of grace beyond measure. Lord, to You be the glory, today and for the rest of this life, whether that’s 50 more seconds or another 50 years. Every breath I take is a testament to Your faithfulness, Your infinite love, patience and grace. Amen.

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