When they start putting one candle on your cake for every decade, you know that you've racked up a few years. I blew out five candles on June 23. Here are some of the lessons I'm still learning as I start into my sixth decade.
1. I don't know as much as I thought I did.
One of the things I've most enjoyed over the past several years is working with young men God has brought into my life. I've observed something very interesting about these guys: They may be fervent and earnest and committed and smart-as-a-whip--but they don't know what they don't know. I've started telling them (my own sons included):
"Young men need gray hair."
I well remember working with young people when I was just a young guy myself and having a dad tell me that he thought a traveling group I was sending out needed a chaperone. Like we weren't good enough. Like a twenty-something year old man wasn't really a full-on man. Exactly what part of adult was I NOT?!
And now I know, because now I'm that dad. It's not that young men and women don't know a lot about life: Frankly there are plenty of areas in which they know more than I do or ever will. It's that they don't know what they don't know: They haven't felt their limitations or discovered their weaknesses or come to a place where they realized they are in over their heads. One thing is more dangerous than not knowing, and that's not knowing that you don't know.
I'm learning that there are a whole lot of areas of life where I don't know. I'm not espousing an agnostic form of living--asserting that we can't know what we must know--but an honest humility that knows it's limits, a grace, born of experience, whose certainty is in God alone.
2. There are a lot of things I'm not good at.
We define experience as learning what to do the next time we encounter a problem. But experience is equally the knowledge that the next time I encounter certain problems, I will still be inadequate to the task. To say it another way, experience teaches us both to get better at what we do on the basis of what we've already done AND to know our limits, the areas where we'll never be genius even if we encounter the same problem a thousand times.
That doesn't mean that we can skip the parts of life we're no good at. Endurance is the capacity to walk in weakness, not expecting unaccountable success, but embracing unheralded humility and the joy of grace it brings.
3. Life is lived in little steps taken one at a time.
Growth in life is a lot like early light on a summer morning: It steals into the room so softly that you don't even notice it at first. Then, in a moment, you become aware of blinding rays flooding the room with light, penetrating your heavy eyelids--A new day has dawned!
But the day didn't begin just then with your conscious awareness of it. In fact, it's a little hard to say just when it started. The first gray twilight crept into the eastern sky hours ago, and little by little, the shadows emerged and the birds began to sing.
The insignificant decisions--how to spend a pocket of free time, what to say when we're upset, whether to reach out and shake the hand of a stranger--these little things are the gray dawn of change, the first fingers of light in a new day. The change doesn't happen all at once; it's often imperceptible, as though nothing happened at all. But moment-by-moment the sun is rising and then, in a flash we awake to the reality that we are no longer the people we once were. New habits are formed; new character is developed; new loves are kindled.
In western culture, we focus a great deal of attention on "decisions,"--and decisions are important--but it's fleshing out of those decisions out that really makes the difference. That animation doesn't take happen around a campfire when a fairy waves her wand and turns us from frogs to princes and princesses. In other words, it is good to determine, "I'm going to live for Christ from here forward!"--that's a good decision. But the process of change is likely to look petty: When we invest five minutes we could have squandered, when we bite our tongues instead of speaking our minds, when we reach out to people we don't know and don't know if we even want to know.
4. It's easier to talk about loving than to love.
A long time ago Melissa and I wrote up the story of how God brought us together and titled it, "Learning to Love." It was true then, and it's true now. As we approach our twenty-third anniversary on this July 4th, we're still learning.
It's easy to fall in love with love--to romance the rose-tinted ideals of caring and giving, of knowing and being known. It's another thing altogether to LOVE, because love is always associated with an object. We don't love in isolation. We love people--people with irritating habits and frustrating sins, people who don't always reciprocate the love we profess to have for them.
We might say, "I'm not so good at loving people, but I sure love God!" The apostle John counters, "...he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen" (I John 4:20). Saying that we love God without having that love spill over onto the people He brings into our lives is evidence that we just love the idea of love. We think we love God because we have a warm, fuzzy feeling about a theory--but God is loving us through difficult people and challenging circumstances, pressing us to love in deed and in truth.
When I was a young man, a good friend told me, "I'm just praying that you'll learn to love people."
I hope he's still praying, because I'm still learning.
© Copyright July 2017 by Robert G. Robbins