My wife and I recently passed another milestone in our lives. We both turned sixty.
No, this isn’t going to be some lament about increasing creakiness or absent-mindedness (though both are true). Neither of us wants to go back to a younger age, and we don’t think of ourselves as particularly old. As they say, sixty is the new…what? Fifty? Forty? Who knows. I guess AARP has been after us for ten years now, so let’s call it fifty.
There’s something strange about those decade markers, though. Every birthday is exactly one year after the previous one — but somehow the ones ending in zero seem more momentous. It’s not just another birthday. It’s joining a new club, a new category of the human race. Now, we’re “in our sixties.”
Clumping people together like that may be convenient, but it doesn’t always make sense. A lot often happens, for example, between your twentieth and thirtieth birthday. You may even look back at your younger self and shake your head in disbelief. But you’re considered to be in your “twenties” for all ten of those complex years.
But there is something that feels different about the big six-zero. It marks the decade in which I expect to retire, and I can already feel my perspective beginning to shift. It’s one thing to be on a track that stretches far off into an unforeseeable horizon. When you figure you’ve got twenty or thirty years left to your career, you don’t think much about the future.
It’s another matter when you figure on retiring before the next decade mark. The years pass quickly, and it feels like running out of track.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not worried about what I’m going to do with myself, or whether I’ll be able to “stay productive,” whatever that might mean. At the moment, I’m confident that God will have something for me to do, as long as I am physically and mentally capable of doing so.
But the shortened time frame has heightened my sense of vocation. It used to be easier to think in terms of what I needed to do to further my career, as if that were an end in itself. You do the things that other people tell you are needful. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. But more and more, I have to ask myself what, out of everything I do, might count for eternity.
I keep coming back to what Paul tells the Corinthians:
I laid a foundation like a wise master builder according to God’s grace that was given to me, but someone else is building on top of it. Each person needs to pay attention to the way they build on it. No one can lay any other foundation besides the one that is already laid, which is Jesus Christ. So, whether someone builds on top of the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, grass, or hay, each one’s work will be clearly shown. The day will make it clear, because it will be revealed with fire—the fire will test the quality of each one’s work. If anyone’s work survives, they’ll get a reward. But if anyone’s work goes up in flames, they’ll lose it. However, they themselves will be saved as if they had gone through a fire. (1 Cor 3:10-15, CEB)
I’ve spent many years adding lines and pages to my résumé. I been writing for decades: articles, books. And one day, Jesus will take a match to it all and see what survives. We’ll get to see, together, what’s straw and what’s gold.
I really, really want something to be left.
But that won’t happen by itself.
Keep one eye on the present, and one on the future. God is in the business even now of taking this tired old creation and remaking it into something new and glorious. And we’re part of it. Our vocation as those who are in Christ is to bring about signs of new creation.
So what, out of everything you do today, do you think might be such a sign? Those are the things that will survive you, past your retirement, and all the way into eternity.