I sat on my couch one evening in the dark, fast forwarding a tape. As the casette advanced, the numbers on my stereo rapidly counted up from 0000 to 0005, then 0027 (the year of Christ’s baptism), then 0034 (the end of the 70 weeks), then 0095 (Revelation penned on Patmos), then quickly to 0538 . . . 0695 . . . 1310 . . . and before I knew it the stereo was counting right past 1844 and 1863. Only a minute later it was at 1922 (my grandfather’s birth), then 1957 (my mother’s birth), then 1983—the year of my own birth. And in 6 seconds I was moving from Idaho to California with pneumonia. Seven seconds after that it was 1996 and I was coming into the faith and rearranging my life around Christ. A mere 10 seconds later it was 2006 and I was sitting on my couch one evening in the dark, fast forwarding a tape.
Life moves so quickly.
I am 26 years old, but I find myself often preoccupied with thoughts of death and the transience of life. I don’t think that it is an unhealthy thing to be thinking about. The reality is that unless the Lord intervenes with His advent, I’ll live through maybe 70 or 80 winters and summers (or fewer, perhaps, should an accident or disease overtake me). It’s not an awfully long time, actually. Not long at all.
Nouwen says, “I came face to face with the question, ‘Did becoming older bring me closer to Jesus?’” The question is so painful. I think the pain originates in a place of regret. I have been following the Lord for 10 years now . . . why am I not closer to Him? Because though the years seem to pass with increasing rapidity, this year and last year and every year before it is made up of the same simple building blocks: months, weeks, days, hours, minutes. Moment by moment they pass through our hands into the past. Time moves at the same speed for all creatures. So to ask the question, “Has becoming older brought me closer to Jesus?” and to hear the reply in mournful tones, “Not nearly close enough,” is to recognize wasted hours and days for what they are.
The mourning for what has been lost—opportunity with Christ, for Christ, in Christ—is not much soothed by outward success. Only if we move quickly enough to avoid any introspection will praise and recognition make us feel good about a life that has been spent ignoring our Lord. This is why Nouwen was unsatisfied, even though “everyone was saying that I was doing well.” And it’s why I feel unsatisfied, too.
“Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” Moses, in Psalm 90:12.