Part Two: Life is Short

Part Two: Life is Short

This ‘18-‘19 Concession Stand Series is my way of celebrating some of my deepest values leading up to my 50th birthday next spring. The fall series features four “concessions” on life’s downers; the winter/spring feature “confessions” that drive who I am.

Last month, I kicked off my year-long column series with the cheery topic “I Am Old.” Most people across the faith or lack-of-faith spectrum agree that growing old is better than the alternative. After surviving an intense stand-off with a group of German soldiers in the WWII film Saving Private Ryan (1998), Sgt. Horvath quips to Capt. Miller, “It’s enough to make you old.” Capt. Miller wryly replies, “Let’s hope so.” While there are obvious benefits to growing older (e.g., often more disposable income, seeing descendants and mentees mature into adulthood, and accumulating gray hair which Proverbs 16:31 calls “a crown of glory”), there is no denying the fleeting nature of life in this broken world.

One of my favorite chapters in the Bible is Isaiah 40. In verses 6b-7, the prophet writes, “All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the LORD blows on it; surely the people are grass” (ESV). Isaiah himself had a 40-year “career” as a prophet, yet he knew even that was a blip in history. What matters is what we do with that “blip.” A solid 760 years after Isaiah’s life, the Apostle Paul wrote that we are to be “redeeming the time, because the days are evil” (Eph. 5:16, NKJV; see also Col. 4:5). I like the word “redeem” in that translation, meaning “to buy back, pay off, recover, ransom.” We have a short time; redeem it for good, even amidst evil. Gandalf put it this way in the epic fantasy The Lord of the Rings: “All you have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to you.” He was speaking to a 50-year-old Frodo Baggins, whose life was a fraction as long as the wizard’s, but who nonetheless changed the fate of Middle Earth forever.

How does this all relate to juggling and to Jugheads’ memberships? It goes by in a flash. Even the career of a Deca-Jughead seems like a watch in the night. I try to impress upon my members and campers that one hour or club day can change the course of their juggling careers through a breakthrough in skill, friendship, or character. A Jughead membership won’t last forever, and for that matter, neither will the company itself (not on this Old Earth, at any rate). However, we have the tremendous blessing of being afforded an opportunity—a blip in time—to work and play and grow and develop together for the good of children, youth, families & staff not only for a lifetime, but potentially for eternal good.

One of my favorite authors, Randy Alcorn, illustrates this by using our blip (“dot”) of life on Earth to effect the eternal “line” that extends after death. (See photo heading) This is an eternal perspective for our short lives: steward moments to affect millennia.

I could greatly elaborate on empirical evidence for the brevity of life by citing many specific examples of my family, friends, and colleagues who have died young (I’ve been to at least100 funerals in my 49 years), but none are more poignant to Wendy & me than her dad accidentally drowning due to fainting in a hot spring at age 36, my mom succumbing to leukemia at age 51, and my nephew getting run over by a distracted driver while walking across a busy road at age 15. These and dozens of other experiences have given me a keen awareness of life’s brevity. “It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart.” (Ecclesiastes 7:2)

Although my age and “mileage” in youth work have led me to slow down, I’m hopefully wiser (and certainly grayer!) than when I began more than a quarter century ago. I know that my days are numbered and that every day counts. When I was a pre-teen, my mom displayed in our home a paper placemat from Country Kitchen which had profound saying by Dale West: “Live one day at a time and make it a masterpiece.” Similarly, may each Jughead take a day and a year at a time to grow in masterful ways that yield a lifetime of fruit and blessings for both oneself and one’s spheres of influence. Life is a blip, our flesh is grass, but we can redeem our time for good that transcends this world and has eternal ramifications.

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