(Note: I don’t normally do this, but I’m posting a journal entry I ran across just today. The more human and transparent we can be with each other, the better. I’m 46 now, but this is what I wrote to myself Dec. 10, 2013)…
I woke up today, and half my life was over (generously assuming I beat current life expectancy stats). Upon waking, I tried to point to anything I’ve really accomplished in that span of time. You know, the kind of pat-yourself-on-the-back-milestones that cocky young men (like the guy on the right) typically assume the first half of their life will be characterized by. Pen, paper. Ready.
< crickets chirping >
Hmm. Better have another cup of coffee. And an Advil. Then chase it with a shot of scotch. Plainly put, I have few achievements of the sort I originally thought I wanted. I’m not a bestselling author. I failed as a pastor. I’ve lost more friends than I’ve kept. I’ve lost more money than I’ve made. I’ve lost time. I’ve lost energy. Most painfully, I’ve lost most of my best self, including that innocent, star-struck hope that allowed me to smile more easily at the future. In the process, I have bid adieu to a (not small) part of the prevailing commitment by which I once believed I would not only confront that future with my vision, gifts and force of will, but also conquer it.
Better make it a double.
About all that I’ve gained in that span of time is physical weight. Perrrrrfect. But hang on a minute, glum little camper! Remember that tattered, silver book you got sitting there, that Bible you’ve kept and used (and held together with duct tape) since junior high? Remember inside, your friend, Jacob? Oh yes, Jacob! I take a lot of comfort from that man’s gloriously screwed up life. He and I could have been drinking buddies. At the end of his days, Jacob stood before Pharaoh, and this is what he said:
“Few and evil have been the days of the years of my life, and they have not attained to the days of the years of the life of my fathers” (Gen. 47:9).
Basically: “It’s been way tougher than I expected, and now that it’s over, I don’t really even have much to show for it.” Yeah, Jacob, you and me, we get each other. In truth, Jacob had already changed the history of the world, he just couldn’t see it yet. He didn’t change it by succeeding at anything particularly significant, but simply by living, fathering, enduring. He kept on, all the way to Egypt, which was actually further and further away from his promised land…yet he kept on. Pain, loss, even the stupidity of his own inner demons did not stop him. While his personal assessment was grim, and his attitude was grim, and both were perhaps accurate, yet from him…a nation, Israel. And so I still believe. I do because I choose it. How can I not? My name might as well be Dean Jacob Briggs.
Here’s what I do have: eight beautiful kids who know the Lord, heart and head. They love Him, and want to follow Him.
A beautiful, amazing wife who, though bruised by my ineptitudes as a husband, loves me anyway.
And a dangerous little glint in my eye that says the next eight years will be different than the last. So here’s what life really looks like. And I’m just fine with it. Why? Because it’s real.
Basically, those few small revelations are not small at all. They clarify that everything significant that I’ve accomplished is ripe in the context of relationship. My best measurement of success comes not from my life, but the lives of others, which also happens to be the only measurement likely to pay dividends long into the future. This not only clarifies “success,” it also liberates expectations and confirms priorities. Ok, deep breath.
Forty-five, I’m coming right at you.