(…continued) And then, somewhere between age 50 and 60, I turned a corner. At some point, I stopped growing up– upward and onward, that is. I seemed to level off, and then, began a downward ascent. I still had the position and the authority, but not the energy, and no longer the drive. I had risen about as high as I could go, or wanted to go, in my career– and I started getting tired. Tired of getting more and more, yes, I had enough; and tired of clawing my way to the top, yes; but also physically tired. I began to doze off at meetings, I could not work as many hours, and my tennis game was going downhill fast.
What’s worse, I had to start taking orders again; now from kids, that is to say from doctors that were the age of my kids. “You have to change your diet, Rev. Willimon, you can’t eat as many sweets anymore, and you better get more fiber in your diet, and you’ll have to start taking these pills for your heart… What?… I don’t care if you don’t like to take pills, take them anyway. And we’re going to keep an eye on that knee– we might have to replace it.” So this is where I am at now, at the twilight of my working career, and moving into the ‘downhill and doctor years.’
I am a minister, so I’ve been with enough elderly people to know how the last years of my story will go. For many years, all that I could call ‘mine’ was increasing. Now it will be rapidly decreasing. One by one, everything I worked for will be taken away from me. My career will be taken away, and that’s okay; as I said, I’m tired. Then, if I’m lucky, I’ll have some good retirement years, but sometimes that gets taken away. My house will get to be too much to take care of, my travel plans will become more of a hassle then its worth, I’ll have to get rid of all my stuff, and then, worst of all, I’ll have to get rid of my car. One by one, if I live long enough, everything will be taken away from me, and it will be like I was when I was a child, without much I can call my own anymore. Not only that, but there will be somebody pushing me here and pushing me there, telling me when to eat, and when I should have a bowel movement; waking me up, putting me to bed, bathing me, even changing my diaper.
John 21:18 — When you were younger you would fasten your own belt and go wherever you wished; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you, and take you where you do no wish to go.
Gradually, everything I accumulated will be relinquished, including my dignity. And each letting go is just a practice run for the final relinquishment of breath itself. To simply lie on a bed and breathe will be all I be able manage, and then a great fatigue will overwhelm me. Once again, I will be pushed and pulled; but pushed and pulled to what? Is this to be like birth, another going out into something else, unknown to be sure, but something else? Or, will it just be the end?
Job 14:14a — If a man die, shall he live again?
John 14:19b — (Jesus said), “Because I live, you also will live.”
If Jesus rose from the dead, as we believe he did, this final letting go is not the end but a new beginning. It will be a new birth into a new life, through another canal and another time of darkness; and then light, and another opening of the eyes into something entirely new and different and infinitely better. What is seen as a departure here, becomes a homecoming in heaven, with new hands to welcome me.
John 14:2-3 — (Jesus said), “My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”
Jesus said, “Unless you turn and become as a little child, you cannot enter the kingdom of God” (Luke 18:17). This verse takes on new meaning after looking at our story told in this way. We might well dread all that we must give up as we near the end of our earthly stories, but if we believe what Jesus tells us, becoming again like a helpless little child is just part of the process. Martin Luther once said, “As little as children in the womb know about their birth, so little do we know about life everlasting.” At the beginning of our stories, warm and comfortable in the womb, we had no way of knowing what wonderful things were ahead for us after being born. In the same way, we can’t begin to imagine the wonder awaiting us after death, that new birth into eternal life.
I Corinthians 15:56-57 — The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
LORD, TAKE MY HAND AND LEAD ME by Julie von Hausmann (1826-1901)
Lord, take my hand and lead me
upon life’s way;
direct, protect, and feed me
from day to day.
Without your grace and favor
I go astray,
so take my hand, O Saviour,
and lead the way.
God, when the tempest rages,
I need not fear;
for you, the Rock of Ages,
are always near.
Close by your side abiding,
I fear no foe,
for when your hand is guiding,
in peace I go.
God, when the shadows lengthen
and night has come,
I know that you will strengthen
my steps toward home,
and nothing can impede me,
O blessed Friend!
So, take my hand and lead me
unto the end.