An Academy Award winner, Charlton Heston has a view of his career which may be unique among actors:
“You can spend a lifetime,” he said, “and, if you are honest with yourself, never once was your work perfect. People say to me, 'You've got the awards and the arts and the money. What are your goals now?' I say, 'To get it right one time.'”
When you reach middle age, you begin to think differently about things you once took for granted. There was a time when all you had was the future. Now your past is at least as long as the years which remain. We become introspective and begin to ask a lot of questions, some of them very hard questions. Perhaps we most frequently ask ourselves, “Is this all there is?”
One man said, “I am so much closer to the day of my death than the day of my birth. What will happen to me and to all I have done?”
From Pakistan, where someone with the chronological age of 50 may have suffered the effects of aging equal to age 70 or 80 in the United States, comes an interesting folktale.
A grandmother lived with her daughter and grandson. The frail, old woman frequently lost things, spilled things, broke things. One day, exasperated after the old woman had broken a precious plate, the daughter sent the grandson to buy his grandmother a wooden plate.
The boy objected because he knew it would embarrass his grandmother, but his mother insisted. When he returned, he handed his mother two wooden plates.
“I only asked you to buy one,” she said. “Didn't you hear me?”
“Yes, Mother,” he replied, “I heard you. But I bought the second one so I can force you to use it when you get old.”
Nicodemus had enjoyed a successful career. As a member of the Pharisees, his peers had placed him in a position of leadership. He was deeply religious. He knew the scriptures. He also knew the anxiety of having lived half a lifetime and wondering, “What happens next?”
There had been whispers about Jesus, a new rabbi, from Nazareth. Astounding teachings had been credited to the Nazarene, great miracles verified the teachings. In spite of his accomplishments, frustrated by life, facing the uncertainties common to advancing years, Nicodemus stepped into the evening breeze and went looking for Jesus.
“Teacher,” Nicodemus may have said, “If I disappear from the face of the earth, I'm not sure it would matter. After all of my education, and all of my training, I realize I know so little. Explain to me once more about being born again.”
Jesus answered, “It is not a natural thing, Nicodemus. You were born once in the flesh, now you must be born again in the Spirit. God loved you so much, Nicodemus, that I am going to die, so that you may live forever.”
Unlike the Pakistani grandmother, probably no one will ever hand you a wooden plate when you become feeble. But like Charlton Heston, you may survey a lifetime of accomplishments and still have the desire, “To get it right one time.” With half of your life behind you, you may be standing with Nicodemus, and feeling the wind on your face, ask, “Is this all there is? What happens next?”
To which Jesus answers, “God loved you so much, that I died to give you eternal life. This is not all there is. What happens next is my joy and my peace. Eternal life is yours if you want it.”
(David Sisler's newspaper column, Not For Sunday Only, is in its 13th year of weekly publication. For reprint permission, or to subscribe, contact Mr. Sisler at firstname.lastname@example.org.)