Lately my five-year-old grandson has become fascinated with numbers in general, and with my age specifically.
“How old are you, grandma?” begins most of our conversations. He knows the answer; he just thinks it’s amusing to keep asking. He has made the solemn observation that I’m pretty much the oldest person he knows.
The questions are getting more complicated. “How many years until you’re a hundred?” Together, we figure it out. The practical implications of me reaching that level of ancientness dawned on him a couple weeks ago. “What happens if you get to a hundred?” In his mind this is a very remote possibility, but we better talk about it.
“Then it’ll be your job to throw me a big party,” I told him. “I want a parade with a marching band and dancing elephants.” He’ll be well into adulthood by then, with children of his own who will regard him as impossibly old. I hope I’m around to see that.
Whether I’m still here for the dancing elephants or not, I’ve always operated under the assumption that my life will go on for a good long time to come. I’d say we all think that about ourselves. But my church congregation has experienced several unexpected deaths in the last few months, and the assumption of living to a ripe and healthy old age has been revealed for what it is – an admirable goal with no guarantees. It’s not wrong to aim for a long and healthy life, hopefully with body and intellect both functioning well. Life is a gift, and we’re expected to take care of it. But we are reminded that healthy people die, young people die, and that life and death are unpredictable.
We are shaken and grief stricken. Our God understands this and grieves with us. One of the most poignant moments in the life of Jesus is when he stands at the tomb of Lazarus and weeps. He experiences and sympathizes with the pain of losing a dearly loved family member and friend. Sin has unleashed the unnaturalness of death, and it’s heartbreaking.
Maybe “How old are you?” is the wrong question. A better question is “How Christlike are you?” Or “How full of faith are you?” Or “How committed to advancing God’s kingdom are you?” The number signifying your age doesn’t matter, only what you do with the days and weeks and years that are given to you by the sovereign God who holds life and death in his hands. The number is his business; the quality of joy and obedience is our business.
Dear grandson, your youth is a gift to me. I love your bright spirit, your endless (exhausting) curiosity, the way you skip along ahead of me when we walk at the lake. You’re in love with the world, filled with joy.
Guess what? I want to be like you, here and now, and for the rest of my life. However long that turns out to be.
Oh God, you are my God,
earnestly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you,
my body longs for you,
in a dry and weary land
where there is no water.
I have seen you in the sanctuary
and beheld your power and your glory.
Because your love is better than life,
my lips will glorify you.
I will praise you as long as I live,
and in your name I will lift up my hands.
I will be fully satisfied as with the richest of foods;
with singing lips my mouth will praise you.